The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's advocacy at the Capitol is to underscore the bill's threat to all businesses big and small, regardless of their product or location.
The legislation would require applicants for public health plans to identify their employers. The Department of Human Services would be mandated to report all employers with more than 50 employees on public health programs such as MinnesotaCare and estimate the state's cost. These reports usually are followed with a mandate to employers to either provide coverage or pay a dollar amount to the state.
And there's nothing magical about the benchmark. Some states have considered proposals with a threshold as few as 20 employees. The potential impact on the state's economic vitality is clear. Eighty percent of the Minnesota Chamber's 2,600 members have fewer than 100 employees.
It's hard to imagine a mandate more detrimental to jobs. The California Legislature passed similar legislation; employer cost was estimated as high as $12.9 billion and could have eliminated up to 150,000 jobs. Californians, using good sense, repealed the law by referendum.
The bill's proponents say businesses are "dumping" employees into public assistance. The characterization wrongly assumes that businesses are obligated to provide health insurance. In fact, lawmakers rejected an employer mandate when they created MinnesotaCare because of the potentially devastating impact on economic competitiveness.
Minnesota companies take seriously their stewardship of employees. Seventy-one percent of all Minnesotans are covered by private health insurance, the highest percentage in the nation. And 82 percent of Minnesota's private-sector employees work for companies that offer health insurance. State-imposed costs, however, often put small and medium-sized employers in the unwelcome position of offering a Cadillac plan or nothing.
Lawmakers should applaud -- not punish -- employers for something largely out of their control. A recent Minnesota Department of Health analysis pointed out that two-thirds of the decline in employer coverage from 1999-2002 was because employees themselves refused coverage. Anecdotal discussions with businesses suggest that many individuals are illegally choosing MinnesotaCare over employer-offered coverage presumably to save money.
Lawmakers also shouldn't forget the implications on public-sector budgets, which are financed by taxpayers. Witness similar mandates in other states. Several school districts and cities were on the list in Texas, and in New Hampshire, the state itself ranked high.
Skyrocketing health care expenses already are beginning to choke public and private budgets. Enacting more mandates on employers -- especially small companies -- only will drive up those costs and almost always with an impact detrimental to employees and jobs.
Jim Fries is an account developer with Schwarz Williams Companies Inc., Golden Valley, and chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Policy Committee.
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