Speaker John Boehner tells a big one on Face the Nation.
The Republican anti-health care disinformation campaign is in full swing this holiday week. House Speaker John Boehner trotted out a new line in the Republican war on health care on Face the Nation Sunday where he had this exchange with host Norah O’Donnell:
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: …It's clear that Obamacare is increasing the cost of health insurance for all Americans and making it virtually impossible for small employers to hire new workers. [italics mine]
NORAH O'DONNELL: How does it make it hard for small employers to hire more workers?
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Because they're being required to either provide health insurance or pay a fine. Well, I'm sorry, a tax. It's now a tax since the court said it was a tax.
NORAH O'DONNELL: Chief Justice John Roberts said it was a tax.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (overlapping): He-- even though, the President had tried to admit for, you know, over a year that it wasn't a tax and nobody believed it and now we know it. But it-- it's getting in the way of employers hiring new workers. Because of these increased costs of government-run health insurance and the fact that, if they don't, they have to provide a tax, so employers--
NORAH O'DONNELL (overlapping): The White House says for employers if you have twenty-five or fewer employees, you actually get a tax benefit. If you have fifty or fewer employers, you don't have to provide them health insurance. So how is that hurting small businesses?
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Well, when we talk about small businesses, under the-- the federal government's definition of small businesses, those five hundred and under. When you're talking about a lot of businesses, the majority of businesses in America would fall within that category and-- and-- and-- we're raising their cost to no end and what's going to happen is most Americans get their health insurance through their employer. Now, a lot of employers are just going to pay the tax and dump their employees into these health exchanges. Well, they are not going to be able to keep their health insurance that they have. Remember, the President said if you like your health insurance, you can keep it. It's not true.
Let’s begin at the beginning, the Boehner contention that the Affordable Care Act is “making it virtually impossible for small employers to hire new workers.” Lie. First, the law is doing nothing right now. These provisions don’t go into effect until 2014.
Second, the SCOTUS ruling was on the individual mandate, not the fine—though I’m fine with calling it a tax—small businesses must pay beginning in 2014 if they elect not to offer health care coverage to workers. The Court had no problem with charging businesses that forgo health insurance plans to dump the responsibility of coverage on the public.
For small businesses with less than 50 employees, the type that account for a disproportionately high rate of hiring, they don’t have to offer health care at all! Their employees can purchase plans via the health care exchanges offered by the states or the federal government. According to business-friendly website SailPay.com, “This could offer substantial cost savings for small businesses currently spending thousands of dollars a year per employee on health insurance premiums.”
So, wrong on the main count. While some small businesses in this category will contribute to their employee share of costs, they are off the hook for fines, penalties, fees, or taxes. They should feel confident in hiring—except for the fact that the Republicans are threatening to repeal the law that would offer these benefits.
If small businesses with less than 25 employees choose to offer health plans the federal government will offer a tax credit of up to 35 percent of the cost of the plan. That’s a credit, not a deduction; real money. While the actual value of this credit depends on the company’s income, it hardly qualifies as the Job Destroyer advanced by Boehner.
Businesses with 50 or more employees must provide insurance plans or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. This is so favorable to business that we might worry about companies abandoning their commitment to health care plans and dumping their workers on the exchanges where $2,000 is not going to buy a plan for a hypothetical family of four at an income level of $50,000. How on earth would such a clause make it “virtually impossible for small employers to hire new workers?”
Here, Boehner may have a point about abandoning plans, though being “dumped” onto a health care exchange is far different than being dumped onto the rolls of the uninsured presently funded by taxpayers via EMTALA. There are a number of factors that will inhibit such dumping, the largest of which is that companies will lose highly compensated employees covered by high-end plans if they dump them, and under the law you can’t just dump your low-paid workers. The deterrence is explained thusly by AcademyHealth.org: “because the cash-out needed to maintain the higher-paid workers’ current total compensation level would be greater than the cost of the health plan.” If employee retention is part of the small business strategy, dumping is not going to fly.
Under the ACA, small businesses can expect to find better deals—likely far better deals—on health care plans offered via the exchanges, even in red states that hate health care reform for political reasons. Their exchanges will be run by the feds. These deals will prevent plans from refusing coverage to employee groups with members who experience pre-existing conditions. This used to be a deal-breaker. When coverage was offered to such a group, the rates were off-the-charts. And sometimes each member of the small group pool had to submit to a health evaluation inquisition. And of course, women pay more under the status quo.
The plans offered under the exchanges need not be perfect to beat what used to be offered to small businesses, because what was offered was crap. Everyone worries that exchange-based plans are going to be too costly to small businesses, but to beat what was offered in the past will take virtually nothing.
So on yet another count, Boehner is just spouting a political Big Lie, in the hopes of poisoning the waters for voters, who will, it is hoped by the Republican messaging machine, vote strictly out of fear. In that case the Repeal It and Forget About It strategy will have succeeded.
As Norah O’Donnell pointed out, the law offers a number of benefits for businesses that want to offer plans to their workers. Yes, the law is complex for small businesses to negotiate. We haven’t touched on all the wrinkles here. And yes, it is likely that for some larger small businesses, which have elected to ignore their workers’ well being by paying low wages and offering nothing by way of health coverage, some of these will pay more than they have in the past. It has been well documented that some employers who could afford to offer basic health care insurance were dumping their workers onto taxpayer-funded plans of last resort.
What is most reprehensible about Boehner’s dissembling is that as Speaker of the House he knows the provisions of the law. His Big Lie is an informed Lie. He knows the difference. He knows that he cannot play politics based on the facts and lose his war on reform. And to allow President Obama the slighest credit for any aspect of the law is apparently to offer a lane to possible victory in November. That would never do.
Instead we see the first salvos on the front of fomenting fear that small businesses will stop hiring and that employees of those firms should also fear for their jobs, not to mention their health care coverage. It’s a low, low, road to travel. But it seems to be the only road afforded those who are attempting to scare away Americans—and small businesses—from the first real health care break they’ve caught in a generation. And I say that in the face of all the shortcomings evident in the Affordable Care Act. Its shortcomings are far less than anything Boehner and his ilk have up their sleeves if they win in November.