In August, HARDI announced its opposition to HR 3200, America's Affordable Health care Choices Act, the 1,000+-page House health care reform bill. HARDI distributed a survey to our distributor member companies that returned extremely clear and overwhelming messages on health care reform. The vast majority of responders offered health insurance to their employees, feared a number of the mandates in HR 3200 would force them to cease offering health insurance, and wished they could shop for health insurance across state lines and pool with other small and midsize employers to increase their purchasing power. In HARDI's official position paper (available on the Government Relations section of the HARDI website), we outlined four specific criticisms of HR 3200, recommended a far more deliberate and open debate on reform policy and offered four suggestions for less-costly, more effective health care reforms that would immediately help to reduce health insurance costs for all purchasers.
HARDI made available action letters that members could send to their legislators and prepared an “Employers' Toolkit for Health care Reform” to help member executives explain to their employees why they opposed the current proposals. HARDI's Policy Committee felt it was important to help empower employees to understand what businesses really need to be able to continue to offer low-cost, high-quality health insurance benefits. HARDI followed this up by working with industry partners NAW and business interest groups to help get the message to Washington to shape more reasonable health care reform. This article will print more than a month after Congress returns from its August recess, so who knows where the debate will be then? However, despite my own initial cynicism, I am now confident this has all been effort well-spent.
As those on the Policy Committee can tell you, I was perhaps the loudest voice saying, “Isn't this an NAW, U.S. Chamber fight?” Taking a quick glance at my desk I see three Senate energy-related bills, the continued fallout from the massive Waxman-Markey bill, fewer than four regulatory actions, and the other 60 percent of my job that is unrelated to any government issue, so I was having a hard time figuring out how a subject like health care reform fit into any of that. This, however, is why we have excellent member volunteers leading all of our committees and councils. Their leadership and example quickly reminded me that there's not much point in focusing on HVACR issues when our members may have trouble staying in business in the first place. Our accounting manager then showed me that if HR 3200 became law, it would actually be less expensive for the association to discontinue its group health plan for association staff and pay an 8 percent payroll surtax to the federal government, thereby pushing all of HARDI's employees (including my family) into the “federal health exchange.”
Things finally fell into place when I received a nice note from NAW thanking us for helping their efforts to advocate for business in this health care debate. In the current political climate, NAW and other umbrella business advocates are seeking all of the help they can get from individual associations and their member companies. HARDI's ability to provide real-world impacts and implications from the HVACR distribution perspective appears to be more valued now than ever on those “big” issues HARDI may have previously been more inclined to defer to larger groups. So consider this column my own mea culpa and admission that perhaps I have been underestimating the value of HARDI's government affairs efforts.
Talbot Gee is vice president of HARDI. Contact him at 614/345-4328 or tgee@HARDInet.org.