Federal and State Health Care Bills Top Agendas

When the U.S. Congress and state legislatures reconvene, the top priority will undoubtedly be passage of health care reform packages. To say the issue is contentious both internally and externally would be a vast understatement. Emotions run high. Despite partisan differences, however, something is bound to be passed, making it critical that graphic communications firms make their own feelings known to decision makers as soon as possible.

Printing Industries Alliance (PIA) has been hard at work for some time, sending letters of concern to lawmakers at the state and federal levels, participating in conference calls with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-AK) and other congressional leaders, and initiating a major e-mail communication campaign by our members to their elected representatives.

In the interim, several independent bills have already been passed in New York and New Jersey:

During July, Gov. Patterson signed into law bills to expand COBRA for employees to 36 months from its original 18. Workers who lose their jobs can continue purchasing group health insurance provided by their former employers’ group health plan for limited periods of time for themselves and their families. Federal COBRA generally applies to employers with 20 or more workers, while NYS’ “mini-COBRA” law requires that small employers—those with fewer than 20—offer the same continuation coverage.

Another measure requires

insurers to allow unmarried children through age 29—regardless of financial dependence—to be covered under a parent’s group health insurance policy. A third bill implements a series of managed care reforms to help consumers receive care and cut out bureaucratic red tape.

In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine signed into law June 25th A-2238 (Roberts, Prieto)/S-1651 (Vitale, Weinberg), that requires state-regulated health plans to cover treatment for autism and other developmental disabilities. Coverage for physical therapy, speech, occupational and evidence-based behavioral interventions when medically determined by a doctor is now mandated.

Also high on NYS lawmakers’ agenda will be passage of paid family leave. Already the law in New Jersey, defeat of this measure remains a top PIA and business community priority. Legislators are suggesting that all businesses—no matter what size—be required to provide paid family leave for employees for up to 12 weeks.

Other New Jersey Issues

Be sure that your employees are correctly classified. Under A-2498 (Madden, Cunningham)/A-3569 (Egan, Quijano), employers could be subject to criminal penalties for misclassifying employees.

Their operations could even be shut down for as many as 12 days if there is even an accusation that employees are misclassified through issuance of a stop-work order from the Division of Workers Compensation to anyone knowingly failing to provide workers compensation coverage, knowingly misrepresenting employees as independent contractors, or knowingly filing false, incomplete or misleading information concerning the number of employees you have in your firm. Employers and any of its officers could be charged with a fourth degree crime as well. PIA strongly opposes the bill.

Despite opposition from the business community, Gov. Corzine signed into law July 15th A-3372 (Barnes, Degnan)/S-2340 (Sweeney, Buono) requiring businesses to pay prevailing wages on any energy efficiency or renewable energy project receiving more than $11,892 in financial assistance from the Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

This includes rebates, tax abatements or loans and projects ranging from replacement of heating and cooling equipment to installation of solar panels.

And in a final, “please don’t shoot the messenger” item, printing and graphic communications companies should be very concerned about a troubling toxic pollutant bill that continues to hover through New Jersey state house corridors.

While the business community has been successful to date in keeping it at bay, some legislators appear determined to move forward. A-2951—a measure we first told Printing News readers about in March—creates a crime of exposure to toxic pollutants.

Under the measure, a person who purposely, knowingly or unlawfully causes one or more people to be exposed through inhalation, ingestion or absorption to any toxic pollutant commits a second degree crime. A person who recklessly or unlawfully causes one or more people to be exposed in similar fashion commits a third degree crime.

The bill does not take into consideration the duration or level of exposure, nor even if there is any harm. Although anyone who knowingly does these things should be punished, the bill’s language is way too broad and the limits of liability placed on New Jersey facilities would be staggering. For these reasons, PIA and the business community oppose it strongly.

Vicki R. Keenan is vice president of Printing Industries Alliance (PIA), a regional trade association representing the $20 billion printing and graphic communications industry throughout New York, northern New Jersey and northwestern Pennsylvania. She may be reached at (908) 233-4124 or at vkeenan@PIAlliance.org.