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Businesses need to plan ahead for health care's uphill climb

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Miller Miller
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Bill Miller is a small business owner who operates Bill Miller Insurance of Beckley. The company opened in 1980. He has been active in many local and civic organizations. 

Running a small business today is a lot like climbing a mountain. 

You map out your course, make sure you have all of the tools you need and determine how long it will take to make it to the top. What you often can't account for are the challenges you're likely to face along the way — an unexpected storm, a blocked path, a break in your equipment — that requires an adjustment in order to continue moving on. 

For small business owners, these unexpected obstacles come with the territory. As the owner of a small business in the Mountain State, I have faced many challenges, at times changed course, and I am proud of the hard work and persistence that has kept us up and running.

Unfortunately, over the years, our small business and many others in our area have consistently been hampered by the growing cost of health insurance — a problem that is compounded by how difficult it is to anticipate exactly how much health care premiums will go up every year. And beginning this year this problem is worse, due to a new tax on health premiums known as the Health Insurance Tax, or HIT, that went to effect as part of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act.

The HIT is expected to increase small business premiums by as much as $500 per worker each year. While this new tax will be assessed on health insurance companies who offer coverage in the fully insured market, the unintended consequence is that the HIT will be passed onto their small business customers.  This cost eventually filters down, becoming just another increase in the cost of everything consumers buy.

The HIT, effective Jan. 1, is now permanent and only increases over time. In the first 10 years, the tax is expected to reach more than $100 billion. Add this to all the other tax increases that are part of the Affordable Care Act.

Add to this the fact that most small business owners in West Virginia are terribly confused about how health care law's many provisions, including the HIT, will impact their annual costs. Unfortunately, the impact of the HIT will be felt far and wide, leading companies to halt expansion, slow hiring or even reduce their workforce. According to a recent study by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Foundation, West Virginia could lose close to 2,000 jobs by 2022 as a direct result of the HIT. For a state that has seen significant job creation in recent months, implementing a new tax on small business job creators goes against common sense. When I ask small business owners what is their biggest problem, often they say the government.

The good news is that there is movement in Congress to provide relief to small business owners from this tax. Recently, a duo of bipartisan legislators introduced a bill to delay the HIT for two years. From West Virginia, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is a cosponsor of this bill. And while many small business owners would like to see this tax eliminated altogether, delaying it would be a very good start. However, there is not a Senate version and we need assistance from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

In West Virginia and across America, small businesses are looking to their elected representatives to make sure that Congress understands the real-life impact of the policies it implements. Our leaders in West Virginia have historically defended what is right, even when it might not be the easiest road. Whether the HIT is repealed or delayed, we hope our state leadership shows their support of small businesses.