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Pay A Penalty? Biz Owners Face Health Care Dilemma

Hurricane CEO John Metz recently said the company was considering adding a 5 percent surcharge to customers' bills starting in 2014 to cover the costs of health care for full-time workers. But since the plan was reported in the news media â¿¿ and generated negative comments on some websites â¿¿ O'Dowd now says that it was "hypothetical."

"That is not in our plans," he says.

Even though some key details of the health care overhaul haven't been worked out â¿¿ like how much insurance offered thought the exchanges will cost â¿¿ there is already a lot of information to sort through. Figuring out the details is keeping human resources consultants and benefits brokers busy.

"It is like a sleeping giant woke up," says Pamela Ross, owner of New York-based Atlantic Human Resources Advisors. "They are very much paying attention because so many regulations kick in for 2014."

There are so many unknowns about the law that Campus Cooks is hiring an employee to determine what the company's options are and how much they'll cost. The provider of dining services for fraternity and sorority houses in the Midwest, Florida and Texas, has 125 employees.

"I don't know what's in the law," says Bill Reeder, president of the Glenview, Ill.-based company. "I'm really hiring someone whose job, in part, for the next six months is to figure out this thing."

Reeder says he can't afford to offer insurance now and that's something he regrets. And he says he might have to pay the penalty if turns out to be cheaper than providing coverage.

He says he knows this much: "I'm not approaching this by cutting hours or raising prices."

Whether Reeder pays the penalty or buys coverage, Campus Cooks will have to come up with money to cover the expense. "We have to look at our business and see how to run it more efficiently, We have to renegotiate our food costs, cut office expenses, streamline our technology," Reeder says.

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