Lincoln Journal Star: Rhetoric versus Reality

By: U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

August 22, 2013

It’s the family business – a full service local and long-distance moving company. Nebraska’s pair of  “Two Men and a Truck ®” franchises are currently owned by Eileen Marrison, a stay-at-home mom turned seasoned small businesswoman. It all began, however, with a single Lincoln location started by Eileen’s son, Marty in 1990. Four years later, Marty opened a second company in Omaha, now managed by his sister, Tanya, and owned by his mom.

With 30 employees in Lincoln and 76 in Omaha, the Marrisons provide paychecks for local families and have earned the respect of their communities. Like many entrepreneurs, the Marrisons have worked hard to weather recent economic doldrums. Stiff headwinds are on the horizon, though, and the driving force is coming from Washington. 

After spending countless hours sorting through the new healthcare law, Eileen Marrison was forced to hire a costly consultant. For $1,650, Marrison received a 40-page report from “experts” outlining her new employer duties.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or ObamaCare, requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide government-defined health insurance. An employer who fails to offer “affordable” health insurance will be fined $2,000 per employee.

Marrison presently offers health insurance to full-time employees – a total of 36 individuals working 35 to 40 hours a week. She foots over half the cost of coverage.

The ACA, however, changes the definition of “full-time employee,” lowering the threshold to 30 hours a week. Under the ACA, Marrison has 76 “full-time equivalents,” triggering the employer mandate. Now, she must offer “affordable coverage” to all employees working 30 hours or more.

“I want to offer insurance to my employees,” Marrison continued. “But many folks who work for me are seasonal workers who aren’t looking for insurance. Now, they’re treated like full time employees and I’m stuck with the bill. 

In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the ACA would increase health insurance premiums 10 to 13-percent. Time has proven those estimates were too low. The cost of premiums for Marrison’s employees spiked 30-percent in 2010, and have risen steadily since.

Marrison’s experience isn’t anomalous.

Associated Press recently reported, “insurance companies have already warned small business customers that premiums could rise 20-percent or more in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. That’s making some owners consider not paying for coverage for workers’ families.” But it’s not just small businesses. UPS announced plans to drop coverage for 15,000 working spouses to save $60 million annually, attributing the move to the ACA. Family coverage is in serious jeopardy. 

On July 2, President Obama announced a delay of the employer mandate until 2015, tacitly acknowledging the law isn’t ready for “prime time.” He has worked hard pitching the ACA, yet a July 22 National Journal poll found only 18-percent of Americans believe it will actually improve their healthcare.

Many leaders, including me, have warned of the disastrous impact of this law on our economy and healthcare system. Some critics dismiss our concerns, citing extreme, ideological fervor – an implacable desire to derail Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.

As this rhetoric gives way to reality, the truth has emerged.

A June CNBC poll concluded 20-percent of small businesses cut workers as a result of the ACA, while 40-percent stopped new hiring. The poll also found 38-percent of small business owners “have pulled back on their plans to grow their business” due to the ACA.

Marrison agreed: “I can’t concentrate on growing my business because I’m afraid of what it will cost to comply with these new regulations. The record-keeping is going to take so much time!”

Reduced hours and stagnant hiring have created a growing part-time workforce. Reuters reported, “three out of four of the nearly 1 million hires this year are part-time and many of the jobs are low-paid.”

“Part-time work is a lot better than no work,” a 23-year-old waitress told The Washington Times. “But it’s not what I expected two years out of college. I can’t believe I voted for this. This is not the change I wanted, and it feels like there’s no hope.”

It’s not just business owners who object. It’s unions, hospitals, healthcare providers, and disability advocates. It’s those who were promised, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it” – only to learn they can’t. The list goes on.

After spending several weeks speaking directly with Nebraskans, it’s clear the vast majority remain opposed to the ACA. Let me make my position equally clear: I stand with Eileen Marrison, whom I recently met in Papillion. I am firmly committed to scrapping the ACA and replacing it with commonsense, step-by-step reforms that actually lower costs and improve care.