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January 07. 2013 11:05PM

In Nashua, health care, taxes, energy targeted at symposium


Tom Welden of Eaton and Berube Insurance participates in a Legislative Symposium on Monday at the Crowne Plaza in Nashua. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON PHOTO)

NASHUA - Concerned about the implications of national health care reform and rising energy costs on New Hampshire businesses, local legislators and business owners joined forces on Monday to educate themselves on the topics.

About 45 state representatives from southern New Hampshire attended the 2013 Legislative Symposium on Monday at the Crowne Plaza hotel, meeting with about 50 business leaders and discussing upcoming legislation.

Hosted by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, the event included a panel of business professionals who addressed key issues to be discussed in Concord in the coming year.

Topics such as taxes on small and mid-size businesses, New Hampshire health care changes and rising energy costs were analyzed and debated during an informal, four-hour program.

"Other countries are doing things more successfully. We need to learn how to do that," said Tom Welden of Eaton and Berube Insurance.

Welden, one of the panelists, explained that France has one of the best health care systems with about $3,100 a year per capita compared to the United States, which is close to $7,000. Welden said the nation must steal and share ideas to enforce its health care system and make it affordable, claiming officials left out the "affordability" part of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act .

With about 17 percent of the population in Nashua uninsured, Welden said those statistics are driving up the costs for people who do have health insurance.

"The health care act is extremely complex," he said, adding major provisions will take effect in 2014. "Many of the key decisions on health care will be made by you folks."

State legislators will need to decide what type of health insurance exchange the state will set up and whether federal money will be accepted, according to Welden, who encouraged the group to keep an open mind and not duplicate efforts.

"There will be many bills coming through to you about the health care exchange," he said. "This is a huge topic and a huge area."

Businesses will be greatly impacted by the major changes necessary to control the costs of health insurance, said Welden, adding that health care is the second highest cost for companies, with payroll being on top.

Don Hill of BAE Systems was another panelist at the Legislative Symposium, discussing the impact of expanding energy costs on New Hampshire businesses.

BAE Systems, the largest manufacturer in the state with 4,500 employees and five main facilities, spends about $24 million a year on energy costs, according to Hill.

However, over the last several years, the company was able to avoid about $5 million in energy costs through energy conservation measures and its automatic energy reduction initiative.

Still, Hill said the usage reductions can only partially offset energy cost increases, which include significant hikes in delivery rates.

"Energy is obviously a major operating cost," said Hill.

As delegates begin the legislative session, business leaders reminded them to think about their interests and how potential bills could hit their companies - whether small or large.

"We have a lot of newly elected officials," said Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and host of Monday's event.

He described the Legislative Symposium as an opportunity for new state representatives to meet and mingle with one another while discussing important business topics with real business people who have helped build the backbone of Greater Nashua's economy. ? khoughton@newstote.com


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