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Small business owner confronted by Sanders on health care speaks out

Texas business owner LaRonda Hunter asking Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about the cost of Obamacare during a CNN debate Tuesday. (Image source: Twitter/@CNNPolitics)

When one small business owner told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during a CNN health care debate earlier this week that Obamacare has been hurting her business, she got a stern talking to from the self-avowed socialist lawmaker.

LaRonda Hunter, who operates five Fantastic Sams hair salons in Fort Worth, Texas, with just under 50 employees, asked Sanders Tuesday night how she can grow her business under the Affordable Care Act, which requires business owners to provide health care to their workers if they have 50 employees or more.

The senator's answer, Hunter told TheBlaze, left her "aggravated."

"Let me give you an answer you will not be happy with," Sanders told the salon owner. He went on to tell her that, in his view, she should be required to provide health coverage to her employees:

I think that for businesses that employ 50 people or more, given the nature of our dysfunctional health care system right now where most people do get health insurance through the places that they work, I’m sorry, I think that in America today everybody should have health care and if you have more than 50 people, you know what, I’m afraid to tell you, but I think you will have to provide health care.

In response, Hunter told Sanders that paying for her employees' health care would either lead to higher costs for the customers or pay cuts for her staff. In her comments to TheBlaze, the small business owner said she's "not for" the single-payer, universal health care system that Sanders supports, arguing instead that "people need to take some responsibility."

"My employees are really important to me and, if our business made more profit, I would be happy to help with their health insurance," she continued. "Do I think that it's employers' responsibility to fully fund everybody's health care? I don't."

Under Obamacare, small business owners with 50 or more staffers are mandated to provide health coverage to their employees. As a result, many employers have capped their staff numbers at just under 50 people to avoid the additional — and often catastrophic — costs. While Democrats have praised the number of Americans insured by former President Barack Obama's signature legislation, Republicans feel the regulations in the law lead to the creation of fewer jobs.

"It's just completely unreasonable [for employers to pay the cost of health care]. It's impossible — the numbers don't work, and so it's completely stifled my business from growing," she said.

But even when she presented her concerns, Sanders, who noted he's "not much of an expert on hairdressing," stayed the course. He told Hunter, "I do believe if you have more than 50 people, you should be providing health insurance."

Hunter said the entire encounter with Sanders made it clear to her that the senator and the Democratic Party are "absolutely, without a doubt" out of touch with the needs of American business owners.

"He completely ignored the fact that I said, 'My business doesn't make that much profit.' He completely ignored that. It's like as if that meant nothing to him," she said.

Though she may not have won Sanders over, Hunter said she has been following politics for the last couple years and was happy to give some "national attention" to the difficulties small business owners face as a result of Obamacare.

"I wanted to be sure that [my concern] stuck a little bit — that people really heard it — and I think I accomplished that," she said.

Hunter added that she's seen "overwhelming support" as a result of her appearance on CNN's debate. "For the most part, it's very positive and supportive," she said of the response she's received.

In one of his first actions after being sworn-in on Jan. 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking states to "ease the burden of Obamacare." The action made clear that Trump will seek a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In the meantime, the order is intended to "minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [Affordable Care Act], and prepare to afford the states more flexibility and control to create a more free and open health care market."

Hunter, for her part, is hopeful about the future of health care and the economy under the new White House administration and the Republican-led Congress. "More than I can tell you," she said.

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