Employees at the Portland, Ore., store Paloma Clothing are all offered health insurance. The shop's co-owner hopes it'll get cheaper if insurance exchanges go online in 2014.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- You've heard it a thousand times: Health reform will stifle small business and kill jobs.
But some business owners are telling another story -- it just might make health insurance more affordable.
"This is all about leveling the playing field so small businesses get a fair shake, so we can effectively compete against larger companies," said Mike Roach, co-owner of Paloma Clothing in Portland, Ore.
Roach is a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, a powerful trade group that helped propel the case before the Supreme Court. He has also joined the American Small Business Majority, which is on a crusade against the idea that health reform is a job killer.
He and others pin their optimism about the 2010 Affordable Care Act on the promise of new statewide insurance exchanges.
The exchanges, set to start in 2014, could allow individuals and companies access to less expensive health insurance by pooling together and spreading out risk.
Roach doesn't worry about one of the main criticisms of the law -- a rule forcing companies of 50 or more employees to provide insurance or face fines. That's because he's nowhere near that threshold. He is among the 5.2 million firms with fewer than 20 workers, a group that makes up 90% of small employers.
What does worry him is the cost of covering his employees.
Paloma Clothing has been offering insurance since 2008; today six of its nine workers are opting in. Roach is paying close to $17,000 annually -- not a trivial expense.
Every February, just before Roach and his wife, Kim Osgood, sit down with their insurance broker, they toss the same ideas back and forth.
"Can we continue to be as generous?" she asks.
"We could lose these people," he reminds her. "The 15% they pay is already a substantial burden for them."
They've always renewed, even when costs jumped 20% in 2010. Roach admits it wasn't entirely from the kindness of his heart. He is afraid of losing workers to Nordstrom, a large chain with a few stores a short drive away.
Roach also supports another aspect of health reform, a tax credit for small companies that provide workers health insurance. The $5,500 credit he received for 2010 is far above the $1,407 average.
For others, the insurance exchanges would be a place their workers could go themselves.
"If my employees have health coverage, they'll take care of themselves, be around a lot longer and be very productive for the company," said Anthony Serianni, president of Omicron Biochemicals in South Bend, Ind. "Ailing employees leave, and you have to hire new people. It doesn't make sense to have that kind of turnover."
Serianni offers his employees extra salary to help them cover as much as 65% of their own insurance costs. So if they can find cheaper coverage in the exchange, his tab will fall too.
Roberta Tichenor, owner of Annie Bloom's Books in Portland, picks up 80% of the insurance costs for her three full-time employees. That amounts to $30,000 a year.
Her 14 part-time employees are left to fend for themselves, and she hopes the exchanges would give them an affordable option, diminishing their incentive to quit for a company that offers insurance.
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