As the health-care debate rages on in Washington, I thought it would be a good time to take a quick look at how things are shaping up. Both house of Congress have passed bills. President Obama has invited Congressional leaders from both parties to a meeting on February25th to discuss the issue and attempt to iron out their differences. (The meeting is supposed to be televised.)
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate bill did get some support from big corporations and business groups. However, the House bill, which places more stringent requirements on employers to offer their employees health insurance, has met resistance from businesses both large and small.
What’s bugging business about the current bills? Big businesses don’t like a provision of the Senate bill that would tax a government subsidy on drug benefits for retirees; the accounting adjustments it would require could mean that many companies’ earnings would drop steeply in 2010. Big companies are also concerned about new taxes and fees in both the Senate and House bills.
What about small businesses? Some small-business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, contend that health-care reform will increase small business owners’ costs, making it harder for them to hire and retain employees. However, most taxes in the Senate bill are targeted at health-insurance companies, drug companies and other big corporations in the health-care system-not at small companies.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has said future negotiations to come up with a final bill must focus on how to control costs. The Senate bill has no public option (government-run health care), but the House bill does. Making sure insurance alternatives aren’t too expensive will be crucial if the House is to give up on the idea of a public option.
Here are the key elements of the Senate bill that specifically affect small businesses:
- Creates health-insurance exchanges where individuals and small employers could buy coverage.
- Requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide coverage or pay a fine of up to $750 per employee.
- Expands tax credits to help small businesses with up to 25 employees (and an average wage of $50,000 or less) buy coverage.
- Requires insurers to cover all comers, including people with pre-existing medical conditions.
SInce there’s so much rhetoric flying back and forth, a good place to keep up-to-date with changing proposals is the Kaiser Family Foundation Web site, which has detailed and frequently updated information about both the House and Senate plans.