Barbour: Federal health mandates are too costly

JACKSON, Miss. — Franchise owners for the 300 McAlister’s Deli restaurants in 22 states know plenty about sandwiches and sweet tea. The corporation’s leader says they also have to become well-versed in deductibles and co-payments for employees’ health insurance.

Phil Friedman, chairman and CEO of the Mississippi-based company, attended a meeting Wednesday in Jackson hoping to learn more about the federal health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in March.

“We have a lot of part-time people. It’s very difficult to understand how to comply with this legislation,” Friedman said during a break at the Jackson Convention Center.

“I’m afraid it’s going to take years to figure out because it touches every element of business,” he said.

The law is being phased in over several years, requiring most U.S. residents to carry health insurance starting in 2014. It’s also being challenged in lawsuits by Mississippi and several other states.

Several hundred people attended the meeting hosted by the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and other business groups.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour told the crowd that the federal health care mandates will be too expensive for state government and private businesses. He said it’s too early to know all the ramifications.

“Let me say that you’re going to see here, small business get clobbered,” said Barbour, who joined a Florida lawsuit seeking to block the law.

Barbour said the federal government has no power to make Americans purchase any product, including insurance.

Most of the speakers criticized the federal law.

“This is all very much a one-sided conversation,” Oleta Fitzgerald, director of the southern regional office of the Children’s Defense Fund, said outside the meeting.

Fitzgerald said she supports much of the federal law because she believes it will help low-income children.

Forest Thigpen, president of the conservative Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said the law is “damaging and counterproductive” for private businesses.

“It penalizes businesses, even those that are actually trying to provide benefits for their employees,” Thigpen said.

Emily Wagster Pettus / The Associated Press