Giveaways that everyone should want
Looks like Nebraska wasn't the only special interest group -- and yes, states count -- to get a sweetheart deal in the health bill. Construction workers made out pretty well, too.
Early versions of the Senate’s far-reaching health care bill said that small businesses with fewer than 50 workers would not be penalized if they failed to provide insurance. That was before labor unions in the construction industry went to work and persuaded Senate leaders to insert five paragraphs.
Their provision, added to the 2,074-page bill at the last minute, singles out the construction industry for special treatment, in a way that benefits union members and contractors who use union labor.
In this one industry, the exemption from the penalty would be much more limited, available only to employers with fewer than five employees. Construction companies with five or more workers would generally have to provide health insurance or pay a penalty — an excise tax of $750 per employee.
What you're seeing in a lot of these last-minute giveaways are good policies that shouldn't be used as special-interest bribes. Fully funding Nebraska's Medicaid expansion isn't bad because it's a fully-funded Medicaid expansion, it's bad because it's limited to Nebraska. So too with the employer mandate for the construction industry.
Construction industry unions say that they need this: Otherwise, firms that don't offer insurance will have lower labor costs, and thus a competitive advantage, over firms that do. That's true, of course, for every industry where the labor doesn't have the power to demand health-care benefits. The answer isn't to give construction workers a small employer mandate but to add an employer mandate into the bill. That's what Massachusetts did, and it's worked extremely well. It's also in the House health-care bill. Hopefully it'll be in the final health-care bill, too.
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