‘I was duped, I am an idiot’: Owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City apologizes for appearing with Donald Trump

FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump shows an executive order on health care that he signed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in Washington. Trump presented a distorted picture of his tax plan this past week and claimed he was trying to keep the Obama health law’s insurance markets afloat even as he took steps that could well sink them. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Dave Ratner, pictured second from left, stands as President Donald Trump shows an executive order on health care that he signed last Thursday at the White House. –Evan Vucci / AP

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Dave Ratner is apologizing to his employees and customers, after the longtime Western Massachusetts business owner attended a White House ceremony last week in which President Donald Trump signed an executive order undermining the Affordable Care Act.

Ratner, an Agawam resident and owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, a small chain selling beverages and pet supplies, says he didn’t know what he was walking into. But after he appeared smiling behind Trump in photos of the ceremony, the businessman faced intense criticism and calls for a boycott of his store.

“I want to say strongly and clearly: I do not support this executive order,” Ratner said in a MassLive letter to the editor Monday.

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“I had absolutely no clue he was adding all the onerous changes,” he wrote. “I was duped, I am an idiot.”

Ratner said he neither voted for nor supports Trump and said last Thursday’s executive order is “bad for the region.”

Ratner was attending the ceremony as a member of the National Retail Federation and says he was told the order would allow small businesses to band together to negotiate for cheaper health insurance rates, a measure which the NRF supports.

“It was obviously an error in judgement to believe the White House that this was the only change they would be announcing,” Ratner wrote.

Trump’s order also asks federal agencies to broaden the definition and use of those so-called association health plans, as well as of short-term health insurance plans, which are not required to follow the ACA standards. Health care experts have said these changes could result in increased premiums and instability within the ACA’s insurance marketplaces.

“Many of the other changes in the Executive Order are likely to make it harder for local residents to get affordable healthcare – the exact opposite of what I was hoping for when I went to Washington,” Ratner wrote Monday.

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Ratner told MassLive last week that neither he nor the NRF supports dismantling the ACA, which is somewhat at odds with the NRF’s repeated support of Republican lawmakers’ efforts to do just that.

Trump’s order last Thursday was followed by another action Friday to end the federal subsidies to insurers to provide plans for low-income people — a move that could also result in across-the-board premium increases and the unraveling of ACA markets, through which an estimated 11 million people receive insurance.

In an interview Sunday with The Boston Globe, Ratner said he “abhors” the president’s actions and was reportedly brought to tears recalling the backlash he and his business received.

“It was 42 years of building a wonderful brand and having it destroyed in one day,” he told the Globe, after what he characterized as “the worst two days of my life.”

In his letter Monday, Ratner apologized to his employees, customers, and community for his presence at last week’s signing ceremony.

“I have never brought politics into my business – but I have always tried to operate in a way that makes our community a better place,” he wrote. “I thank you in advance for your understanding.”

Ratner on his store’s Facebook page promoting dog food. —Facebook