An attorney for National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a nationwide organization that lobbies on behalf of small businesses, was among those arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court this week in an attempt to convince the justices that the Obama administration’s main health care reform legislation should be struck down.
The NFIB and many other small business groups have opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) since it was first drafted. The PPACA was passed by Congress two years ago, but some of its most controversial provisions won’t go into effect until 2014, even if the entire law is eventually upheld. However, many commentators doubt the Act will make it out of the Court intact, based on the lines of questioning pursued by the justices during an almost-unprecedented six hours of oral arguments spread over three days.
Many business leaders and small business consultants have said that uncertainty over the health care law’s fate has made it difficult for small business owners to do accurate financial planning for things like growth and expansion. As a result, many businesses have been reluctant to add new workers to their employee payroll, keeping unemployment high and contributing to the slow pace of the economic recovery in the United States.
One of provisions most opposed by business groups would require companies with more than 50 employees to either provide an adequate health insurance plan for their workers or to pay a federal government penalty. Another would require every person not covered by an employer or government health insurance program to buy individual insurance. These two mandates are among parts of the health care law scheduled to kick in on January 1, 2014.
The NFIB attorney represented individual business owners on whose behalf it brought the original Florida lawsuit challenging the PPACA. It was the first time that the NFIB has argued as a lead plaintiff in a case before the Supreme Court. The NFIB is based in Nashville, Tennessee but has offices in every other state capital and Washington, D.C. The organization claims about 350,000 members. Also arguing against the PPACA, which is often referred to as “Obamacare,” was lawyer Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, who was representing 26 states whose attorneys general sued the federal government over the law.
While the NFIB opposes in principle the coming health insurance mandate for businesses, its arguments before the Court this week were actually against the health care law’s individual mandate provision. Other plaintiffs argued not just that the individual mandate should be ruled unconstitutional, but also that it then follows that the entire PPACA must be struck down in its entirety.
Many small business owners are worried that if the law’s other provisions go into effect without the individual mandate, the cost of health care and health insurance will skyrocket, driving them to limit hiring, cut jobs or go out of business entirely. Many employers also think they will ultimately bear the cost of a tax that the PPACA would impose on insurance companies, because insurers would pass on the tax in the form of higher premiums.
It’s worth noting that some small business owners, including some NFIB members, support the health care law because of certain parts of it that have already gone into effect. These provisions have extended business tax credits to small companies to offset the cost of providing insurance to employees. For employers who were already footing some 50 to 80 percent of the costs of employee health insurance, the tax credit has reduced their costs.
The NFIB originally filed its lawsuit in opposition to the PPACA in a federal court in Florida. The suit eventually found its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, and then was chosen last fall, along with one other PPACA case, for this week’s review by the Supreme Court.
The justices’ decision on the fate of the Administration’s health care legislation is likely not to be handed down for another three months. The Supreme Court’s nine-month session usually finishes near the end of June, and historically the Court’s opinions on its most important cases are among the last to be issued each term.
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