Small Business owners weigh in on health debate

Frank Macchio’s 2-year-old son tripped and busted his chin open last Friday night. He was bleeding, and Macchio had to take him to get stitches.

Macchio had a decision to make.

Should he take his son to the emergency room, pass off the $1,500 medical bill to his insurance company, but wait hours to been seen? Or should he take him to the doctor’s office down the street, pay $300 upfront, and be in and out in 40 minutes?

Macchio chose the latter option in the interest of time. He didn’t want his son to be in pain any longer than necessary. But, to Macchio, it was a lose-lose situation. He would either be wasting time or money.

“That’s broken,” Macchio said. “This mentality, this system is broken.”

He is referring to the health-insurance industry.

Macchio told the story to a room full of small-business owners during an emergency town hall meeting on health reform at the Bulova Corporate Center in Jackson Heights on Sept. 16.

The meeting was designed to let members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce listen to local medical experts and voice their own opinions about the raging health-care debate.

Macchio, a father and also the owner of Construction Services Company in Whitestone, can’t afford to provide health insurance to his 15 employees. He believes the health-insurance system needs to be revamped, but he doesn’t exactly know how.

“This issue is so huge you can’t ask me that and get one simple answer,” the Queens native said.

Others, such as businessman Joshua Bienstock, who owns Resolve It Inc., said reform has to happen, but not at the expense of small businesses.

“Every time someone is granted a (health-care) right, someone pays for it,” Bienstock said.

Bienstock worries businesses such as his will have to fork over more tax money to help fund a government-run plan.

“I’m a small business, a two-person business,” Bienstock said. “The money is going to come from small businesses that can barely survive in this economy.”

In his speech to Congress a week ago, President Obama promised he would keep costs down for small-business owners who are already paying up to 20 percent more than large companies are paying to insure their employees.

Kenneth Buettner, owner of York Scaffold Equipment Corporation, pays $20,000 per employee for health care each year. He has a staff of 85.

While Buettner, also the vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, believes health insurance is a social obligation, he doesn’t know how much longer he can afford to provide coverage to his workers.

“I’m scared to death,” he said.

Business owners in the audience argued both sides of the debate and even offered solutions, though the diversity of opinions given at Wednesday’s chamber meeting in Queens is as diverse as the borough itself. The debate over health reform will likely continue in Queens as more details emerge.

An hour after the town hall meeting ended, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Lobtana, unveiled the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the health-reform package in Washington.

It has a price tag of nearly $860 billion and would require all Americans to buy health care or pay a fine.

Chamber president Albert Pennisi said the organization will hold more forums so members can praise or condemn new subsequent versions of the government’s health-care plan.

“The more people who discuss these issues, the better we are,” Pennisi said.