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Spaghetti with Regulation Sauce

Restaurant owners work overtime to figure out Obamacare.

Dec 31, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 16 • By KATE HAVARD
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“That’s not something you want to find out on December 31, 2013, and then have to implement it on January 1, 2014,” says Michelle Reinke, a health care expert at the National Restaurant Association.

She says that throughout the regulatory public comment process, the association has requested flexibility with certain regulations, and hopes things will become clearer once the “guidance” hardens into rules. “Restaurant owners need to educate themselves about how the law will impact their business and their employees,” she said. “But until all the rules are on the table, it’s hard to make decisions about the future.”

For businessmen like the Italian restaurant owner, the uncertainty is the crusher. He doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be in the over-50 or under-50 employees category, so all he can do is hunker down and try to collect his data. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to afford the health insurance plan he currently has for his employees once more of his workers qualify (until now, he has counted 34 hours per week, not 30, as full time). Does he need to change plans? If he’s not at the 50-employee mark, will he be able to afford covering any of his employees or have to drop health coverage altogether?

All of this remains unclear. There is something, however, that he knows for sure. In the 1990s, he grew the restaurant, tacking on a sprawling complex to the little bar and kitchen where his Italian immigrant parents served spaghetti and meatballs starting in the early 1950s. He doubled its size.

He also laid the groundwork for further expansion. “When we re-engineered this building, we left in place the structure to support a 120-seat catering hall on the second level,” he says. Now, it’s out of the question.

“I’d always thought I’d do what my dad did,” he says. “He was working in here till he was 73 and had a massive heart attack and died.”

“I always thought I would be happy to be that old and work in here until my last day,” he says. “Now, I’m seriously contemplating retiring for the first time in my life.”

Kate Havard is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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