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Grocery chain gives White House dose of grass roots reality

The announcement last week that Wegmans would be altering health insurance eligibility standards for those employees who work less than 30 hours a week should worry those who give blanket approval to the Affordable Care Act.

Under the new policy, which will not take effect until 2015 for existing part-time employees, Wegmans will offer health insurance only to employees who work 30 hours or more per week. It also reported that employees who need to work additional hours in order to qualify for full-time status (and therefore, health insurance) will be given the opportunity to do so.

Wegmans has a reputation for treating employees well. One of the most visible perks was its policy of offering employer-subsidized health insurance for part-time employees. But under the shackles of the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare - it had to react as a business, not as a best friend.

Enter one of Western New York’s most successful business owners who also happens to be a freshman congressman.

Rep. Chris Collins said Wegmans’ decision to change its employee benefit policy is another example of why “Obamacare is bad for business, bad for workers, bad for America.”

Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, has reached out to Main Street America to help it weather the storm.

“One of the toughest realities facing your business today is the fact that Obamacare is the law of the land. And while it pains me to say this, at this point you must prepare for what’s coming,” he wrote in a recent column.

What does the White House have to say about these inconvenient truths?

“Independent analyses conducted by the RAND Corporation, Urban Institute and the Congressional Budget Office have found that employers will continue to offer health coverage to their workers. Economists agree that employers offer health insurance to help attract and retain the most talented employees and employers will continue to seek out top talent. Further, when health reform was enacted in Massachusetts more than five years ago, the percent of businesses offering insurance in Massachusetts increased,” states an official response filed under the heading “Myth de-bunked” on the White House website.

Now that push is evolving into shove, even a business the size of Wegmans is running for cover. President Barack Obama should take notice. Here is, in part, Wegmans’ official statement:

“Even though the new health care law is requiring some changes, we are not going to do anything that will hurt our employees. Wegmans will continue to offer health care benefits for part-time employees, but eligibility requirements will change. This change will not take effect for our existing part-time employees until 2015. We have met one-on-one with each impacted employee to reassure them and to let them know we are going to do everything we can to help them through these changes.”

Wegmans has come a long way since it was one simple store in Rochester. It now operates 81 supermarkets in six states. Yet in reality, some potential employees will bypass Wegmans now for other opportunities.

One of the persistent health care questions I kept asking during the 2008 presidential election campaign was “who is going to pay for this?” Now

Americans who are not offered health care benefits by their employer will be required to shop the market on their own. The White House says families and individuals who don’t have access to affordable coverage can receive tax credits to help them purchase coverage in the private health insurance market.

This program was conceived and will be enforced by the federal government.

The White House says, “The new law strengthens the existing employer-based health insurance market while making the market fair for consumers by implementing landmark consumer protections.” Washington will be calling the shots, not the individuals struggling in a sea of under-employment and over-taxation.

Danner pledges his group will fight for relief from “this misguided law” and replace it with reform of the high cost of health insurance. That sounds more like Main Street to me.

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