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The health care reform package passed by U.S. Senate includes language by Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) that singles out small construction firms for harsher treatment than any other industry. Whereas most employers with fewer than 50 workers that do not offer health coverage are exempt from fines and the new regulatory regime that applies to larger employers under the newly added provision construction firms employing as few as five workers will be subject to health care coverage fines and regulatory requirements.
All construction firms (and only construction firms) with more than five employees will now face fines if they don’t offer health care benefits or if the benefits do no not meet a minimum requirement. Employers must cover 60 percent of the actuarial value of an employee’s premium. If an employee’s share of the premium exceeds 9.8 percent of their household income then the employee can opt out of the employer provided coverage and receive government subsidies to help offset the costs. The employer can face penalties of $750 per full time employee if the coverage does not meet these requirements.
Now is the time to contact your Senator and ask that the provision (the Merkley amendment after Democratic Freshman Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon who snuck the provision in the bill) be removed to treat the construction industry like every other industry in the country. The industry has experienced job losses in every geographic region and is facing an unemployment rate of 19.4 percent with more than 1.7 million lost jobs. In a good economy the industry only represents five percent of the nation’s employment however since the beginning of the recession the industry’s job losses have accounted for 20 percent of all lost jobs.
Many Senators seem to still be unaware the provision was added by the Democratic Leadership at the last minute. Please use the AGC Legislative Action Center today to inform your Senator of your opposition. (And while you’re at it maybe drop a line to our neighboring Senator Sen. Merkley of Oregon who is responsible for this provision!)
The good and bad news is that because of growing opposition on both the left and right this bill will go to conference with the House during January and likely February. Please take any opportunity you have to talk to your members of both the House and Senate about singling out the construction industry for a different more stringent standard than the rest of America’s employers.