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The timeless tug-of-war

Regardless of whether you agree with the premise of the (Patient Protection and) Affordable Care Act, it’s the law of the land and likely to be so for some time. For businesses, as for individuals, the challenge lies in trying to divine both the near — and long-term effects of the law.

The overall reaction that I get from businesses is one of uncertainty and thus hesitancy — hesitancy in hiring, hesitancy in expanding, hesitancy in buying inventory. Even though some parts of the law have been postponed, whether for a month or a year, it is always difficult to gauge results in the abstract. Businesses need to plan, and in order to plan, they need to know — or at least know well enough to guess.

For most employers, business — even without the ACA — is a constant tug-of-war between what is best for the employees, who need to be healthy to sustain the business (not to mention that enabling healthy employees is the right thing to do), and what is best for the business, which needs to be healthy to sustain the employees. Fortunately, today’s business owners and managers, particularly in this region, are smart and savvy survivors of one of the greatest economic upheavals this nation has ever seen. They see and expect a new competitor or disruptive technology or economic blow almost every month — or so it seems — so the ACA is but one more riddle to be successfully solved.

It is important to remember that in any new system, whether it is healthcare or an assembly line or a curriculum — to name just three — there inevitably will be speed bumps. The trick is to go over them slowly, keep your eyes and ears open, and learn, which is what our local businesses are doing now and plan to do for the foreseeable future. Of course, there are deadlines by which actions need to be taken, but there is still plenty of time for businesses and individuals to comply.

Our local businesses, like everyone else, are eager for the unknown to be known so that they can move ahead. Their thirst for knowledge about the ACA is great, and many business leaders and owners have a good fundamental understanding of it, as well they should. Our local insurance agencies and social services organizations are coming up to speed on ACA information if they are not there already. Organizations such as the AARP and the government itself are training thousands of volunteer “navigators” and consultants to answer questions from businesses and individuals alike.

The key is information. As with the common cold, the more you know about it, the more comfortable you are with it — even though you may not be comfortable. As businesses learn more about the ACA, for better or worse, they will become more certain about what they will and will not be able to do in the near and long term. This will be good for all of us.

At The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, we have recently posted on our website a video by the Kaiser Family Foundation (narrated by ABC’s Charlie Gibson) that provides a simple, broad overview of the ACA. Readers are invited to view it at PeterboroughChamber.com (where there is also Chamber membership information).

At our Chamber’s next monthly breakfast at Monadnock Country Club, at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6, our featured speaker on the ACA will be Michael Wilkey, Director of Compliance and Consumer Services for the New Hampshire Insurance Department. Reservations are required at 924-7234 or cmeinke@peterboroughchamber.com; the cost is $10 for Chamber members and $15 for not-yet-members.

I am optimistic that our local businesses are poised to adapt to the ACA and move forward successfully. While we at the Peterborough Chamber focus every day on providing our 350 members with important information on this and other matters, we are always happy to help anyone at any time with anything, so we encourage readers not to be afraid to ask.

Jack Burnett is Executive Director of The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and a longtime member of the Peterborough Economic Development Authority.

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