by Reggie Oldak, Senior Counsel,
National Women's Law Center

My father owned a small business. So I grew up understanding the difficulties and pressures small businesses face: hiring, retention, the high cost of providing benefits, the need for investments in equipment or inventory, for example.

But I don’t understand claims that the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), now being considered in the House, will hurt small business. Yes, small businesses have a hard time finding affordable health insurance for their employees. That’s why the bill includes insurance market reforms that will reduce costs for small businesses and a new tax credit for very small businesses to help them offer coverage. So, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (predictably) rants against the bill, local Chambers aren’t falling into line.

The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce is taking a very different stance from the U.S. Chamber. Recognizing that women face special challenges in securing affordable health care, it urges Congress to take “swift and strong action” to reform the American health care system to provide “guaranteed, affordable, quality health care without discrimination,” including a “robust government-led public plan to take on the insurance carriers.”

In addition, the House bill’s chief financing mechanism – a graduated surcharge on the very wealthy that would raise $544 billion over ten years – would have no impact on the vast majority of taxpayers or small businesses. The surcharge would only apply to households with adjusted gross income above $350,000 ($280,000 for an individual). As a result, only the wealthiest 1.2 percent of tax filers – and only 4 to 5 percent of tax filers with business income – would be subject to the surcharge. And, for those few businesses subject to the surcharge, there would be no deterrent to hiring additional workers. Wages and operating expenses are subtracted from business income before profits are determined and included in adjusted gross income. Business owners, whatever their income level, won’t pay a penny of surcharge on money they spend to hire new workers.

Women-owned businesses – which are generally smaller than male-owned businesses – are especially unlikely to be affected by the surcharge. According to the latest Census data available, 96.3 percent of women-owned businesses, compared to 88.9 percent of male-owned businesses, had total receipts below $500,000 – meaning that profits would be well below that level.

My father (he’ll be 91 soon) believes that everyone should pay their fair share to finance comprehensive, affordable health care for all. So do I.