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Health-Care Reforms at Heart of Goleta Economic Summit

Panelists also discuss jobless rates and efforts to generate more green jobs on the Central Coast

Goleta and Santa Barbara have some of the lowest unemployment rates in California, and efforts are being made to grow more green jobs while health-care officials continue to try to figure out how national reform laws will affect small businesses.

The Goleta Economic Summit on Friday drew about 125 business leaders to hear experts discuss state politics, how new jobs will be generated, and whether health-care reforms will be a disaster or a boon when they take full effect in 2014.

“It’s a disaster,” Michael Framberger, regional sales manager for Anthem Blue Cross, said of the health-care law passed earlier this year. “I don’t see it lowering costs for small businesses.”

Framberger was one of five summit panelists who acknowledged that effects of the reforms are largely unclear since the law won’t take hold for several years. He corrected panelist Chris McNamara, senior vice president of the nonprofit Sansum Clinic, who said part of the law that allows parents to keep adult children on their policies until age 26 went into effect Thursday. Framberger said parents can’t take advantage of that part of the law until next year when they reapply for health-care coverage.

The disagreement pointed to what several panelists said were vague and confusing aspects of the reforms, which no one has figured out yet.

McNamara and panelist Cynder Sinclair, head of the nonprofit Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, said that while the reforms will cost taxpayers and patients more, the overall effect will be a healthier work force, fewer days lost on the job and greater productivity.

“It will mean higher premiums and taxes ... but for some small businesses, the tax credits will help,” said Ted Frech, a panelist and UCSB professor.

Panelist Steve Woodward, with Santa Barbara-based Riviera Insurance Services, said there will be some business disadvantages, but added, “for business professionals, it’s time to take off the blinders and ace the world.” He said he has had to “go back to school” to try to discern what the health-care reform really means for his small-business clients.

McNamara said that what further complicates the South Coast health-care situation is that many local general practice doctors are planning to retire in the next several years, and they will have few replacements since interns usually want to be specialists.

Sinclair and McNamara said their nonprofit clinics will be seeing many more patients because a growing number of South Coast workers can’t afford health insurance for themselves or their families.

“We’re seeing 400 new patients every month,” Sinclair said.

On the unemployment front, Goleta’s most recent figures show a 4.4 percent jobless rate, while Santa Barbara clocked in at 6.3 percent, said Josh Williams of BW Research Partnership Inc. who works for the Workforce Investment Board.

However, South Coast tourism officials indicated that Santa Barbara County’s leisure travel and hospitality sectors are making a positive turnaround and that the county’s agricultural industry has seen nearly 3,000 jobs gained since 2008.

“Construction and sustainable farming operations are two of the most active and promising sectors of the ‘green economy,’ too,” said Bill Buratto, president and CEO of the Ventura County Economic Development Association. Buratto is working with Williams on a study on how to create more green jobs on the Central Coast.

Buratto defined the green economy as activities or services that perform at least one of the following: generating or storing renewable energy; recycling existing materials; energy-efficient product manufacturing, distribution, construction, installation or maintenance; education, compliance and awareness; and natural and sustainable product manufacturing.

Brendan Huffman, executive director of the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties, opened the summit with a discussion of Sacramento politics. He listed a variety of state propositions that the alliance is backing in the November election. He also said the alliance will be making candidate endorsements for the first time in its five-year history.

Noozhawk business writer Ray Estrada can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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