Small-business owners often are called the backbone of America's economy - and, they said Thursday, how to provide employee benefits without breaking their finances has been an issue for at least the past half-century.
About 50 Missouri small-business owners gathered at the Capitol to meet with lawmakers and learn more about their latest regulatory headache - the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare."
"I would say the Affordable Care Act probably moves into the realm of number one, as far as questions and concerns in the small-business community," said Brad Jones, Missouri director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
"Health insurance costs have been the number one issue for small businesses for the last 20 years," Jones added. "So, this coming along just sort of fuels the fire as far as the questions, and the anxiety, about what's going to happen with health insurance for the next 10 years."
Jones' comments followed an hour-long presentation on the health care law during the NFIB-Missouri's "Small Business Day at the Capitol."
Randy Lueckenotte, one of the Wallstreet Insurance Group's owners, noted Congress passed the health care law three years ago next month.
"The biggest changes are coming on Jan. 1, 2014," he explained. "There's still a lot of uncertainty about the bill but now, post-election, at the federal level this is the law of the land.
"So, the things that are coming are going to have to be implemented."
Companies that are fully insured can expect their insurance carriers "are already working on implementation of this," Lueckenotte said. "If you're partially self-funded, some of these things are going to hit you especially, come Jan. 1, 2014."
And, while he explained a number of the issues the health care law poses for small-business owners, Lueckenotte's biggest piece of advice Thursday was for the business owners to take their questions to their own insurance agents, accountants and lawyers.
One feature of the federal law is expanding the Medicaid program - a funding partnership between the federal government and the states - to serve more low-income and disabled people.
Gov. Jay Nixon has urged lawmakers to approve the expansion and the $5.7 billion additional federal funding it will bring to the state over the next three years, as "the right thing to do."
But House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told the NFIB members Thursday the Legislature likely won't agree.
"Medicaid (now) is a broken system," the speaker said. "We already expand Medicaid in this state every year, by $150 million or more. ...
"You're talking about a cost to Missouri taxpayers of over $1 billion, once the federal government exits from it (and) I don't want to harm our education system or other social services, for Medicaid expansion."
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told the business owners the Legislature already is working on passing business-friendly bills, so Missouri will be "a leader in the region in the areas of employment, growth in personal incomes and GDP (gross domestic product)."
Those changes include lower income taxes for businesses and laws that make it harder for employees to sue their employers for discrimination or terminations.