With the 114th Congress officially underway, both newly-elected lawmakers and their veteran Congressional colleagues have settled into their offices on Capitol Hill in large part due to the support of their state’s or district’s small business owners and the residents they employ. As both full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as more narrowly-focused improvements to the nation’s health care law have been debated since its launch, last year’s mid-term elections saw voters focusing their attention on those candidates promising to implement the changes needed to reduce the burdens the law has placed on their constituent employers and their employees. With the campaign in the past and the time to govern upon them, our federal lawmakers must translate those promises into policy.

Wholesaler-distributors employ more than 5.8 million American voters and the wholesale distribution industry accounts for 5.6 percent of the U.S. economy. The industry is critical to our nation’s growth with far-reaching influence on day-to-day life, from food and pharmaceutical and other health care products to office and school supplies; from heavy capital equipment and household appliances to the parts needed to make and repair them. And yet, this vital economic sector is just one of many American industries facing ever increasing health care costs while receiving few, if any, of the benefits promised under the ACA. Fortunately, with a new Congress comes a renewed focus on improving health care access and affordability and a prime opportunity for policymakers to prove their commitment to Main Street employers and the people who work for them.


This means addressing some of the ACA’s most serious flaws, which will require active participation from both sides of the political aisle in support of common sense solutions aimed at easing the ACA’s suffocating regulatory burden and making insurance premiums more affordable, thus expanding access to coverage and quality health care. For starters, a reexamination of the employer mandate, which poses a significant and unfair threat to employers with 50 or more employees, would go a long way toward stabilizing the health care landscape for business owners. By requiring that these firms provide full-time employees with “minimum essential coverage” by 2016, employers will be forced to make the kind of painful business decisions no one wants, such as cutting the workforce or reducing employee hours. It will also stunt the growth of smaller firms which would otherwise consider adding to their workforce but can’t risk reaching the 50 full-time employee mandate trigger. 

The House has already passed legislation to replace the ACA’s 30 hours per week definition of a full-time employee by restoring the 40 hour full time work week and the Senate and Obama should swiftly follow the House’s lead and get this measure enacted. Not only is the ACA’s current 30 hour definition in tension with our nation’s long-standing 40 hour full time tradition, but it actually incentivizes employers to reduce employee hours and thus, their paychecks.  At a time when our economy is finally in a state of recovery, anything that discourages job growth clearly requires another look.

Adding to the small business burden is a hidden tax that specifically targets plans purchased in the fully insured marketplace, where 88 percent of small business owners purchase their insurance. This tax, known as the health insurance tax or HIT is in the ACA as a fee on insurance companies.  But as confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it will be passed on directly to consumers in the form of higher premiums.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former CBO Director, estimates that on average small employers and employees will be forced to pay $5,000 more in premiums over the next decade due to this penalty, and the price tag will only continue to rise in the years that follow. In that regard, it is worth noting that in 2015 the HIT will be responsible for insurers passing on $10 billion in fees to employers and other premium payers, a $3 billion (or 43 percent!) increase over last year’s $7 billion.

Fortunately, momentum to eliminate this tax grew throughout last year as bipartisan legislation to repeal the tax was led by Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyPartial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations Lobbying world March tariff increase would cost 934K jobs, advocacy group says MORE (R-La.) and then-Representative Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonTrump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot Trump's budget targets affordable, reliable power MORE (D-Utah) and received support from 227 Members of Congress. A similar bill introduced by Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears MORE (R-Wyo.) was cosponsored by 27 Senators. Although HIT repeal ultimately did not get a vote, we are encouraged that Representative Boustany and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have joined with 162 of their House colleagues to reintroduce this important legislation (H.R. 928) to repeal this harmful tax on employers and other purchasers of fully insured products. On the Senate side, Barrasso and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: Roberts rescues the right? DACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) have been joined by 27 of their colleagues in reintroducing legislation (S. 183) to repeal the tax. Now, with a new Congress determined to do something about our nation’s disruptive health care law, a positive way to show real seriousness of purpose would be a full scale bipartisan effort to pass these bills.

In these first few months of the new Congressional session, policymakers have an opportunity to provide relief for the millions of Americans in wholesale trade and the many other industries that represent vital sectors of the American economy by addressing the ACA provisions that today threaten their growth. The stage is set and the American people are ready for positive change. It is time for Congress to lead the way.

Van Dongen is president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW).