As the Senate gears up for a final vote on health care legislation on Christmas Eve, advocates of reform are hopeful that the bill will pass, and differences between the House and Senate bill can be reconciled in January. Many construction groups are hoping at least one provision in the Senate bill is not included in the final package.
Construction organizations are up in arms over an amendment added by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) late Dec. 21 that would single out small employers in the construction industry. While most employers with fewer than 50 workers that do not offer health coverage are exempt from fines that apply to larger employers, under the newly added provision, construction firms with at least five workers would be subject to the health care coverage fines. Critics of the measure include the American Institute of Architects, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Associated General Contractors and the National Association of Home Builders. Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC, says, “It is impossible to understand the wisdom of singling out small, mostly family-owned construction firms even though the vast majority of them already provide comprehensive health insurance. If Washington was looking for a way to push more construction workers into unemployment lines, the late-night amendment to the health care ‘reform’ measure does just that.”
Union groups, on the other hand, support the measure, saying that the majority of employers in the construction industry are small employers and that they should not be exempted from providing coverage.
The bill still faces several hurdles, not the least of which are holiday schedules and the winter storm that descended upon the much of the Mid-Atlantic this weekend, making it more difficult for lawmakers to convene. Many Republicans, including moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who supported an earlier version of the bill, are stalwart in their opposition to the bill.
There are considerable disparities between the House and Senate bill, and some key provisions supported by the administration—namely, a public option—have been stripped from the Senate bill in order to garner the support of enough Democrats to end a threatened Republican filibuster.
Some of the leading proponents of reform insist that even a watered down bill would still expand coverage to millions of people who are currently uninsured, or who have insufficient coverage. Following the cloture vote early on the morning of Dec. 20, President Obama said the legislation would make “a tremendous difference” and make insurance available to small businesses or the self-employed “at a price they can afford.”
What do you think? What do you think of the health care form efforts? How will it affect your bottom line, and do you already provide coverage for your employees?