Small Business Groups Weigh In on Health Care Reform Bill

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On Saturday, November 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) by a margin of 220 to 215. The vote on the complex legislation, which runs almost 2,000 pages, was split along party lines, with only one Republican voting in favor of the legislation and 39 Democrats voting against it. Groups representing the interests of small business owners are also split over the bill's merits. Some are hailing its passage, while others are claiming it will force small businesses to cut jobs.

The 10-year, $1.05 trillion Affordable Health Care for America Act would represent the largest expansion of health care coverage since the creation of Medicare in 1964, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. It would provide 96 percent of Americans with coverage and would include a new insurance exchange in 2013 that would give the uninsured a choice between a government option or private plans. In addition the bill would also:

  • prevent insurers from refusing to sell or renew policies due to an individual's health status;
  • prevent insurers from excluding coverage of treatments for pre-existing health conditions;
  • eliminate the antitrust exemption for health insurers and medical malpractice insurers, and;
  • cap annual out-of-pocket spending at a maximum of $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per family.

"The Affordable Health Care for America Act is a piece of legislation that will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality affordable options for those who don't; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and the government while strengthening the financial health of Medicare," said President Obama in a statement released late Saturday night. He urged the Senate to "follow suit and pass its version of the legislation" to meet his goal of passing health care reform by year's end.

However, the Associated Press reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) "hinted" the Senate may not be able to complete health care reform this year. A major stumbling block is the government option. AP noted that Liberal senators may not vote for a bill that does not contain the public option, while Republicans and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) will likely not vote for a bill that contains the public option.

Also split over the House bill are groups representing the interests of small businesses. While the Small Business Majority and the Main Street Alliance support the House legislation, other groups such as the National Retail Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business have issued statements opposing it.

Under the provisions of the bill, employers will be required either to offer health insurance to their workers or to contribute funds on their behalf. Employers that do not offer coverage will be required to pay an amount based on a percent of their payroll. Businesses whose payroll does not exceed $500,000 would not be required to provide health insurance coverage under the House bill.

In an e-mail to supporters following passage of the House bill, the Main Street Alliance said that Congress "took a huge step toward solving the health care problems small businesses face.... The bill they passed will give small businesses new and simpler choices through a national health insurance exchange, increase competition, and drive down costs by giving us the choice of a public health insurance option, put an end to insurance company abuses and make health coverage more affordable for all of us." The Main Street Alliance did acknowledge, however, that the House bill was not "perfect" and that there remain "serious problems" that needed to be addressed.

While the Main Street Alliance noted that a vote for the House bill was a vote for small businesses, Susan Eckerly, senior vice president, federal public policy, for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said the opposite was true. In a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, Eckerly explained that health care costs rank as the number-one issue facing small business, and NFIB members had identified specific areas in H.R. 3962 that will raise those costs. These include an employer mandate, which, Eckerly said, will "penalize employers already offering health care and force them to make hard choices about how to afford the new government requirements."

A motion to introduce health care reform legislation in the Senate was filed on Monday, November 16, and debate is likely start on Tuesday, The Hill reported. --David Grogan