The U.S. House of Representatives approved a healthcare reform measure Saturday that includes a requirement that companies not providing health insurance for their workers pay 8% of their annual payroll to an insurance exchange.
"It would have a horrific effect on employers," said Ed Lenz, senior VP of public affairs and general counsel of the American Staffing Association.
"It is a completely unacceptable provision," Lenz said. "Not just to the staffing industry but to every other employer that would be affected by it." Those groups include large retailers, restaurant groups and others who employ part-time seasonal workers, he said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted the bill.
"Friday's news that unemployment has reached double digits for the first time in 26 years should have been a wake-up call for those considering job-stifling tax increases and employer mandates included in the House healthcare bill," said Bruce Josten, executive VP of government affairs for the chamber.
However, Lenz said the consensus view in Washington is that the House bill -- and the 8% payroll tax in particular -- has no chance of being passed into law in its current form.
"Our view is that it is much more likely, if something were to pass at all, and it's not clear at this point whether Congress has enough time to get it done this year, but if something were to pass, it is far more likely to look like the bill passed out of the Senate finance committee," he said.
A Senate bill is also likely to be far more moderate, including in regard to the employer fee, Lenz said. Previous proposals in the Senate have called for fees of up to $750 per full-time employee per year for firms not providing health insurance. Lenz said the ASA and other business groups are working to clarify the definition of who is a full-time worker under such a fee so that it would include only employees who work a minimum of 390 hours in a calendar quarter.
There's also question over whether Congress has time to pass a healthcare reform bill this year. The Senate must approve a bill, and if it passes, the Senate bill must then be reconciled with the House's bill.
"Anything can happen, but it's going to be a tough slog to get that done before the end of the year," Lenz said. "If we get into next year, the passage becomes more problematic because it's an election year."
The House bill, as approved Saturday, would exempt employers with annual payrolls of $500,000 or below. Employers with annual payrolls of between $500,000 and $750,000 would have to pay lesser percentages.
A survey this year by Staffing Industry Analysts found that almost half of temporary workers have healthcare coverage from a source other than their staffing firms.