No one fought harder against the health-care reform law than the National Federation of Independent Business, which led the legal charge against the divisive legislation all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, with the law upheld and the political spotlight turning back to tax relief and spending cuts, we wondered where the small business group would shift its attention and resources.
Turns out, right back to health care.
“Our preference would still be to dismantle the law and start over, but obviously the political outlook there is not very favorable,” NFIB President Dan Danner said in an interview. Danner has previously argued that the law “saddles small businesses with a wagonload of cost increases,” stripping them of capital that could have otherwise been used to invest, hire and expand their companies.
But instead of renewing their efforts against the law as a whole, his team of lawyers and lobbyists has pinpointed three particularly onerous elements they believe can be made less burdensome for small business owners, either through legislative or regulatory action.
For starters, the group will fight to eliminate the health insurance tax (HIT) provision, which levies new fees on insurers that the Congressional Budget Office forecasts will “largely be passed through to consumers in the form of higher premiums for private coverage.” Small business advocates warn that that will mean shifting most of the financial burden to small firms and self-employed entrepreneurs.
Danner cited analysis suggesting the fees would amount to more than $87 billion between 2014 and 2020.
“That’s a lot of money that’s going to pass through to businesses,” he said, noting that his team hopes to work with lawmakers to draft measures that would eliminate the HIT. “This is really our marketplace, because this one is going to hit the little guys, as opposed to large self-insured businesses.”
The group’s second point of attack will be the rules governing the employer mandate, which requires businesses with at least 50 employees to provide health insurance (or pay a penalty). But what has yet to be determined is how part-time and seasonal workers will factor into that equation; in other words, how many part-time workers will count as a single full-time employee when determining whether firms are exempt from the mandate?
That decision rests in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services, which the NFIB has urged to limit the full-time equivalence of such workers, hoping to reduce as much as possible the number of, for instance, construction and seasonal firms that are required to provide coverage.
Danner also warned that the law lumps businesses together by owner, meaning that entrepreneurs who own several small businesses that each fall short of the 50-employee cap but collectively surpass the mark could be subject to the mandate. The NFIB plans to push back against that joint-ownership provision, arguing it discourages successful business owners from expanding or branching into new industries.
“This one hits close to home, as one of my sons and some of his buddies have three small restaurants in northern Virginia,” Danner said. “They are all separate LLCs, all separate business entities, but because the four of them are the primary owners, the ownership is considered the same, and all those employees will be counted toward the mandate cap.”
Rounding out its trio of health care targets, the NFIB hopes to strip down the minimum benefits package that businesses are required to provide for employees. Those exact requirements have also yet to be determined by the HHS.
“Our hope is that it’s not going to be a bells-and-whistles kind of plan, because that is just going to make it harder for them to afford,” Danner said. “If you put in massage therapy and hair transplants and all that kind of stuff, that just going to increase the burden for small business owners.”
Meanwhile, striking an odd balance as they continue working to strip away and water down some of its provisions, NFIB executives are already working to educate small business owners and help them comply with the provisions of the health-care law.
“There’s still a lot to yet to be decided, but we’re not waiting,” Danner said. “We’re working with our members to prepare them for what we know so far and we will keep working to make certain elements less of a burden for them going forward.”
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