Washington Matters


Small Biz Likely to Escape
Most Onerous Health Mandates

Martha Lynn Craver

But many companies will get hit with at least some additional cost.



The most burdensome small business mandate and tax hikes in the House health reform legislation are not likely to make the final cut. The House bill would require that employers pay 72.5% of the premium for a worker’s coverage (65% for family coverage) if the company’s annual payroll is more than $500,000. Otherwise the firm would be hit with a penalty. A 5.4% tax surcharge on singles making over half a million a year (and $1 million for married couples filing jointly) would also hit some owners of small business. But neither of these provisions appears in the Senate bill, and there’s no way they would be accepted in conference. They’d never get the needed 60 votes in the Senate.

That doesn’t mean smalls get off scot-free. Employers that decline to offer insurance would have to reimburse the government for any federal subsidies their workers get to help them buy insurance. The subsidies would be available on a sliding scale to those with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level (probably around $90,000 for a family of four by 2013 when the law kicks in.) On the other hand, small businesses with fewer than 25 workers who did offer coverage would get a tax credit.

Keep an eye, though, on provisions affecting retirees. The House bill would not allow employers to cut coverage below the level at the retirement time unless the firm made similar cuts for active workers. It also would put an end to the tax exclusion for subsidies the government provides to those employers who offer drug coverage to retirees aged 65 and older. Making subsidies taxable for firms would lower the incentive to offer drug plans as an alternative to Medicare Part D.



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