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Senate Bill Includes Health Insurance Plan Mandate for Construction Workers

A centerpiece of the Senate’s healthcare reform legislation is the creation of health insurance mandates. These provisions require employers with over a certain number of employees to either provide a health insurance plan to their staff or pay a fine. Under the current system, a majority of Americans receive health insurance through the firm they work for; reform in both the House of Representatives and the Senate includes federal subsidies to allow others to buy a health insurance plan themselves. Democratic legislators had to balance their goal of insuring as much of the country as possible with minimizing costs. In order to do so, they had to ensure that companies wouldn’t take advantage of the subsidized health insurance exchange markets and drop their existing coverage.

However, those crafting the bills have acknowledged that many small businesses are unable to afford a group health insurance plan for their workforce. Many of these businesses do not currently provide insurance. Therefore, businesses with under 50 employees are exempt from the $750 excise tax. This tax would otherwise be levied on a per-employee basis, if any full-time worker who used a federal subsidy to buy a health insurance plan. Right before the Senate version passed, a new exception was added into the mix.

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley proposed an addition to protect construction workers. In the construction industry, the majority of firms are smaller than the general threshold: 90 percent of them employ fewer than 20 people. Merkley’s provision limits the exemption for the industry to businesses with under five employees. Contractors who use union labor, regardless of their size, must often spend anywhere from 12.5% to 20% of payroll on a health insurance plan for their workers. Meanwhile, non-union contractors have the option of forgoing health insurance–this allows them to low-ball bids, which supporters of the exception claim will result in an unfair competitive advantage. Employees with the latter firms would have gone uninsured in the past, whereas now the federal government would pick up the tab for subsidizing their health care.

Tradespeople employed by contractors risk their health at a higher rate than typical office workers in other industries. Workplace injuries are more common for plumbers, electricians, construction workers, roofers, carpenters, and those in similar professions. While workman’s compensation insurance is a legal requirement for these firms, it often does not cover the complete expense associated with overuse injuries and other health problems not directly associated with an on-the-job injury. A quality health insurance plan may make them more effective employees in the long run.

Of course, some associations representing the building trades, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Home Builders, are unhappy with the last minute insertion. They believe that the mandate will result in tens of thousands of jobs lost, at a time when the unemployment rate is over 10 percent. Although small businesses will be able to take advantage of two years’ tax credits for buying a health insurance plan, trade associations believe that the credits will be insufficient. Republican Senators are also opposed to what they feel is a high amount of “pork”, or sweetheart deals for certain districts in exchange for votes. The Merkeley provision was, in fact, one of those 11th-hour deals struck by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The House rejected a similar proposal during its own negotiations last fall. With a smaller majority, the Senate needed to shore up union lobbyist support. That constituency is increasingly concerned with the impact health care reform will have on their existing plans: by extending the length of time insurers must allow adult children to remain on a health insurance plan, as well as eliminating lifetime and annual limits on coverage, their costs will increase significantly. Labor unions also oppose the tax that the Senate plans to impose on the generous “Cadillac” insurance plans more prevalent among union workers. Democrats claim that such a tax is necessary in order to pay for part of the cost of healthcare reform. It remains to be seen if construction workers remain a special case when both chambers of Congress are finished combining their respective bills.

(Image: billjacobus1 under CC 2.0)

Yamileth Medina PhotoAbout Author
Yamileth Medina is an up and coming expert on Health Insurance and Healthcare Reform. She aims to help people realize that they can find a quality health insurance plan right now. Yamileth lives in Miami, FL.

New Senate Bill to Curb the Rising Trend of Foreclosure Scams

Our current economic situation has dealt a double-blow to many homeowners across the country; not only have many of them become unable to keep up with their mortgage payments, but many of them have also become the victims of fraud by unethical individuals out to make a quick buck from other people’s misfortune and tragedy.

While many families are struggling to come up with strategies to keep a roof over their heads, their children fed, and their utilities paid, some unscrupulous individuals are taking this opportunity to engage in numerous instances of fraud and deception to horns woggle innocent families out of not only their meager funds but also out of their last chances to keep their homes.

