Sen. Ben Cardin (D) on Monday addressed Bethesda small business owners worried about costs of the Affordable Care Act and spoke about congressional partisanship that’s blocking a budget deal.
Some at the meeting of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce told Cardin they fear their businesses face significant increases in healthcare costs if they grow to more than 50 employees. The ACA employer mandate requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health care benefits or pay penalties by Jan. 1, 2015.
About 80 percent of the businesses in the Chamber are small businesses and most have fewer than 50 employees.
Cardin said much of the fear surrounding ACA comes from misinformation. He said the Obama Administration hasn’t done enough to explain what the bill means.
“Most of the people in my state, a friendly state with a friendly governor, don’t know what the Affordable Care Act is,” Cardin said. “We’re gonna have to wait to see how things really play out. In the last two years, we’ve seen the smallest growth in healthcare costs in modern history, smaller than the growth of the economy. We’ve seen some very encouraging signs.”
Cardin said a business of 55 employees won’t have a heavy healthcare burden, but he did say he’s heard from small business owners elsewhere in the state that have been told their insurance premiums will increase.
He said a Republican effort to tie a budget deal to defunding Obamacare will not work, mentioning Senate colleague Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“He’s not gonna win that debate,” Cardin said. “I don’t know why we glorify the people who don’t want compromise. I will not name names. You know who they are on both sides of the aisle. We have a serious problem in the House of Representatives. The speaker can’t lead and it’s not his fault necessarily.”
If no budget deal is reached, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1.
Cardin said he supports a federal minimum wage increase. Some in the chamber are concerned about a proposal from County Councilmember Marc Elrich that would raise the minimum wage in the county to $12.50 an hour. That proposal has gotten little support on the Council, which seems more focused on supporting a minimum wage raise at the state level.
Cardin said he speaks to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D) about competition for businesses between the two states, another popular topic for Montgomery County businesses.
“We’re doing very well in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Can we do better? Absolutely,” Cardin said. “We have certain advantages. Virginia is a different state than Maryland.”