A group of business associations hopes to build grass-roots support for repealing part of the federal health care law scheduled to levy a fee on health insurers starting in 2014.
The group, headed by the National Federation of Independent Business, sponsored a meeting Wednesday attended by 15 people at the Garden Cafe in Rockbrook Plaza in Omaha. It held an earlier meeting in Norfolk, Neb., and plans others in Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte, as well as in other states.
The fee per person covered is slated to raise $8.7 billion in 2014 and $14.3 billion a year by 2018, revenue that is intended to offset other provisions of the health care law so that it would be "revenue-neutral." The fee also is intended to come out of extra profits that health insurers would receive by selling insurance to millions more Americans, who are mandated to buy it under the new law.
The business associations say insurers would pass along the fee to small businesses, raising costs and forcing them to cut salaries or raise prices.
In response Wednesday, a representative of a labor union and civil rights advocacy group said the business coalition is acting on behalf of the health insurance industry, which is reaping huge profits and stands to gain even more when the health care law takes full effect.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also issued a statement saying that the health insurance industry will benefit from more than 30 million new customers because the health care act will make insurance more affordable.
The business group calls the fee a "health insurance tax" and named itself the Stop the HIT Coalition. Its 36 members also include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business lobbying group, which is among those challenging parts of the law in the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the Omaha meeting, attorney Joshua Weir of Omaha said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., is one of about 100 co-sponsors of a House proposal that would repeal the fee portion of the health care law. Six senators are co-sponsoring a measure in the Senate that would remove that part of the law, plus other provisions.
Weir urged those attending to contact other Nebraska members of Congress to co-sponsor the bills.
Weir said the coalition hopes to gain support from both political parties to remove the fee, similar to the bipartisan support last year for removing a business reporting requirement from the law.
The coalition argues that the fee would amount to a cost of $500 a year per employee at small businesses, who are the main purchasers of health insurance for employees. Larger employers often are "self-insured," paying for health claims themselves while hiring insurance companies to manage the claims process.
Heather Almond, operations director for Ashley Lynn's tanning and hair salons, said she heard about the meeting from company owner Barton Bonn, who is active in the Republican Party. She said she had not heard that the fee would end up raising the price of health insurance for small businesses.
But Avram Goldstein, a spokesman for Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C., says that's not the case, that health insurers oppose the fee because they want the added profit from 32 million new insurance customers without paying for it, at a time when they already are making record profits.
"They are determined to do everything they can to undermine the Affordable Care Act," said Goldstein, who said his group represents labor unions and civil rights groups. "They want to cherry-pick the parts of the law that they like and throw out the ones that they don't."
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