Keep It Simple, Silly

By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

 

hc - wippIt’s a favorite phrase of my boss – and WIPP’s Chief Advocate – Ann Sullivan. The idea is nothing new: a simple solution is usually the best. That is why, for years, women business owners used the simplest possible idea for providing health benefits – you (employee) go out and get your own insurance and I (employer) will reimburse you. Simple, right?

They are called Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangements, or HRAs, and bringing them back (for the second time) is one of WIPP’s top healthcare priorities. We are making great progress. The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation that would allow HRAs to be used for firms with fewer than 50 employees. The House as a whole is expected to vote on the bill next week.

The bill would allow employers to reimburse employees for qualified medical expenses like premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Importantly, employers must offer it to all eligible employees and cannot offer a separate group plan. The reimbursement is capped at around $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for families and does not count as employee income (meaning no taxes!).

Again, the idea is simple. Employers select an amount to reimburse employees, instead of locking in an insurance plan that may not fit their employees or their budget. But why did we lose HRAs in the first place? That is not so simple.

The Affordable Care Act eliminated caps on health insurance plans—an undoubtedly good thing for when disaster or disease strikes. But, in the opinion of the IRS, these HRAs, by definition, had a cap (however much the employer contributed). So they were outlawed in 2013 or 2014.

2013 or 2014 is a strange way to describe when the IRS banned a certain healthcare plan. But that is what it was – the IRS notices on the issue were so confusing they had to issue additional regulations three times. Policy wonks, insurers, and healthcare consultants were unsure – let alone business owners – about whether they were allowed. And making a mistake on this carries severe penalties; offering a non-conforming plan can trigger a penalty of $100 per day per employee –more than $350,000 a year for a company with 10 employees.

Because of this confusion, WIPP stepped in asking Secretary Burwell to intervene on behalf of women business owners. She did and HRAs were allowed through June 2015. Legislation is needed to bring them back permanently and WIPP is optimistic Democrats and Republicans can work together, as they already have, to get this done. After all, ten million women business owners and their nearly nine million employees are pretty active voters.

It’s pretty simple.

More on how WIPP is working with Congress and the Administration to bring competitively-priced and accessible health options to women business owners is in our blog, Making the Affordable Care Act Work.

 

 

 

 

 

House Committee Passes Bipartisan Federal Contractor Changes

By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations

 

In its first major action of 2016, the House Small Business Committee approved changes to federal contracting which affect small companies who do business with the federal government. Acting in a bipartisan manner is relatively rare in Congress these days, but the Committee unanimously adopted the legislation, The Defending America’s Small Contractors Act of 2016, with over two-thirds of the Committee contributing content to the bill.

 

For the last three years, the House Small Business Committee has pushed for changes to the government’s buying rules and this week’s legislation was no exception. In our view, the following changes in the bill will prove to be significant to small contractors. One attacks an age-old problem – showing past performance without a government contract. The bill establishes a pilot program that enables contractors to receive a past performance rating by submitting a request to the contracting officer and/or prime contractor.  Second, the bill strengthens agency small business offices to recommend which small business set-aside programs should be used for each contract at their agency.

Anne CrossmanThird, WIPP’s recommendations were incorporated in the legislation, including one made by Anne Crossman, a member of WIPP’s Leadership Advisory Council, in her testimony before the Committee. Anne took the opportunity to highlight WIPP’s “if you list us, use us” policy for prime contractors’ subcontracting plans. This bill incorporates WIPP’s recommendations to clarify the role of commercial market representatives (CMRs) in encouraging prime contractors to work with small businesses. Lastly, the bill takes the first step toward getting a better handle on the actual amount set aside for small businesses by requiring agencies to divulge awards counted toward multiple small business goals.

An amendment offered by Rep. Takai scored a victory for women entrepreneurs by allowing Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) to provide procurement assistance to women participating in the DOD mentor-protégé program. Rep. Takai’s statement on the amendment is available here and includes WIPP’s statement of support.

These improvements set the stage for a productive year of improvements for small contractors. The bill, which passed unanimously, will now be considered by the full House of Representatives. The House Small Business Committee is off to a great start. We can’t wait to see what they do next.