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Puritan Backroom: Not a perfect plan, but a first step

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 11. 2013 10:21PM
Chris Pappas, elected as a Democrat to the Executive Council in November, says his views on Obamacare are shaped more by his experience in business than politics. (DAVE SOLOMON/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The Puritan Backroom Restaurant is typical of many successful businesses in the hospitality industry. Established in 1917 and now in the fourth generation of family ownership, The Puritan has a lot of part-time employees. It could shift even more full-timers to part-time to avoid the health insurance mandates of Obamacare, but has no plans to do so.

"That's something we've never done, and I don't anticipate that we would do that," said Chris Pappas, who now runs the restaurant, function hall and ice cream stand with his father, cousin and brother-in-law. "We feel that it's important to invest in our employees. So that's the road we've chosen, and I would think that most service industry businesses would share that point of view."

Politicians routinely stop at the Puritan Backroom while campaigning in the state, and the exposure triggered an interest in politics by Pappas, who was elected as a Democrat to the Executive Council in November. He says his views on Obamacare, however, are shaped more by his experience in business than politics.

The Puritan employs 235 people, Pappas said, with about 120 of them qualified for the company health insurance plan by working 25 or more hours per week.

"We've seen double-digit increases in our premiums on a regular basis over the last decade," he said, "so I think the cost of doing nothing is too great when you look at health insurance nationwide. This isn't the perfect plan, but if this plan allows us to bend the curve in the out years, and not see the increases we've seen in the past, then it's going to be a good move forward."

The Puritan is large enough that it already offers health insurance to employees who would fall under the Obamacare mandate, but small enough to be largely unaffected by the insurance and reinsurance fees that will hit big employers. The biggest concern is what is not known.

"Obviously there are still a lot of questions," Pappas said, "and if you're a business that does not currently provide insurance, and you have 50 or more employees, you're really wondering what's coming around the corner. The picture is still murky at this point. For example, I don't think we'll really have concrete answers about what the online exchange in New Hampshire is going to look like until this fall."

When Pappas makes reference to savings in the "out years," he acknowledges what many of the critics of Obamacare have pointed out. Many of the costs come in the early years, while the savings, theoretically, come later.

"As we move forward, there will be a lot that small businesses are going to have to learn about this law, and a lot that consumers are going to have to learn," he said. "This isn't a perfect plan, and this shouldn't be the only thing we do to address health care costs. But I think we should look at it as a first step, and hopefully we have responsible leaders in Washington who can work together on steps two and three to make sure we continue to address the rising costs."

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