Congress Considers Revisions to ACA to Help Small Businesses

Attempts to repeal a tax on insurance companies in the new healthcare reform law are picking up steam in Congress, driven by worries that the fee would affect small businesses especially hard.

The legislation would get rid of the fee on health insurance companies set to go into effect when the law does in January 2014. Referred to as the health insurance tax (HIT tax), the fee will be calculated based on the plans insurers sell right to individuals and companies, known as the fully insured market, but doesn’t include plans established and managed by companies themselves, known as the self-insured market.

The majority of big companies self-insure their workers; as a result, experts forewarn that insurance companies will pass the added costs of collecting the fee to small businesses, which are inclined to buy coverage in the fully insured market.

“It’s pretty straightforward, what’s going to happen, that the tax is going to be passed along,” Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said in an interview, observing that insurance agents and underwriters have told him as much. “It isn’t really taxing the insurance companies, it’s taxing the people paying the premiums, and in this case, that’s small business owners.”

Matheson is one of several democrats who have pledged their support to the legislation repealing the HIT tax, uniting with almost every Republican in the House. Recently, the bill, H.R. 763, hit the 218-cosponsor mark, which is enough to guarantee its passage in the lower chamber; the tally has since increased to 221.

Sam Graves (R-Mo.) attributed the bill’s momentum to trepidations expressed by small business owners, including many who have testified during hearings before the House Small Business Committee, over which he officiates.

“We keep hearing that from small businesses; that they’re premiums keep going up, keep going up, and now this thing’s coming along, and they’re going to go up even more,” said Graves. “That’s the reason you’re hearing so much about this tax and why you’re seeing such bipartisan efforts to repeal it.”

Those efforts, however, are fighting against the political current on the Hill, where lawmakers have been reluctant to consider proposals to modify the health care law.

This hasn’t discouraged small business advocates from pursuing small fixes, and their efforts are starting to yield signs of progress. Recently, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) introduced legislation that would change the health care law’s definition of full-time employee from 30-hour workers to 40-hour workers, a shift meant to keep labor laws more steady for businesses.