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Kind, in Health Care Talk With Business Owners, Finds Skepticism

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) took the angry tone of thissummer’s health care town halls down a notch Wednesday afternoon, meetingwith state representatives of the National Federation of IndependentBusiness and three local small-business owners in his district officehere. Kind, who voted against the Democrats’ health care reform bill as a memberof the House Ways and Means Committee, defended the revamped package in awide-ranging hourlong conversation, trying to address the concerns andfears of the small-business owners.The intimate meeting came a day after Kind spoke to a fairly even-temperedcrowd of about 300 constituents in Darlington, Wis., about health care.While Kind faced a gentler audience than some of his colleagues encounteredearlier this month, the business owners still voiced skepticism over theuncertainty and lack of specifics in the health reform proposals — and howthey might affect small businesses.”Distrust, concern, fear, I think these are the words that sum up where thesmall-business community is,” NFIB Wisconsin State Director Bill Smith said.Kind tried to assuage the business owners’ concerns about the cost of healthcare reform and how the proposed legislation could affect the health careinsurance plans for themselves and their employees.”There’s going to be some uncertainty, and that’s natural,” Kind said. “Thehardest thing to change is the status quo.”As a provider of health insurance for his employees, Mike Conlin, owner ofDynamic Displays in Eau Claire, said he was really concerned about whetherthe plans available now will exist after health care legislation is passed.”Will what we offer continue to be able to be offered?” Conlin asked. “Idon’t see any guarantee of that.”Conlin and his 15 employees make industrial monitors and displays, andConlin provides his workers with health savings accounts.Kind tried to assure Conlin that Congress is looking to expand the system,not reduce the number of choices.”We’re building on the existing system,” he said.The business owners were also concerned about the cost of the program.Kind acknowledged that the difficulty in passing health reform is on how topay for it. While there is consensus in Congress on about 85 percent of theprovisions of health reform, according to Kind, much of the disagreement ison where to find savings and revenue.Kind stayed calm throughout the exchange even as the small-business ownersalluded to his potential interest in running for governor in 2010 now thatGov. Jim Doyle (D) has just announced his intention to retire.Unlike many of the health care town halls throughout the country, which havefocused on generalities, the small-business owners had specific questionsregarding the cost and coverage of the proposed plan.Wes Vlcek, owner of R&R Repair in Eau Claire, also voiced skepticism aboutthe government’s ability to produce affordable health care and put “teeth”into the proposal to force individuals like students to get healthinsurance.Kind responded that students in particular will be aided by the packagebecause it allows parents to extend their employer coverage to olderstudents. “You’ll find most of the students stay on their parents’ plans,” Kind said.Sherry Wubben of La Crosse, Wis., raised several questions about how thechanges to the system would affect companies that self-insure theiremployees. Owner of a large farm equipment company, Wubben has 165 employees andpointed out that one provision in the health care legislation would allowthe government to review whether companies are financially stable enough toself-insure employees.”We made a conscious decision to reduce the costs for employees,” Wubbensaid. I “feel a little bit concerned that the federal government will make adetermination whether we’re financially viable; I think I’m more financiallyviable than the federal government.”

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