By Wayne Witkowski Pocono Record Business Editor February 17, 2013
Businesses are taking the “Chicken Little” approach that the sky will be falling in the months ahead for the upcoming federally mandated business health insurance coverage for all employees. Philomena “Philly” Viscardo, agent/owner of Dingman Delaware Insurance on Route 739 in Dingmans Ferry, recently began her second one-year term as re-elected president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and has helped plan a 90-minute seminar Feb. 28 on the latest health care developments for businesses as part of the monthly breakfast meetings at the Best Western In Matamoras. “I suspect this will have a huge impact on businesses, and they’re struggling as it is and have a hard enough time meeting monthly expenses,” Viscardo said. Viscardo said that she has heard from lawmakers that the fine for non-compliance would be less than the cost of health insurance coverage. “So what’s the incentive there? People will go with what’s cheaper,” Viscardo said. The Pike Chamber of Commerce also has a business health insurance policy called Chamber Choice. “A small percentage (of members) are involved now,” Viscardo said. “It used to be that members joined the chamber to get access to this plan that they could afford. But rates got higher and we lost members and they changed the rules. They’re no longer writing policies for businesses with one employee.” With those changes, some members dropped out, especially very small businesses. She said that includes entrepreneurs who were laid off from long-term jobs and became self-employed out of their own homes as a contractor, handyman or in the field of technology, for example.
Viscardo said her chamber is developing a separate category they hope to implement by March in which entrepreneurs and “mompreneurs” — women working on sales out of their homes for national companies — can join the chamber for less than the $195 annual membership rate. “Small businesses is what makes keeps this country going and we’re getting the shaft all the time,” Viscardo said. “It’s increasingly difficult. The smaller the business, the harder it is to keep it afloat.” Viscardo pointed out that membership is what drives the chamber and it’s been a churn, with rising overhead forcing some businesses to drop out while some new ones have come on board the past year as the enrollment holds to about 200 businesses. Add to that the recent development that the IRS does not have forms available for business tax filings for 2012 with the changes governing those 2012 filings that took effect in Jan. 1, 2013.Viscardo said the wait has been “very frustrating” for her and other business owners she has spoken to about it. Pocono Record Business columnist Erin Baehr said as of Thursday about the business tax forms “they’re coming online a little at a time. For instance, in my software, personal returns claiming the education credit are being accepted as of today, and the Pennsylvania corporate report, RCT-101 as far as I know, is not available yet. Business returns were accepted as of last Friday. So, yes, it’s very frustrating.” Viscardo said advertising and marketing are important to the future of its business and are considered operating overhead. Members get a listing in the guidebook and a full page on the web site. And the chamber also has a Women in Business group headed by Viscardo that addresses different issues concerning female business owners as well as networking events scheduled regularly throughout the year. Opportunities for exposure like membership for the chamber is “a part of the budget that is of utmost importance like electricity and operating expenses. “Mike Sullivan (head of the Pike Economic Development Authority that formed an alliance with the chamber last March with Sullivan as executive director of both groups) showed me a survey of businesses back in the recession of the 1980s that showed that for businesses that increased or maintained their marketing during the recession, once the recession was over, they saw a 260 percent increase in revenue,” Viscardo said. “If that doesn’t show how important it is to keep marketing and advertising in place during these tough times, I don’t know what does.” And although Viscardo said she sees little change in the business climate around Pike County from a year ago, she said there is a “glimmer of hope” with more favorable activity in other economic indicators in the area.