Manufacturers pinched by health costs

More than three-quarters of manufacturers say that rising healthcare costs are their most important challenge, according to a new trade group study released on Monday.

The survey from the National Association of Manufacturers found that more than 77 percent of companies cited increasing healthcare prices as their No. 1 issue. More than 90 percent of companies reported that their premiums had increased, and 58 percent said they needed to increase employee copays to reduce costs.

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The trade organization is blaming ObamaCare for the increases and claiming that uncertainty surrounding the law has caused many manufacturers to lower their expectations for growth in 2014.

“Costs and uncertainty are up, and manufacturers’ optimism is down thanks to the healthcare reform law,” Aric Newhouse, the organization’s senior vice president of policy and government relations, said in a statement.

“The health care law has weighed heavily on manufacturers all year long — and their concerns are not going away. It is standing in the way of manufacturing growth by seriously limiting investment and job creation.”

According to the survey, about 23 percent of manufacturers had reduced or stopped hiring because of their uncertainty about the law, and about 20 percent had slowed down their business investment.

The National Association of Manufacturers has long criticized the Affordable Care Act, which the group says has not helped to lower healthcare costs.

The survey did point out that only 2 percent of manufacturers said they had dropped employees from their healthcare packages or told them to buy insurance on their own.

It also found that broader taxes, regulations and a generally “unfavorable business climate” were a top concern, with about 76 percent of respondents identifying that as a primary challenge.

Finding a long-term budget compromise that deals with the country’s deficit and debt, they said, was the biggest step lawmakers could take in 2014 to support the manufacturing sector.