Sandra Zaragoza  writes in the Austin Business Journal that like the freon in the air conditioners Stan Johnson’s company installs, his support for health care reform that’s been proposed has evaporated.

Johnson made that clear when he testified before Congress’ Small Business Committee about the stimulus package as a representative of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America; the last question posed to him was about health care.

“In February, we supported what [President] Obama was floating out as possible reform of health care. Today, what’s on the table our industry no longer supports,” said Johnson, owner of Stan’s Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. in Austin. “The support has evaporated because it is over-reaching and it is no longer reform, it is a take over.”

Johnson’s thoughts echo sentiments held by many small business owners and the associations that represent them, many of which have long sought health care reform, but are concerned about many of the components in the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, which was introduced July 15 by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

The main criticisms include:

The bill’s employer mandates and penalties would be too costly for cash-strapped small business.
It would limit employers’ health care options.
The legislation does not appropriately address health insurance reform.

Keeping track of bills
Perhaps compounding fears within the small business community is that there are multiple versions of the bill on the table.

As of July, there were three versions of H.R. 3200 circulating in the House, one in the Senate and another is expected from the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare. Lawmakers expect to have a bill to present to the entire Fiance Committee on or about Sept. 15.

While no one is certain how that bill will end up, small business proponents have widely criticized H.R. 3200 in its current form.

At the end of July, the National Federation of Independent Businesses said it opposed the bill “because it threatens the viability of our nation’s job creators … and fails to address the core challenge facing small business — cost.”

NFIB is also concerned that a public health insurance option, which Obama has said is an essential part of reform, could hurt the private insurance industry. Instead, some business and physician organizations are pushing for greater reform of the private insurance market so that insurers can provide more health care options.

But others, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, say a public option will help small businesses in the long run.

“For many small businesses, the new Health Insurance Exchange will offer lower-cost, higher-quality coverage,” Doggett said. “Under the current failed system, too many small businesses cannot secure coverage for their employees or must pay substantially more than a large business, while getting less coverage.”

A spokeswoman for NFIB’s Austin chapter, which opposes much of the proposed bill, said small businesses pay an average of 18 percent more for health care coverage than their big-business counterparts.

Today, 62 percent of small businesses with three to 99 employees offer health benefits, according to the Texas Association of Business.

Read more at: Austin Business Journal