Health reform's impact unclear to companies

Area businesses are grappling with what health care reform will mean for their operations.


Some large corporations with Augusta ties have already said they expect the new law to increase expenses this year. Other businesses said they expect to feel an impact further down the road, though they are not sure what that will be.

"It will be well into the year before we get our arms around it," said Remer Brinson III, the president of Augusta-based First Bank of Georgia.

Brinson said the company will wait for an assessment from its insurance provider on the possible financial impact on employees' insurance rates and the bank's bottom line.

Georgia Bank & Trust is taking a similar approach. Both banks insure their employees through the Georgia Bankers Association Insurance Trust.

So far, Georgia Bank & Trust President and CEO Dan Blanton said he doesn't expect big changes to business.

"It's got to have some impact, but it does not look so far like it will be dramatic," he said.

The impact could be more dramatic for midsize companies that don't already offer health insurance to employees, said Jim Tingen, the president and chief executive of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.

Though no employers are technically mandated to offer health insurance under the legislation, companies with more than 50 employees would be penalized starting in 2014 if at least one of their employees receives a subsidy from the government to purchase health insurance.

"It's the growing middle businesses that are currently surviving without paying health care that are going to hurt," Tingen said.

Those companies will have to decide where to cut expenses to offset added costs from health insurance reform, he said.

Some large companies have said they will have increased expenses in 2010 from the law, mainly because of a change in the tax treatment of Medicare subsidies.

Deere & Co. will book a $150 million charge this fiscal year related to the new health care law, the company announced last week. It has a manufacturing facility in Grovetown. The charge is related to tax changes to the Medicare Part D retiree prescription drug coverage.

Kimberly-Clark Corp., which has a plant in Beech Island, is still evaluating the legislation's impact, spokeswoman Kay Jackson said.

At NutraSweet in Augusta, employees have had some questions about the potential impact, President Bill DeFer said.

The company has essentially told employees that it will relay any information as soon as it's available, he said.

"We're curious, but we just don't know," DeFer said.