President Obama's push for health care reform could have a big impact on small businesses. Today, our Small Business Big Deal series takes a look at how one health care provider juggles caring for her patients, while running a business and providing health care for her own employees. A dentist's office may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a small business, but Doctor Phyllis Cook said that is the best way to describe her practice. “If you don't run the practice as a business, you aren't here to be able to take care of patients the same way you'd like to,” said Dr. Cook. Like most small business owners, Cook said she provides a service or product that people need. “In the retail world, you call those people customers, in our world you call them patients; but it's still the same thing that we want to give them patient care, good quality, customer service.” Cook started her practice in Wilmington 10 years ago with only 4 employees. Since then, her practice has moved, and grown. Doctor Cook now has nine employees and, like most small business owners, she has felt the pinch of this recession. “Sometimes my patients say, ‘doc is this economy affecting you?’ I say yeah, I don't live in a bubble,” Cook added. Employees like Jennifer Patterson had their hours cut from 40 hours a week to 38. “For all of us it was just better to get a few hours cut then to have one person be lost,” she said. And they are learning how to work in both the front and the back of the office. “Well it helps a lot because I've worked with insurances before, I've worked with financial aspects so if patients ask me I can answer general questions,” said Patterson. As a health care provider, Cook must deal with insurance from her patients. “It only allows them a thousand dollars coverage for the year and the majority of those services are for preventive care.” And for her employees, Cook said, “When I first started, smaller in number of employees, I was able to offer them the benefit that I paid for 100% of their health coverage.” But with more employees, and rising costs for health care and insurance, Cook has been forced to look for alternatives, and she's not alone. According to the US Public Interest Research Group more than half of the 46 million uninsured Americans are small business owners, employees and their dependents. To help get through the recession Doctor Cook has set up what she calls a study group with other dental professionals. She said speaking with other members of the industry helps her find new ways to bite down during the tough economic times. “Study club allows us to rely on each other. Our opening meeting is how to recession proof your practice. When you can work together like that once again: win, win,” Cook said. As part of President Obama's proposal for health care reform, small businesses would receive a tax credit for providing quality employee health care. However, small businesses that don't provide health care at all would be subject to some hefty fines.
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