MANCHESTER — Owners of some small New Hampshire businesses said at a forum Thursday that paperwork and expense are threatening the economic platforms on which their companies are built — to the point that the Affordable Care Act could trump nature.
Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Ski Resort, said requirements that health insurance be offered to employees who are on a company payroll for 120 consecutive days or longer could mean opening the slopes later and shutting them down earlier.
"We may not be able to open beyond 120 days; it may be Christmas to the middle of March ... the summer season may be the fourth of July until Labor Day," Goddard said at a roundtable discussion with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. "If I didn't have this mandate to worry about, this would not be on the table."
Many people who work as snow groomers for Gunstock in the winter work as heavy equipment operators for contractors in the summertime, Goddard said.
"They basically work from the last frost until the asphalt plants close, then they come up and work for us." he said.
Goddard said some decisions his company has made in recent years might have been quite different if the impact felt in the first months of Obamacare had been known.
"Three years ago we added a summer adventure park," he said. "Frankly if I knew then what the Affordable Care Act was all about, I may not have built it."
During the 90-minute discussion, owners of other New Hampshire businesses expressed frustration with the the Affordable Care Act, Jim Calandra, CEO of a Salem-based Gamma Medical, said a federal 2.3 percent tax on medical devices attached to Obamacare strips his company of investment dollars.
"In our business the medical device tax costs us about $150,000 per year right now," Calandra said. "That translates into at least two to three more people we can't afford to hire."
Gamma Medica's products are molecular imaging devices used to detect breast cancer in women with tissue too dense for traditional mammography.
Ayotte said the medical device tax hits new entrepreneurs hardest, because the tax is levied on revenue, rather than on profit.
"For startups it's particularly difficult, because when you first start your business, you're not actually making a profit, you're making revenue, but you're investing it back in the business to make it able to thrive," she said.
Ayotte is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the medical device tax. She said some Democrats are backing the repeal effort, which has been stalled by the Democratic leadership's reluctance to allow the matter to come to the floor.
Al Letizio Jr., a Windham selectman and owner of a food marketing business, told Ayotte his company provides 100 percent health care coverage and funds health savings accounts, which he argued gives the market the ability to control health care costs.
"People are incentivized," he said. "They're shopping. If they need an MRI, they're asking 'Where can I get it done for a couple of hundred bucks less,'" he said. "This is our whole free enterprise system at work,"
But some dentists at the same session said the pressure from the ACA for lower costs and lower fees hurts them — and ultimately patients who for economic reasons may be treated in less time or referred to surgeons on the basis of cost, rather than experience and skill.
After the session, Ayotte noted that she is a co-sponsor of a number of bills to revise or repeal an assortment of Obamacare provisions. She said such a piecemeal approach is the best strategy right now, given Democratic control of the White House and the senate.
Ayotte said getting a consensus to change some aspects of Obamacare is the best strategy because even some who support the whole law could budge on particular issues.
"There are going to have to be changes," she said. "Even people who voted for this law are going to have to recognize that."