Karen Bremer, Exec. Dir. of the GA Restaurant Assn., in her Atlanta office, Thursday, June 28, 2012.
ATLANTA -- Owners of small businesses in Georgia are afraid of how the new health care law will impact them and their employees. The issue is not whether they agree or disagree with the law, support it or oppose it. The issue is how they're going to pay for it.
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"There's a definite sense of fear and of deep, deep concern about how this is going to affect our industry," said Karen Bremer, Executive Director of the Georgia Restaurant Association in Atlanta. "It's going to have a staggering effect on our economy."
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Bremer pointed out that restaurant employees comprise 10 percent of Georgia's workforce, more than 380,000 people, who work at more than 16,000 restaurants.
She said restaurant owners' profit margins are already as low as four percent, but they will have to provide increasingly expensive health insurance plans for a huge population of employees who have never been covered before. The restaurateurs, she said, will struggle to pay for the coverage.
It's the right thing to do, they say. But how will they come up with the money?
By charging more and cutting back, Bremer predicted.
"With increased menu prices, and there will be reduced service in restaurants due to staffing [reductions], there will be a lowering of wages or freezing of wages," Bremer said. "And I think that restauranteurs have been saying that they are not economists, however they foresee the recession returning and further unemployment."
A dire forecast.
But many across the U.S. say businesses will simply have to face up to this new reality, and figure out a new way of doing business -- a way that figures the employee health plans into the cost of doing business.
"We have a bigger population, we have an older population, we have more things we can do for people, and now we have to change the system in order to accommodate those changes," said Toby Cosgrove, M.D., CEO of Cleveland Clinic.
And everyone will pay -- in many ways -- at restaurants and throughout the rest of the nation's vast, private-sector economies.
"This is an unfunded mandate that will cost consumers more at the restaurants and will ultimately cost employees their jobs as well as businesses their livelihoods," Bremer said. "This will cause restaurants that have been operating marginally through the recovery to close."
(NBC News contributed to this report.)