Employers Shift Health Reform Fight to Senate

Article excerpt

HOUSE MEASURE OPPOSED

Business interests wasted little time in criticizing a health care reform bill passed this month by the House, and they moved just as swiftly to press their case in the Senate, where a key committee has been more receptive to employer demands yet is unlikely to vote a measure before year's end.

The House bill, which won passage by only two votes during a late-night session November 7, has been roundly criticized by employers. The bill includes a publicly run health care option; a requirement that employers provide health insurance or pay a tax equal to as much as 8 percent of payroll; and a provision that employer plans meet minimum health care benefit standards.

Employers say these provisions and others would weaken the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, which makes it easier for employers to offer health plans to employees in multiple states.

Employers for a Healthy Economy, a group of 1 1 employer associations that includes small-business groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded a $10 million, 19-state media blitz the week before the House vote. Though it ultimately failed to alter the outcome, employers are optimistic that momentum in the Senate is moving in their direction.

"The Senate is a more reasonable place right now," says James GeIf and, senior manager for health policy For the U. S. .Chamber of Commerce. "Part of that is there's not an 80-seat majority. Every vote is important in the Senate. That gives the business community a much better chance of improving the bill."

Time is also on the side of business. Debate in the Senate might begin before the end of the year, but a final vote isn't expected until early 20 1 0.

"More time means more debate and more chances to fix this thing," Gelfand says.

Though employers are in general agreement about their likes and dislikes, they have had different priorities depending on their size and industry. …