Georgia business weighs paying ObamaCare fine, instead of coverage

Debbie and Larry Underkoffler launched a boutique staffing agency in what they call the worst economy ever, doing anything they could to stand out to potential clients.

"I would bake sourdough bread, and I made homemade strawberry jam, and deliver it to my prospects," Debbie Underkoffler told Fox News. "I would also deliver homemade cookies."

Through years of hard work, they built North Georgia Staffing to the point it now has 18 full-time employees, whom the Underkofflers happily provide with generous health benefits.

"We have very good employees, and we want to take very good care of them," Debbie Underkoffler said.

But under ObamaCare, the Georgia company now faces a tough choice -- cover all of its temporary workers as well, or pay a hefty fine.

More On This...

    Aside from its full-time staff, the company also manages about 400 temporary workers, and is hoping to add another 200 in the next year. Those employees can buy into a separate health insurance program North Georgia Staffing signed up with. Under new ObamaCare rules, many of those "temps" will count toward the Underkoffler's full-time staff.  Larry Underkoffler calculates their full-time employee count will instantly surge from 18 to around 200. They will go from boutique operation to "major employer" overnight.

    And that means, under the health care law, they'd have to provide insurance coverage to all, or pay a $2,000-per-worker fine. In the Underkofflers' case, the fine might be the more affordable option.

    "We would have to provide the same program for all the employees -- including the temps  -- to everyone employed by us. And we just couldn't do that," Larry Underkoffler told Fox News.

    They argue that providing insurance to all the employees would bankrupt the company. Instead, they'll eat the cost of the fine, and dump the employees they can't cover into Georgia's federally run health insurance exchange.

    "It looks like we will have to just pay the penalties," Debbie Underkoffler told Fox News.

    Those penalties could add up to $400,000 in just the first year. That comes right off their bottom line. Still, it's a fraction of what providing health care could cost them. That tab could top $2 million per year.

    What's more, because ObamaCare does not allow separate plans for the full-time employees and the temporary workers they manage, their full-timers will lose their current benefits.

    "It is very scary because they just don't know what they're gonna have the opportunity to buy," said Debbie Underkoffler.

    To the Underkofflers, none of this makes good business sense. Why would the government effectively penalize employees who already have insurance by putting the company in an untenable financial position?

    "I don't think the legislators and the president really looked into it before they considered this law," Larry Underkoffler told Fox News.

    With a year's delay in the implementation of the employer mandate, the Underkofflers are hopeful the administration will make some changes to the way ObamaCare is applied. But Larry Underkoffler says he hasn't seen anything recently that would qualify as "critical thinking" about the unintended consequences.

    "I haven't seen any thus far. And certainly with the situation in Washington right now, they seem to be kicking the can down the road."