Health care repeal would kill off tax breaks

By Catherine Clifford, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Why do Republicans want to take away tax breaks for small businesses?

Well, they don't really. What they want to do is kill off last year's health care reform act, which they say will stifle jobs by suffocating employers with red tape.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill repealing the law. The vote is symbolic because the Senate is not expected to follow suit. But no one expects the debate over the law's merits to quiet down.

And lost in all the rhetoric: For businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the law does not impose specific near-term health care mandates. On the contrary: It contains a number of tax credits that will help small businesses pay for health insurance.

One business owner fighting the repeal effort said the tax credits are a big help.

The tax breaks are "a lifeline to small businesses like mine," Odette Cohen, the owner of Son Light Pediatrics, a medical practice in Willingboro, N.J., told Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday.

"The monies that I will get from these tax credits give me the option of being able to absorb the increased rates that my employees would be responsible for, or pay benefits for an additional employee," Cohen said.

But Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican who heads the House Small Business Committee, said the law should be repealed because it will burden small businesses in "red tape."

In addition, tax credits are too complex and narrow in scope, he said.

"Any potential assistance from this tax credit is far outweighed by the record tax increases and paperwork burdens that the law will pile on small businesses nationwide," Graves said through a spokeswoman.

Indeed, the National Small Business Association, which is pushing for repeal, said the tax breaks are targeted to the smallest firms with low-wage workers.

"Not to make it sound as though the tax breaks aren't helpful, but they're a temporary Band Aid for the root cause of the whole issue which is the ever-increasing cost of health insurance," said Molly Brogan, spokeswoman for the NSBA, which believes the health care system does need an overhaul.

So what's at stake? What provisions of health care reform are aimed at helping small businesses?

Near-term tax refunds: Small businesses that pay at least half of their employee's health coverage can get a significant tax refund.

The maximum credit goes to businesses with 10 or fewer full-time employees with annual wages that average $25,000 or less. The break phases out for firms with 25 employees or that pay average wages above $50,000.

For 2010 through 2013, the tax credit covers up to 35% of the money that a qualifying business spends on its health insurance premiums. In 2014, the top tax credit bumps up to 50%.

The credit is available for a maximum of six years: 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that.

In 2014, a new health care market: The tax credits are a bridge to the larger and more permanent help: health insurance exchanges, which are due to begin in 2014.

On an exchange, a small business owner will be able to shop around for coverage. Also, the risk will be pooled -- theoretically making coverage more affordable for smaller groups.

That's good news for small firms, which pay on average 18% higher premiums than larger firms do for the exact same coverage, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund, a private health care research group.

Under the health care reform law, larger businesses that don't provide health care coverage for their employees would pay penalties.

For employers with 50 or more workers, there is a $2,000 fee per employee, beyond the company's first 30 workers.

But businesses with fewer than 50 employees will not have to pay a penalty for not insuring their workers. To top of page

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