Health Care Reform Signed Into Law

On March 23, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Health Care for America Act into law. With a stroke of his pen, President Obama completed a mission that presidents since Teddy Roosevelt had worked toward but never accomplished, and ended a divisive battle that has encompassed the federal government since its introduction last year (for now, at least; Republican senators are already vowing to repeal the bill).

The bill, passed by the House on Sunday night by a vote of 219-212, is expected to provide coverage to an estimated 30 million people who are currently without it and will require most Americans to have health insurance coverage.

Much of the burden of coverage will fall on employers like nightclub, restaurant and bar owners, which has led industry groups like the National Restaurant Association to speak out against the bill.

“On behalf of the association representing the nation’s second largest private sector employer, we are very concerned about the impact many of the provisions in this health care bill would have on the restaurant industry,” Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association President and CEO, said in a statement. “The changes included in the modified version of the bill would severely and negatively impact restaurants by weakening the small business exemption, increasing penalties on employers, and imposing onerous administrative burdens on the industry.”

Others, however, see the bill's potential to be good for the industry. "A country makes more money when it provides health care for its citizens, as there is a stronger sense of security and solidarity," says Herve Rousseau of Flute NYC. "Right now this money is only going into the pocket of insurance company for whom your well being is about the last thing they have on the agenda. ... I believe that an employee who is covered is a better and more motivated employee."

Some areas of the country already had mandatory health insurance. "San Francisco is a tough place now because we have had mandatory health care for any company with 20 or more employees for a couple of years now," explains Elixir proprietor H. Joseph Ehrmann. "I don’t meet that criteria and most of my employees are part time, so they don’t meet the required hour minimum to qualify for most plans, [but] I know a lot of people who would rather start an entire new company than have to have over 20 employees."

Many of the bill’s provisions will not be implemented until at least 2014, but some elements will be applied by the end of September, including:

•    Children can stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.
•    Small businesses receive tax credits to assist with buying insurance for employees.
•    All new policies cover preventive care, including annual physicals.
•    Insurance companies can no longer drop insured people when they become sick.
•    Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will receive tax credits covering 35 percent of their health care premiums; this amount will increase to 50 percent by 2014.

By 2014, companies with 50 or more employees must offer insurance coverage to employees. If they don’t, they must pay a $2,000 penalty per employee after their first 30 if at least one of their employees receives a tax credit. If an employer offers coverage but employees still receive tax credits, employers must pay $3,000 for each worker receiving a tax credit.

The House-passed bill included a budget reconciliation bill, which includes revisions to the final law. The Senate must pass this bill — and Republicans see this final step as a way to delay or even stop the progress of the act.

The health reform act will cost the government about $938 billion over the next 10 years but will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the same time period, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

Look for ongoing coverage in NCB First Round and Nightclub & Bar on how this will affect your business.


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