By Pauline Masson

Pacific Missourian Editor

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, could spell doom to many small businesses, according to a Pacific attorney who operates a one-man law firm.

Alderman Nick Chlebowski started his law firm, Chlebowski Law LLC, in June 2013, partially because of the ability to obtain affordable insurance for his family through the Affordable Care Act.

Repealing the act could remove affordable insurance coverage to individuals who operate small businesses, hampering one of the best economic growth opportunities for communities like Pacific, he said.

Obamacare went into effect shortly before Chlebowski, a Pacific resident, made the decision to open a law office in his hometown.

“Knowing that I would be able to get insurance for me and my family under what was, at that time, a new law, was what prompted me,” he said. “I had been on Cobra for my previous employment, and I saw that I could try to get a job with somebody else or I can strike out on my own.”

He started the firm and enrolled his family with Obamacare, which he says has been great for the most part.

The cost is what he expected for a family policy and the coverage was good.

The family had to make one doctor change, but it was just to another doctor who was in the same health system. Other family members were able to keep their doctors.

Then an event occurred that changed everything.

“My wife got cancer and was treated,” Chlebowski said. “We were lucky to find it when she was going under another procedure. She doesn’t have any cancer at this point, although she has ongoing scans to ensure that it’s not there.”

Now the threat of repeal of Obamacare threatens to force him to give up his successful law practice and send him searching to join a law firm that would provide employee insurance coverage.

“What scares me is that we are in a position where I don’t know that I can continue to keep my own business. I’m scared of where we might be insurance-wise,” he said. “With my wife having a pre-existing condition and with the repeal out there, it is a frightening time for me and my family.”

The worst part of it is that the threat of loss of insurance coverage comes at a time when the law firm is flourishing, he said.

“I was getting to the point where I was considering bringing on another attorney,” Chlebowski said. “I curtailed that because I don’t know that I can bring someone on and be able to offer them a way to get insurance.”

Chlebowski said he had planned to bring on another attorney as a partner with the partner being responsible to get his or her own insurance until they grew the firm to the size where it would have enough employees that they can be insured under an employer plan.

“It (the threat of Obamacare repeal) has curtailed the growth of my business because of the uncertainty that’s out there,” he said. “I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know that my wife is going to continue to be covered.”

Chlebowski said he is certain that the threat of repeal of Obamacare is having a similar effect on other individuals who are starting or operating small businesses.

“This is one of the effects of the Affordable Care Act that people may not realize,” he said. “It spurs people to go out and be entrepreneurs. It allows people to have a small business and have that insurance safety net that they otherwise would not have.”

If individuals are tied to a job because of their insurance it’s hard to go out and start on their own, he remarked.

Chlebowski said he believes one of the reasons there is not more outcry over the possible repeal of Obamacare is that the majority of people are covered by employer insurance or state insurance, through Medicare or Medicaid.

“The very few people who are under the Affordable Care Act are the people who really need it,” he said. “They are people like me, people trying to start businesses and grow businesses. Losing that insurance safety net is terrifying and it is not pro-business.”

For this reason, he is considering closing his law firm and seeking employment with another firm where he could get insurance coverage under their policy.

“Right now I’m enrolled for this year in the Affordable Care Act. It is still the law of the land and I’m covered,” he said. “But there are threats that it won’t be for the entire year.

“Depending on the proposal they may or may not cover my wife and my son,” he said. “So it is forcing me to go out and look to join another firm just for the insurance, at a time when my firm is growing.”

Chlebowski said his firm is exactly where he expected it to be after three-plus years. He has grown mostly through word-of-mouth, with referrals from a network with people that he has known from growing up in the area.

He grew up in Chesterfield and is a graduate of Chaminade High School, which has an extensive alumni network.

Chlebowski entered the field working as in-house counsel for a company, focusing on regulatory compliance, contracts, business-to-business contract agreements and some civil litigation involved with collections.

The vast majority of Chlebowski’s law practice now is business law, including company formations, partner buyouts, business sales, business reorganizations, debt and equity financing for companies — and he would prefer to keep growing the firm.

If Obamacare is repealed, Chlebowski said he would not only have to close his successful law firm, but would have to scale back the civic life that he has built here.

“I would absolutely prefer to be on my own. I knew starting my firm would be difficult financially, but I wanted to do it for two reasons,” Chlebowski said. “One, it was a quality-of-life thing I wanted to spend time with my family. I wanted to work here in town, to be able to tailor my life around my family. And two, I thought that working on my own I had the opportunity to grow and take more profit for myself and eventually grow the firm under me.”

Another advantage of operating a local law firm is the ability to work in town and be involved in the community, he said.

Although he did not start his own firm with the idea of being an elected official, he did start with the idea that he could be a part of the community.

“I wanted to be involved here in Pacific. If I’m with a firm somewhere I’m going to be working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and I’m not going to have time to do things here in town,” he said. “I conceivably would have to resign my position as alderman because I might not have time to do what it is that needs to be done.”

Chlebowski said he enjoys being an alderman and does not want to give it up.

“I feel a sense of pride in being an attorney from Pacific,” he said. “When I go to Franklin County Court everybody knows me. I work as a marketer for Pacific. Having an attorney network, I think helps spread the word that Pacific is a place that is working and growing the right way — that it is going in the right direction. And I am proud to be a part of that and I do not want to give it up.”

He has not given up on the idea that some parts of Obamacare can be saved. Citizens can contact their senators, who have the ability block the repeal.

Chlebowski believes any repeal will pass the House of Representatives because of the overwhelmingly Republican numbers in the body, but the Senate is a much closer call.

“I am one of millions of people who stand to lose their coverage if they repeal the act,” Chlebowski said. “Healthcare may not be a right, but certainly your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is tied up with your health. If you don’t have your health you don’t have any of those other things.”

Chlebowski also said the ACA was not in any way perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. And with input from both sides it could probably be better.

“Most people, it does not hit them personally,” he said. “One of the reasons that I wanted to give this interview is that I want people to understand this is a personal issue. There are people who this affects. It’s not just some piece of legislation that they’re going to repeal. It has a direct effect on people’s lives and a direct effect on my family.”

Chlebowski said he hopes residents will contact their U.S. senators and ask them to keep Obamacare.