Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Business Groups Launch Ad against Health Care Bill

Major business groups Tuesday announced a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to stop President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as it approaches a make-or-break vote in the House. The ad buy, costing between $4 million and $10 million, will start Wednesday on national cable outlets. Later in the week, the campaign shifts to 17 states home to moderate and conservative Democrats. Their votes are critical to Obama's endgame for passing legislation to expand coverage and revamp the health insurance market. The timing of the ads comes as Obama is building up momentum in his final health care drive. But congressional Democratic leaders are still short of the votes to pass the bill, and they're courting many of the same lawmakers targeted by the business groups. Health insurance companies, excoriated by Obama over a recent spate of double-digit premium hikes, are helping to pay for the ads, said Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, coordinating the campaign. "Health care costs will go even higher under this bill, making things even more difficult for business," said Josten. "We are trying to tell Congress to stop with this bill and start over, and get it moving in a direction that makes it more affordable."In addition to the Chamber of Commerce, other groups in the coalition include the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and groups representing the construction and food service industries. The business groups refused to release a list of the lawmakers they are targeting. Jeri Kubicki, an employee benefits expert with the manufacturing group, said employers are putting off hiring new workers because of concerns that the bill's passage would raise their costs. "There is too much uncertainty," she said. The script for the ad says, "Health care costs will go even higher, making a bad economy worse." It urges viewers to tell their lawmakers: "Stop this health care bill we can't afford to pay." Obama's plan would not require companies to provide coverage to their workers, but it would slap a hefty fee on firms whose workers end up getting taxpayer-subsidized policies through a new health insurance marketplace. Companies with 50 or fewer workers would be exempt. Small businesses with up to 25 workers would be eligible for federal assistance to provide coverage. Josten said the new requirements and penalties add up to a bad deal for business, and he predicted that fees on insurance companies, drug makers and other health industry players would be passed on to employers who provide coverage for most American workers and their families.