Pay some health costs, Clinton tells employers

June 30, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton stood firm yesterday on his plan to require all employers to pay a share of their workers' health insurance as he addressed a powerful small-business group that adamantly opposes such a mandate.

"I believe employers should make some contribution, because those who don't pay at all are being supported by those who do pay something," Mr. Clinton told the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

The small-business lobby is considered Mr. Clinton's toughest opponent on health reform. The 600,000-member NFIB has made opposition to an employer requirement its rallying cry.

NFIB even denounced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this spring when that group said it would be willing to consider a mandate.

Yet surprisingly, several NFIB members who heard Mr. Clinton speak said they would be willing to accept a federal mandate. Business owners who provide insurance were more open-minded than business owners who do not now offer health coverage.

"I believe the mandate would be OK with me in my thinking," said Bill Blackburn, president of Ramco Construction Tools in Kent, Wash. His firm provides coverage for its 30 employees.

"We are paying these costs anyway," Mr. Blackburn added. "I'm not escaping anything as an employer." About half the firms with 25 to 100 employees offer coverage, but less than a third of companies with fewer than 25 employees do so.

NFIB spokesman Terry Hill said members who are willing to accept a mandate represent a small minority. "It's the one thing we will fight to the very end," he said.

Mr. Clinton acknowledged his differences with NFIB's position on health reform, but he invited small-business owners to take part in an "honest debate" to find solutions.

"If it were easy, somebody would have done it already, right?" he asked. The line won applause.

Mr. Clinton said that under his plan, there would be limits on what small businesses would have to pay, and new costs would be phased in slowly. Employees would also be required to pay part of their health insurance.

"The point I want to make is this: We've got to do something to bring [health] costs within inflation, or it's going to break the country," Mr. Clinton said.

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