Washington, D.C. The National Retail Federation today urged House committees working on healtcare reform to reject any form of employer mandate, calling such a provision a “tax on jobs” that the nation cannot afford during the current recession. The NRF’s position is at odds with the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, which on July 1 said it supports President Obama’s push to require large employers to offer health insurance to workers.
“NRF cannot support an employer mandate of any type, whether pay-or-play, set penalty, or ‘free-rider’ in nature,” NRF senior VP for government relations Steve Pfister said. “We are a labor-heavy industry that operates on a thin profit margin.”
According to Pfister, retailers cannot afford any new labor cost, particularly the 8%-of-payroll penalty or the 72.5% contribution floor for individual coverage or the 65% contribution floor for family coverage proposed in the Tri-Committee bill.
“Employer mandates of any kind amount to a tax on jobs,” Pfister said. “We can think of few more dangerous steps to take in the middle of our present recession. We need to add new jobs, not exacerbate the near double-digit unemployment numbers. We cannot afford to have new and existing jobs priced out of our collective reach because of mandated health coverage.”
Pfister’s comments came in a letter to members of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees. The three panels have drafted a joint “Tri-Committee Bill” on healthcare reform that the full House could vote on by the end of the month.
Pfister said NRF opposes a number of provisions in the Tri-Committee Bill, including a publicly sponsored insurance plan that would compete with private insurance plans and lead to cost shifting similar to that already seen with Medicare and Medicaid. NRF also opposes a limited five-year grandfathering of existing group health plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act because of its potential to greatly increase employer coverage costs at the end of the five-year period.
NRF also strongly opposes proposals to pay for the expected $1 trillion-plus cost of health reform through a value added tax that would drive up prices for consumers, a surtax on upper-income individuals that would affect small retailers whose business income is taxed as personal income, and a tax on alcohol and soft drinks that would drive up prices while offering dubious value for health promotion.
Pfister said a VAT would be “devastating” in the current economy.
He noted that a VAT is a highly regressive tax that would hit low-income families hardest, and said it would also crowd out cash-strapped states’ ability to increase sales tax at a time when they are desperately in need of revenue.