April 25, 2018

GUEST COLUMN: Increasing costs not real reform

By Tim Ayer

Vermont’s independent small businesses have frequently highlighted the impacts of Montpelier’s current health care policies. On behalf of our nearly 1,800 members, we want to thank Fletcher Allen, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Vermont’s hospitals, doctors and the Business Roundtable for putting additional focus on this issue. Perhaps this represents a transition point in this debate.

The political promises are well documented: provide $500 million or more in savings to Vermonters; remove the burden of insurance from employers; provide subsidies to those who can least afford to pay—while improving, never rationing, our care.

Now, Montpelier acknowledges the best they can do is “bend the cost curve.” That’s politician-speak for slowing increases. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence their proposals will even “bend the curve.”

Lawmakers are repealing the Catamount Health Plan (a plan accountable for increasing the number of insured Vermonters) but maintaining the Catamount employer tax of $11 million. At the same time, they’re asking low income Vermonters to pay more for new plans, raising taxes on your insurance claims to the tune of about $12 million and offering fewer choices in a new system, dubbed “Vermont Health Connect.”

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Vermont Health Connect will be the only place for employees of businesses with fewer than 50 employees and individuals to purchase insurance. In just four months, small businesses and individuals will be asked to compare health plans for which there is currently no information available and make critically important decisions about health care security. Big corporations and labor unions are exempt, of course.

As a small employer, there are many things to consider before sending employees into the exchange. Most importantly, you don’t have to send them there alone—you can still help them. And a broker can help you.

The Shumlin administration announced in January that $1.6 billion in taxes would be required to finance its single-payer system. Yet, despite paying consultants to produce a tax plan, they squashed the details and asked a nine-member panel to provide a financing plan. None of this information will be available until after the 2014 elections. The same tactic was used two years ago to evade accountability—despite repeated promises to the contrary.

What will be covered? How much will it cost? Who will make critical decisions for you and your family? Will there be a payroll tax on employers or an income tax on individuals—or both? How will all of this impact hiring, investment and economic growth in Vermont? No one in the administration knows—or will admit—the answers.

Vermont’s small businesses love our state and care deeply for their employees, who for many are like family. They’re willing to fight the forces of global and national economies to stay here, stay open, care for their employees, contribute to our quality of life and pay their fair share. They should not have to fight so hard against anti-small business undercurrents right here at home.

While the politics of a single payer plan play out, small businesses are unable to make important decisions—like whether to expand and create more jobs. They have no idea how high taxes and health care costs will rise or what impact changes will have on their employees. Recent property tax increases alone will force some to lay off employees or close their doors. Montpelier, however, refuses to acknowledge that costs and uncertainty have already become too much—a trend that Vermont’s population clearly illustrates.

Just two weeks ago, owners of a small plumbing and heating business sorrowfully moved their operation and young family to New Hampshire. The costs of living and doing business here, coupled with uncertainty over health care, were too much to bear. Sadly, they aren’t the first and under these conditions they won’t be the last. Vermont must do better.

Tim Ayer is a small business owner and a member of National Federation of Independent Business/VT. 


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