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Pay A Penalty? Biz Owners Face Health Care Dilemma

Some small business owners, who already provide insurance, are looking at the law and weighing paying penalties against continuing to provide insurance that is more expensive. One risk though is that dropping coverage may send a message to employees that the owner doesn't care about them. That could lead some workers to quit.

"They're looking at that and saying, 'well, if I stop providing benefits for my people, am I going to lose good people to my competitors who may not be taking the same approach?" Ross says.

Ken Wisnefski considered paying the penalty, but says he has decided against it. His company, online marketing firm, WebiMax, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., has nearly 100 employees, and already provides health insurance.

"Not offering health care is not necessarily the best way of attracting talent," he says.

Companies that won't be bound by the new law, but that do provide insurance will be looking to see if they can save money through the exchanges.

Matt Helbig provides insurance to the 10 fulltime employees at Big River Running Co., his chain of three running and walking shoe stores in the St. Louis area. He's waiting to see the cost of insurance on the exchanges before deciding what to do.

"If it were cheaper, we'd probably drop insurance through us, and we'd probably give them a raise to cover what we had been covering."

Some small business owners are thinking about paying the penalty because they genuinely believe they won't be able to afford to buy insurance, says Allen Nassif, president of Northern Benefits, an insurance brokerage serving small businesses in New England.

Nassif also says he has clients who have more than 40 employees and who are holding back from hiring because, when they reach the 50-employee threshold, they'll have to start paying for insurance.

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