Health care bill polarizes builders
Published: December 29, 2009
Tags: Associated General Contractors of America, bill, Coulson, health care, health insurance, National Electrical Contractors Association, Roehrig, Roehrig & Savola Builders, Roehrig & Savola Builders Inc., Turmail, U.S. Senate, Wisconsin Builders Association
An insurance requirement in the U.S. Senate’s health care bill targeting small contractors has opponents worried lawmakers are unfairly singling out the construction industry.
“That concerns me,” said Gary Roehrig, president of Roehrig & Savola Builders Inc., New Holstein. “I’d really like to know what we did to deserve it.”
The health care bill the Senate passed Dec. 24 includes an amendment that would require construction companies with as few as six employees offer health insurance. The health insurance requirements kick in at 50 employees for all other companies.
Setting the threshold at 50 employees would exempt most contractors in the U.S., said Lake Coulson, executive director of government affairs for the National Electrical Contractors Association, an organization that supports the health insurance requirement. Most of NECA’s members are companies that provide insurance through collective-bargaining agreements with unions, he said.
“We’re saying, from our perspective, we take care of our employees,” Coulson said. “We think it’s the right thing to do.”
The health care bill will not be hard on builders because it doesn’t require companies with five or fewer full-time employees provide insurance, Coulson said.
“The real small mom-and-pop operations would still be exempt,” he said.
The health care bill would not affect Roehrig’s company because he only has one employee. But, he said, about a third of the homebuilders in his area fall into the 6-to-50-employee range.
“You get the same message from all of them,” he said. “When is it going to stop? What have we done to merit all of this attention?”
The requirement that companies offer the insurance is not the problem, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America. In fact, he said, more than 90 percent of AGC’s members already offer coverage.
“This is not about providing health care,” Turmail said. “This is about foisting costs on the construction industry alone based on midnight deals done with little or no debate.”
The penalties and the paperwork are problems, he said. If companies offer insurance and employees choose not to accept it, the companies still must pay higher taxes, Turmail said.
“Even if their employees do accept it,” he said, “they now have the additional regulatory burden of showing that they do accept it.”
The recordkeeping that comes with different government regulations already is turning builders into office managers, said Roehrig, secretary of the Wisconsin Builders Association. He said he used to spend his days in the field and reserve the last two hours of the day for paperwork. Now, he said, the job requires at least one day a week of desk time.
The inclusion of contractors in the health care package only will make it worse, Roehrig said.
“It bothers me to look at all of the bureaucracy and the paperwork that’s being thrust onto these young builders,” said Roehrig, who took over his company in 1979. “It’s at the point of: How are they going to find time to get out into the field?”