Most of these defrauded families are in desperate need of help to refinance or renegotiate their mortgages and their reaching out for help has led them to some stunningly shocking results. There are two main types of fraud that seems to be occurring currently that is detrimental to our nation’s homeowners: title fraud and individuals misrepresenting themselves as financial assistance for homeowners.

With title fraud an individual often claims to be able to offer a family assistance with avoiding foreclosure on their home by transferring title of their home to the third party “temporarily” while the mortgage is renegotiated or some such excuse. Anyone who is working to help you retain ownership of your home will not ask you to transfer ownership of your home to them.

Another popular scam that’s become quite frequent is where someone approaches homeowners or publishes advertising to help people renegotiate their mortgages or save them from foreclosure for a fee upfront. The person then takes the money without providing the service promised and often leaves the homeowners to suffer with foreclosure because no one is helping them renegotiate their loans at all.

Thankfully, a new bill has been introduced by Senators Schumer and Kyl to provide funds to support a real estate fraud task force to investigate and prosecute scam artists. Many of these crimes have gone uninvestigated or prosecuted because there is just not enough money at present for the pursuit of these criminals. The bill would provide up to two hundred million dollars to fight real estate fraud crimes. Hopefully with this new bill there will be some well-deserved justice for these victimized families.

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Will Senate Spit or Swallow The Cramdown Bill?

Struggling homeowners who’ve been considering filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy may soon receive good news. A new piece of legislation referred to formally as the “Helping Families Save Their Home Act,” or more commonly as the “cram down bill,” is on its way to the Senate.

Designed to complement President Obama’s strategies to quell the nation’s foreclosure and economic crises, the cram down bill would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a person’s mortgage if they face losing their property to foreclosure.

Under the proposed bill, judges could reduce the loan’s interest rate, lengthen the loan term, and decrease the principal amount owed. All of these actions would ultimately result in lower monthly payments for the homeowner, and allow him and his family to remain in the home.

Loan modification is not a new solution for distressed homeowners, but lenders currently only modify loans on a voluntarily basis. Lenders have all the power, and homeowners are subject to whatever agreement the bank sets out. With the new cram down legislation however, bankruptcy judges will be able to override stubborn lenders, and help families save their homes

While the cram down bill would certainly help those who are facing bankruptcy and foreclosure, the bill also has the potential to strengthen our economy as a whole.

Wherever there is a foreclosure, the property value of every home on the street is affected. This in turn upsets the economic viability of entire neighborhoods and communities, then states, then the nation.

With global markets in such dire straits as they’re currently in, it’s critical that the number of foreclosures in this country is quelled. The cram down bill is but one measure planned to help achieve this goal.

Mortgage companies, some moderate Democrats, and a large number of Republicans are opposed to the cram down bill, arguing that it’ll only make matters worse. Not only do lenders face the prospect of losing money on these modified loans, but some believe that a proposal like this only serves to reward the financially irresponsible, and punish those who practiced fiscal restraint.

While it is certainly true that many Americans purchased homes that were beyond their means, it is also true that lenders must own their share of the responsibility for issuing loans to people who had no reasonable hope of affording them. Regardless of who is to blame, the time has come to look forward. No one can change what happened, so it’s time to pull together and come up with practical solutions.

Banks and major corporations have received bail-out funds, so perhaps it’s time to bail out those who truly feel the brunt of the economic crisis—the average homeowner.

With layoffs occurring in record numbers and property values continuing to plummet in some regions, many Americans are feeling this recession with acuity. People are struggling to feed their families, fear is setting in, and the economy is slowing down even further. Perhaps the cram down bill will give desperate homeowners a much-needed break—a bail out if you will, so that they won’t end up on the streets. Perhaps with their new monthly savings, they can pump money back into the system, and invigorate this slumping economy. How novel a concept—economic revival from the bottom up.

The cram down bill is slated to be taken up by Senate after the April recess.

Andy Asbury PhotoAbout Author
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