- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trying to build their case that President Obama’s health care law will destroy traditional employer-sponsored insurance, House Republicans released a study Tuesday showing that the largest companies could save billions by kicking workers off their current health plans and pushing them into government-subsidized exchanges.

In a dig at Mr. Obama, who promised that the law would allow people to keep their current coverage, the report found that companies could save $4,821 per worker if they chose to end coverage and instead pay a fine — leaving their employees with no recourse but to buy insurance on their own through the exchanges.

“It is clear to me that because of this law, Americans will not be able to keep the health care plan they have and like,” said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He charged that the Affordable Care Act will make insurance so expensive that employers won’t be able to afford to offer it anymore.

Democrats said the GOP was being “cynical” in its dire predictions.

Josh Drobnyk, spokesman for Rep. Sander M. Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said official government scorekeepers had studied the issue and found that relatively few employers are likely to drop their coverage over the next few years.

Mr. Drobnyk said companies offer insurance as a way of enticing the best workers, and said that won’t change.

“According to the logic of this so-called report, businesses could have ‘saved’ even more money if they dropped employee health coverage years ago, which is perfectly legal and carries no penalty,” he said.

Since the law was signed in 2010, Republicans have argued it would push people out of their existing coverage and into government-supported health care instead — chiefly through the exchanges, which are designed to let plans compete to insure millions of Americans.

But Congress also has taken steps repeatedly since 2010 to make the exchanges less attractive, chiefly by reducing the subsidy overpayments allowed under the initial law.

Led by Republicans, Congress has twice tightened rules on how much Americans must give back if they’re overpaid insurance subsidies offered through the exchanges. Now, Republicans want to close the remaining gap by requiring Americans to return overpayments in full, which could leave some exchange users facing a surprise tax bill.

The GOP’s new report examines data from Fortune 100 companies that were asked to disclose how much they spend to provide coverage for their employees.

The 71 companies that responded said they expect to spend a combined $38.4 billion on 5.9 million employees in 2014 — the year the mandate for employers to offer affordable coverage or pay a $2,000 fine per worker goes into effect. If those companies paid the fine instead, they would pay $9.9 billion and save $28.6 billion, according to estimates in the report.

The report came on the heels of charges last week by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Mr. Obama’s corporate advisers have told large employers they can save money by dropping health insurance in 2014.

“This report echoes numerous other analyses that project the president’s health care law will actually hurt job creators by increasing costs and ultimately could lead them to drop coverage,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and the panel chairman.

• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at pcunningham@washingtontimes.com.

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