Deal hurts construction industry

January 25, 2010
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Five paragraphs slipped into the massive health care reform bill in Washington could deal a huge blow to Michigan’s already-struggling construction industry.

An 11th-hour amendment to the health care package the U.S. Senate passed last month unfairly and illogically singles out small construction firms for different, tougher standards than other small businesses would face.

The bill exempts small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from government-imposed mandates that employers provide health insurance to workers or face a hefty penalty.

But Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., managed to slip five paragraphs into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 383-page manager’s amendment that would require construction contractors with at least five full-time employees and more than $250,000 in annual payroll to provide workers with health insurance benefits. If they didn’t, and if any of their employees received federally subsidized health insurance coverage, contractors would have to pay a penalty of $750 for each full-time worker.

There is nothing that suggests the needs of a construction contractor with fewer than 50 employees are any different from those of other small businesses. In fact, unemployment is running at roughly 30 percent industry-wide in Michigan, and many construction firms are struggling just to survive. Last year alone, more than 26,000 Michigan construction workers lost their jobs. 

More than 90 percent of ABC member construction firms already proudly offer the best insurance they can afford to their employees. The last thing the construction industry deserves is an unfair federal mandate.

The unfair provision was never offered as an amendment to the health care legislation so that senators had an opportunity to debate the measure. Had they had a chance to read the language, Senators would have realized that it would ultimately result in more job losses.

During these difficult economic times, having a new federal government mandate on construction contractors is not the answer to getting people back to work. To truly reform the health care system, Congress must explore every means available to help reduce the cost to the public and small-business owners instead of passing mandates that favor one industry over another.

Health care reform that is fair to everyone should include medical malpractice reform that will lower the cost of health insurance for everyone; small-business health plans to allow workers in small businesses and the self-employed to join together to obtain insurance plans that large employers and unions currently enjoy; and portability so that the health care insurance policy remains with the worker, not the employer, while he or she moves from job to job, in order to reflect the realities of the construction industry work force.

We call on the public to join with members of the construction industry in urging Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to help protect Michigan jobs by ensuring the construction industry receives equitable treatment under any health care reform bill coming out of Washington.

Chris Fisher is president of Associated Builders & Contractors of Michigan.

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