Healthcare reform hearing pits business against business

The Lockton Benefit Group, an insurance brokerage firm with 9,000 employer clients, testified that:

• the law's immediate benefits — coverage of young people up to age 26 on family plans and restrictions on annual limits, for example — have added 2.5 percent to clients' insurance costs;

• the auto-enrollment requirement that starts in 2014 will add another 3.8 percent increase; and

• by 2014, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will have to pay 44 percent to cover their workers under the law than if they dropped them and paid the penalty instead.

It's still unclear how many employers will drop coverage as a result, Lockton president J. Michael Brewer testified.

"Many clients have told us, 'We won't be the first to drop coverage, but we won't wait to be third, either," he wrote.

Houser said the law's requirements on businesses are fair because employers with generous coverage currently subsidize people without insurance in the form of higher premiums.

But Thomas Miller, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the law's subsidies and tax credits won't be sustainable until the U.S. addresses its high healthcare costs.

"What this legislation essentially was about, was about redistribution of money without fixing the problem — so the costs just move from one place to another," Miller said. "So some people win, some people lose... Until we get at that underlying cost growth, which is what gets reflected in the premiums, we can fight about whether insurers are evil or slightly bad, it doesn't make a lot of difference."