Small businesses about to get HIT

Dan Danner Contributor
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All too often when Congress sets out to solve a problem, however good the original intentions, unintended consequences result.

Such was the case when Congress took on the task of designing a health insurance reform bill that was guaranteed to provide universal health care coverage to Americans. When lawmakers crafted the bill, they believed they could rely on insurers and punitive taxes to cover the costs created by a vast expansion of coverage.

However, Congress missed its target. Instead, they dealt the small-business community a hard financial blow. The taxes included in the final health care reform bill, passed by lawmakers and signed into law by President Obama, will end up hurting small businesses and their employees, leading to higher costs and fewer workers covered by employer plans.

Small businesses, the self-employed and entrepreneurs are the heart of the U.S. economy. Indeed, they create two-thirds of new jobs. Yet Washington has failed to address the long-held concerns of small business owners that the rising costs of health insurance premiums will continue to impede the growth of their businesses.

The 2010 health care reform law — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — was marketed and sold as an effort to address increasing costs, but its flawed tax policies will put small-business costs on an elevator and force small employers to reduce wages or even to drop coverage for employees.

Embedded in PPACA is a provision that we in the small-business community call the Health Insurance Tax or “HIT.” When it goes into effect in 2014, this HIT will impact approximately two million small employers, 3.4 million self-employed Americans and 27 million employees.

While couched as a tax on insurers, the HIT will actually mean billions of dollars in new taxes on the fully-insured market. Those taxes will result in a deluge of higher costs for those consumers who purchase health insurance coverage from this market: small businesses.

When asked about the HIT’s expected impact on the health insurance market, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the U.S. Senate that the Health Insurance Tax “would increase costs for the affected firms, which would be passed on to purchasers and would ultimately raise insurance premiums by a corresponding amount.”

The resulting costs for small businesses will be staggering.

By 2018, the HIT will collect $14.3 billion. IRS data shows that in 2007, small businesses spent $96.8 billion on total employee benefit programs. Roughly speaking, this means the HIT could represent a 15% increase in employee benefit costs for small business.

This is revenue that could be used to create new jobs, offer higher wages and purchase new equipment.

Let’s consider how the HIT will impact employees of small firms. The average employee with a family plan will see his take-home pay reduced by nearly $5,000 between now and 2020 because of the HIT. CBO Director Elmendorf tells us why: “Although employers typically contribute a substantial portion of the premiums for their workers, the costs of those contributions are ultimately passed on to workers — mainly in the form of lower wages than would be paid otherwise.”

For a community that has already seen health insurance costs increase by 103 percent since 2000, the HIT is yet another devastating punch in the gut.

Even proponents of PPACA can see what the HIT will do to our small-business community. It will be yet another burden on the backs of America’s job creators.

But now Congress has the opportunity to remedy the unintended consequences of the health care law before it hits. Repealing the HIT before it begins to dig into the pockets of small businesses will save jobs and give small employers the certainty and confidence they need to do what they do best — grow our nation’s economy.

Dan Danner is the President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small-business advocacy group.

The Stop the HIT Coalition represents the nation’s small business owners, their employees and the self-employed who are actively working to repeal the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.