Health insurance tax a burden to franchises 

Millions of Americans are looking for work, and the number in poverty, 46.2 million, is the highest since the Census Bureau began compiling such data 52 years ago.

The slow employment growth just might be connected to the $2,000 per worker business tax, to begin in 2014, enacted as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

The tax will be levied on firms with 50 or more employees who do not offer health insurance (or sufficiently generous health insuranceto meet government standards.)

The disincentive in the act to hire additional workers is a matter of simple arithmetic.

For 49 workers, the tax is zero. For 50 workers, the tax is $40,000, since the business does not pay the tax on the first 30 workers. For 75 workers, it is $90,000; and for 150 workers, the tax is $240,000. Each time a business adds an employee, the tax rises.

Alternatively, businesses can reduce costs by substituting part-time workers for full-time workers, because no tax is owed on part-time workers.

A firm with 55 full-time workers and seven part-time workers that does not offer health insurance would pay a tax of $50,000. By keeping the number of hours worked the same, reducing full-time workers and increasing part-time workers, until the firm reaches 49 full-time workers, the tax would be completely eliminated.

Firms could gain by sharing employees who worked fewer than 30 hours at each firm. Companies have an added incentive to become more automated, to use more machinery and employ fewer workers.

Congress intended to exempt businesses with few workers from the tax, but the new law made no provision for franchise businesses, small businesses that are part of a group of businesses whose combined employment might reach 50 or more.

Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, speaking at a conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, declared, “If we want employment growth, we have to repeal this. We have an employment problem it takes years to get out of.”

Price WaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm, has estimated that 828,000 franchise establishments in America account for more than $468 billion of GDP and more than 9 million jobs, based on data from the Census Bureau.

Obamacare would put many franchise businesses at a disadvantage relative to local, nonfranchise competitors by driving up their operating costs.

Suppose a franchise owns four establishments with 15 full-time employees each. Under the new health care law, this multi-unit franchisee will be treated as a single firm with 60 full-time employees, and the employer will be required by law to provide health care benefits for all employees or pay the tax of $2,000 per full-time employee per year.

But if these four establishments were owned and operated separately, they would be exempt from the requirement of providing health care benefits.

Employment is a way out of poverty. The new Census data should be a wake-up call to repeal the upcoming health care tax before it can do any more damage.

Examiner columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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