Some non-union construction firms may be relieved to hear that the controversial provision sponsored by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), which would have required small construction firms with six or more full-time workers and a payroll of $250,000 or more to offer health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty per worker, was not part of the final health care overhaul approved by Congress March 25.
The Senate passed the House’ “corrections” health bill by a 56-43 vote. The House quickly followed suit, passing the bill by a 220-207 vote. The president is expected to sign the legislation by the end of the week.
The corrections bill sought to fix things about the Senate-passed bill the House lawmakers didn’t like. Included in the package of fixes was a strike of the Merkley provision. The defeat of the Merkley amendment is a loss for organized labor, which had lobbied heavily to see it included in the final bill.
While employer groups are happy to see the Merkley provision go away, they still complain that the health care overhaul will result in higher premiums and taxes for businesses. The bill’s advocates argue that the reform will help slow the skyrocketing rise of health care costs over the long-term.
The road to a comprehensive health care overhaul has been a long and arduous one, and lawmakers were celebratory following the passage of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the bill “the most crucial social reform legislation” to pass Congress in decades.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a close friend of former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), noted that the Senate approved the legislation 200 days “to the day” that Kennedy, a long-time champion of health-care reform, had died.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are threatening to work toward repeal of some or all of the law and to make health care a central issue in the 2010 mid-term elections. Dodd said, “We are not going to let them take [this] away from the American people.”
Soaring rhetoric aside, businesses will be challenged in coming months to figure out how this new law affects them, and what they need to do to comply.