Small businessman questions Obamacare fees

Mike Mitternight, a small-business owner in Metairie, said he fears that costs and fees charged next year to insurance companies as part of the Affordable Care Act health care law will be passed on to and devastate mom-and-pop businesses.

“We’ve always provided health insurance for our employees. In fact, we pay 100 percent of the premiums,” said Mitternight, who owns an installation and maintenance contracting company.

Mitternight said his health insurance costs had been increasing, when he was warned that next year Obamacare could indirectly bring premium rate increases of up to 40 percent for his business.

“That’s something that we just can’t handle,” Mitternight said. “When you start looking at something like this sort of increase, it’d be devastating to us.”

That is why Mitternight is helping Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses tout Boustany’s “Jobs and Premium Protection Act” to repeal the fees.

As part of funding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal government next year will start charging a new fee, commonly called the health insurance tax or “HIT,” on health insurance companies for the plans they sell to businesses and individuals. The fee affects that so-called fully insured market, but exempts the larger businesses that mostly set up and offer health insurance plans — the self-insured market.

Because of those exemptions, Boustany and other critics contend that the costs on the insurance companies would be passed on to the small businesses that are most vulnerable in an already uneasy economy.

“The health insurance tax under Obamacare is a very burdensome tax that’s going to run up costs in providing health insurance in the form of premiums for small-business owners, for individuals,” Boustany said. “We heard on average it’s going to be about a $500 per employee cost (per year). That’s significant.”

Boustany said HIT over 10 years is a $102 billion “tax increase on small business when we have high unemployment.”

HIT will “hit the economy like a ton of bricks,” he said.

Boustany and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, have the lead on the bill, which now has 225 total cosponsors. So Boustany said he is optimistic that support would convince the GOP House leadership to start moving the bill shortly.

While Boustany said he wants to repeal all of Obamacare, he said this is an onerous fee that many Democrats also oppose and could potentially find support in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Boustany said he has not yet decided how to propose offsetting the loss of revenues for the Affordable Care Act in the bill.

While Boustany is convinced his bill is finding bipartisan support, the House on Wednesday approved bills to delay both the individual and employer mandates of the health care law.

Such bills are not expected to see any movement in the Senate now that the House has voted to repeal, defund or delay the Affordable Care Act nearly 40 times.

Thursday’s House votes came two weeks after the Obama administration decided to delay by one year the employer mandate of requiring businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to offer them insurance. The administration contended the delay would help give businesses more time to prepare for the implementation.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, criticized the Republican House leadership for continuing to try to destroy a law that could remain in effect as long as Democrats control the Senate and Barack Obama is president.

“To quote Gen. (Russel) Honoré after (Hurricane) Katrina, ‘They’re stuck on stupid,’ ” Richmond said. “We’re stuck on things that are going nowhere — that the Senate won’t even entertain.”

Richmond contends the Affordable Care Act already insures more people.

“It’s going to drive down insurance costs,” he said.

If lawmakers want what is best for the nation, Richmond said, then they should all be “praying” for the health care law to work as intended.