11/28/2012 09:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jimmy John's Franchisee Looks For Ways To Make Obamacare Work

One Jimmy John's franchise owner is going rogue.

While the CEO of the national chain of sandwich shops has publicly railed against the costs of implementing the Affordable Care Act, Dean Hodges of Omaha, Neb., is working non-stop to figure out how to bring health care to his employees at the 18 Jimmy John's outposts he franchises.

Hodges said that he doesn't care much about the comments made by Jimmy John's founder and CEO James 'Jimmy John' Liautaud, who told Fox News in October that the Affordable Care Act would force him to cut workers' hours.

The corporate office does "not dictate what we can and cannot do," Hodges wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

Hodges employs about 550 people in Nebraska, Idaho and Nevada. He says he isn't necessarily taking a stand for or against the law, but is simply looking for a way to make it work. "I'm trying to save for it and plan for it so I can comply with the government, provide health care and still pay for it."

Thirty-eight of Hodges' employees are full time and receive a benefits package that includes a stock option and health care. Next year, another eight or nine employees will reach the six-month threshold of full-time work required to become eligible for the benefits. Over 90 percent of the full-time workers, from shift managers to the director of marketing, started out at the bottom and worked their way up, Hodges said.

"We do that to encourage people to work hard, to get those benefits as an incentive," Hodges said in a follow-up interview.

Under the new health care law, anyone who works 30 hours or more is considered a full-time worker and employers with 50 or more full-time employees are required to provide them with an affordable plan.

In the interview with Fox News, Liautaud said that the law would force Jimmy John's to bring workers down to 28 hours. "Yes, we have to do that," he said. "There's no other way we can survive it."

Several other high-profile CEOs have gone public to discuss Obamacare's projected effects on their restaurant chains. Public outcry later forced executives to either distance themselves from the comments or try to clarify their context.

As Obamacare kicks in and requires business owners to expand coverage for workers, Hodges fears he will have to make some changes. The law means roughly 150 more of his workers will be considered full time.

"It's crazy," Hodges said. "If I add 150 people to the same plan, we're talking over $500,000 in premiums. Ten of my 18 stores would become unprofitable."

In a business where profitability is razor-thin, Hodges explained, regardless of how the cost of insurance ultimately breaks down between employee and employer, a lot of businesses will move from slightly profitable to unprofitable.

Nevertheless, Hodges will continue to assess his options and look for a way to make it work.

"We're not cold people who don't want to insure people," he said. "It's not a nasty greediness on our part. But if I'm unprofitable I can't go on, I can't exist and I can't employ anyone."

Watch Hodges discuss his business in a bank commercial:



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