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Has The NFIB Turned Against McCain's Health Insurance Reform?

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That's what the New York Times suggests, anyway. According to a report published yesterday:

American business, typically a reliable Republican cheerleader, is decidedly lukewarm about Senator John McCain's proposal to overhaul the health care system by revamping the tax treatment of health benefits, officials with leading trade groups say.
The officials, with organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business, predicted in recent interviews that the McCain plan, which eliminates the exclusion of health benefits from income taxes, would accelerate the erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance and do little to reduce the number of uninsured from 45 million.

McCain's initiative would eliminate the income exclusion for employer-sponsored health benefits, replacing it with a universal tax credit to buy health care coverage, worth $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. (His campaign has summarized it here, and you can compare it to Obama's plan here, and read about how it affects small businesses here.) But, says R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, "the private marketplace, in my opinion, is ill prepared today with an infrastructure for an individual-based health insurance system." Adds John J. Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable: "One of the things we don't want to do is jeopardize 170 million Americans who do get insurance through their employers."

However, nobody from the NFIB is quoted in the story. In my colloquy with the NFIB on health care reform last spring, senior health care advisor Bob Graboyes steadfastly refused to offer an opinion on any of the candidates' proposals. It's possible, in fact, that the NFIB's contribution to the reporting is limited to this sentence: "Officials with eight business trade groups contacted by The New York Times predicted the McCain plan would raise costs and force some employers to stop providing health benefits." But that's a given -- and not a bad thing if your agenda calls for reducing the pressure on small businesses to provide health insurance. A declaration of support for employer-provided health insurance would be a remarkable about-face for the NFIB, which has spent years trying to "level the playing field" between the employer-sponsored group market for health insurance and the individual market.

I've queried the organization to see if anyone will comment on the Times piece officially (or unofficially). If I hear anything, I'll let you know.

UPDATE, Wednesday evening: The NFIB's Bob Graboyes has this to say:

We're still refraining from critiquing presidential platforms. There are things in both the Obama and McCain plans we like and dislike. As for the effects of tax code changes on coverage, I think it would be difficult or impossible to assess the magnitudes without knowing the total legislative package in which those changes are embedded. We're glad that the debate has highlighted the importance of the tax code to coverage and cost. We're heartened by the frequency with which both candidates cite the importance of small business, including in healthcare. But we're not issuing numeric predictions on what the plans will yield. And we're still in favor of leveling the playing field for the large group, small group, and individual markets.
Last updated: Oct 8, 2008




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