Companies say health care costs hard to swallow

I really love this line:

Consumers Energy, a Michigan gas and electric company with 2.9 million customers, said it will not take a big first-quarter charge because, like most utility companies, it can try to recover the added costs from its customers through rate hikes.

I am sure the state with the highest unemployment in the country will LOVE having their energy rates increased to pay for medical costs!

I get it, health costs will go down because it will get subsidized by the on energy! We can just rob Peter to pay Paul because Peter is too stupid to realize he got robbed.

The really good news in all that is we may get some more new jobs – the bill gives the IRS $1B a year to hire new employees to collect all of these new taxes – that is about 12,000 new jobs for the IRS! Obama has finally come up with a solution to unemployment – hire the entire US population so that no one is unemployed!

Wall Street Journal has an opinion on all of these charges. They quote:

Towers Watson estimates that the total hit this year will reach nearly $14 billion

This is after AT&T, Deere, Caterpillar, AK Steel, 3M, and Valero announced a total of about 1.4B in combined charges. Verizon has already said they will need to announce charges just not sure how much.

That is okay though – I am sure that these companies are really rich and they will just absorb the charges and they won’t pass them on to the consumers. In fact, I am sure that these companies will now accelerate their plans to hire more people.

Obviously, a lot of what I said above is sarcasm. Here is what really going to happen. The door is open by a bad bill. Now there will be a lot of little fix bills to cover these problems. These little bills won’t get a lot of media attention in fact many will just be amendments on other bills. It won’t matter who controls the legislative or executive branch, the amendments will happen. These and other taxes are going to get taken out because they are stupid and punitive but the promise of free will continue (and probably expand) until 20 years from now it is as bad of a monstrosity as Social Security – under-funded and over-extended.

Speaking of , did you see that is now paying out more than it brings in as of this year (NY Times – the bastion of socialistic thoughts). Of course this is 6 years earlier than CBO said it would happen. CBO must have made a mistake. Isn’t that the same CBO that said will slightly help the federal deficit? I sure hope that it wasn’t the same group of counters that analyzed both programs since the Social Security analysis sure wasn’t on target!

There is very little that a government can do better than private enterprise. Now we have just placed 1/8 or more of our economy into the hands of the incompetents that can’t get a job in private companies so they run for political jobs.

What in the world are we doing? Will our children curse this day 40 years from now?

Companies say health care costs hard to swallow
By JOSH FUNK
AP Business Writer

The health care overhaul will cost U.S. companies billions and make them more likely to drop prescription drug coverage for retirees because of a change in how the government subsidizes those benefits.

In the first two days after the law was signed, three major companies — Deere & Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Valero Energy — said they expect to take a total hit of $265 million to account for smaller tax deductions in the future.

With more than 3,500 companies now getting the tax break as an incentive to keep providing coverage, others are almost certain to announce similar cost increases in the weeks ahead as they sort out the impact of the change.

Figuring out what it will mean for retirees will take longer, but analysts said as many as 2 million could lose the prescription drug coverage provided by their former employers, leaving them to enroll in Medicare’s program.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs defended the tax law change Thursday, saying the original provision allowing companies to deduct the federal subsidies from their taxable income was a “loophole” that will be closed by the health care overhaul.

For the government, the tax changes are expected to raise roughly $4.5 billion over the next decade to help pay for the health overhaul. Some of the savings would be negated by retirees enrolling in the Medicare plans.

“You’re increasing the incentive for companies to say ‘We don’t want to be in the health care business any more,'” said James Gelfand, senior manager of health policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which fought the overhaul.

American industrial companies that are struggling to compete globally against companies with much lower labor costs are particularly likely to eventually drop retiree coverage, said Gene Imhoff, an accounting professor at the University of Michigan.

“Anything that they can use to justify pushing something away from the employees, pushing it back on the employees or the government, they’re going to do it,” Imhoff said. “I’m not sure you can really blame them for trying to do this.”

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said the company is still studying the health care law and doesn’t yet know what the full impact will be. But he acknowledged that benefit changes are possible.

“Obviously, there’s greater cost pressures on us that could drive changes to plans, but we haven’t made any decisions on that,” Dugan said.

Spokesmen for Deere and Valero said it was to soon to say how the change would affect the benefits they offer retirees.

When Congress approved the Medicare prescription drug program in 2003, it included government incentives for employers to provide drug benefits to retirees so the public system wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Employers that provide prescription drug benefits for retirees can receive subsidies covering 28 percent of eligible costs; those subsidies totaled $3.7 billion in 2008.

Under the 2003 law, companies could deduct the entire amount they spent on the drug benefits from their taxable income — including the government subsidy, an average of $665 per retiree.

The health care law signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday prohibits companies from writing off the subsidies starting in 2011, meaning they will no longer be able to deduct them from their taxable income.

For example, if a company spent $100 on benefits, including a $28 government subsidy, it could write off the full $100 on its taxes under the old rules. The new rules would allow the same company to write off only $72.

The follow-up health care bill to reshape parts of the overhaul would delay the changes until 2013.

As many as 1.5 million to 2 million retirees could lose the drug benefits provided by their former employer because of the tax changes, according to a study by the Moran Company, a health care consulting firm.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, said between 6 million and 7 million retirees currently get the benefits. But the number of companies offering them has been dwindling for years.

Generally, retirees would prefer to stay with prescription drug coverage provided by their companies as opposed to enrolling in a Medicare Part D plan, said Marilyn Moon, a health care economist with the nonpartisan American Institutes for Research.

She said most of the company-sponsored plans are more generous and almost none have the coverage gap that comes with Part D plans.

“That’s particularly painful and problematic for people who have substantial expenses at any one point in time,” she said.

Industry groups say they lobbied hard against the change in the tax rules before it was added to the health care law over the winter.

“It was in all of our letters and communications that went up to the Hill, and the companies were heavily involved in that,” said Dena Battle, a tax specialist with the National Association of Manufacturers.

Nationwide, companies would take a $14 billion hit on their financial statements if all of the roughly 3,500 companies receiving the subsidies continued to do so, according to a study by Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm.

That financial hit will be a one-time cost as companies report a new cost estimate for the benefits over the life spans of all retirees.

Deere and Caterpillar were among a group of 10 companies that sent a letter to congressional leaders in December warning of the cost increases. The others were Boeing Co., Con-Way Inc., Exelon Corp., Navistar Inc., Verizon, Xerox Corp., Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. and MetLife Inc.

Most of the other companies that signed the letter said Thursday that it was too soon to estimate their costs. A number of other major U.S. companies also said they did not know how much the tax change would cost them. Some companies might wait until they release their earnings reports next quarter to address the costs so they have time to review the entire law.

The companies that signed the December letter warned that changing the way retiree drug benefits are subsidized would have a broad impact on the economy, and there are already indications that the effects will trickle down to individuals.

Consumers Energy, a Michigan gas and electric company with 2.9 million customers, said it will not take a big first-quarter charge because, like most utility companies, it can try to recover the added costs from its customers through rate hikes.

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