BRIDGEPORT - For business owners like Diane Hunter, just figuring out what they need to do to comply with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been such an all-consuming task that it's distracted them from simple day-to-day operations.
Hunter and her husband Brad operate Interim HealthCare franchises in Steubenville, Woodsfield, Marietta and their hometown, Bridgeport, which provide in-home health care and hospice services. She recently attended President Obama's State of the Union address, as the guest of Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.
"We accept the reform and we know that we need the reform, but the regulations are out of control," Hunter said.
Belmont County business owner Diane Hunter poses for a photo with Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, left, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as she prepares to attend the State of the Union address Jan. 28.
A one-year delay in the health care law's so-called "employer mandate" - essentially requiring all firms with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance coverage - means businesses have until 2015 to comply with the new rules. If they don't, they could face penalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee.
The result, Hunter said, has been a difficult balancing act between trying to run a business and offer her employees a choice of insurance plans that meet the law's requirements for affordability.
"The regulations have been so burdensome and demanding on all businesses, so it's really restricted our growth and taken our eyes off everyday business," Hunter said. "It's been so much coming at us, honestly."
In order to be termed "affordable," the employee's portion of insurance premiums cannot exceed 9.5 percent of his or her income. It also must pay a minimum of 60 percent of the cost of covered services.
Hunter said she's working to chart how much each of her 300 or so employees makes in a year - and how many hours they work, because the law recognizes any employee who works 30 hours or more per week as full time, which means health benefits would have to be offered. She doesn't want to cut her employees' hours and quite frankly, she said, she can't.
"We're always in an overtime situation here because patients always need taken care of, and that's our goal," Hunter said. "I don't have enough staff to make them part-time, or I would have to hire twice as many people."
Hunter said her recent visit to Washington, D.C., to witness the State of the Union address was an incredible experience. She hopes she was able to encourage the lawmakers with whom she spoke to relieve burdens on small business.
Johnson extended the invitation after visiting Interim HealthCare's Bridgeport location last year.
"I was absolutely honored and privileged to attend the State of the Union address," Hunter said. "To be chosen from so many people to be there was very humbling."