Few issues have stirred the national debate like the recent healthcare reforms President Obama signed into law earlier this year, and many questions remain, especially for architects, many of whom have unusual employment situations. Andrew Goldberg, the AIA’s Senior Director of Federal Relations (the AIA’s top federal lobbyist), and Ann Casso, Executive Director of the AIA Trust (an independent organization that develops insurance and benefit programs for AIA members), helped clarify the situation, explaining everything from new taxes to architect-only insurance policies.
The Architect’s Newspaper: How will the new health care legislation most affect architects? Will it leave things mostly as-is? Will the new legislation mean any new tax increases for architects? Or any major breaks?
Andrew Goldberg: It really depends upon the size of your firm and whether or not you already have insurance. If you are a firm with 50 or fewer employees, you might not see that much change, unless you have employees with pre-existing conditions or large medical bills, in which case the insurance reforms that prevent insurers from placing caps on coverage will help. Also, there are some tax credits for very small businesses, though in general you have to have average wages of below $50,000, which might preclude a lot of architecture firms.
The big changes come in 2014, when employers with more than 50 employees need to provide insurance or pay a tax to the federal government of up to $2,000 per employee. If you already provide insurance then there might not be much change, but a firm with more than 50 employees that does not currently provide insurance will have to make some decisions about whether to provide it or pay the tax.
Does the AIA endorse the legislation?
The AIA has long supported the concept of making insurance more affordable for architecture firms, especially smaller firms, which often have struggled with rising premiums. But AIA members differ on how to achieve that—we’ve heard from members who run the gamut of viewpoints, from those who support a nationalized single-payer system to those who prefer a market-based approach.
For that reason, we did not take a position on the health care bill. We did, however, work to eliminate provisions that would be burdensome on and unfair to our industry, in particular an amendment that was added to the Senate bill at the last minute last December that would have forced construction firms with as few as 5 employees to provide insurance. The bill that Congress passed today eliminates that provision.
Is lack of health care generally a problem for many architects? I imagine many smaller firms and sole practitioners struggle to provide it, especially in this economy.
Lack of coverage and high costs for those who do have it are enormous problems for architects and their firms. Every year we hear from firms reporting that their insurance companies have jacked up premiums. And of course, architects who have been laid off usually don’t have coverage.
Another way that the current system hurts our members is that architects who may want to hang out their own shingle don’t want to leave their firm because they can’t take their insurance with them. Hopefully, the introduction of a health insurance exchange in this bill that allows people to pool together to get better rates will help.
What are your recommendations for firms and architects struggling with insurance isssues. Can you recommend any good resources or sites?
This reform is large and can be confusing. Arm yourself with the facts. We’ve launched a page to provide links to factual information about the bill. We will add information as we get it, and we are planning various programs and resources to make sure AIA members are educated.
Does the AIA provide group insurance or any other health insurance benefits to architects? Are there any other outfits that help with this kind of thing?
Ann Casso: While the AIA Trust was forced to discontinue its endorsed group health insurance plan for members several years ago, we have been offering AIA members a convenient, no-cost, no-obligation service to help members find reputable, cost-effective health coverage for themselves—as well as for their families or firms.
HealthInsurance.com now provides free online quotes for individual members or small groups of members. AIA members may choose from a large selection of affordable health insurance plans from leading health insurance companies, get live agent support, and apply for health insurance online.
Importantly, by mid-2010, the AIA Trust is poised to offer AIA member employers with two or more employees, an endorsed firm health insurance plan. Because of state regulations, the plan may only be available in 30-35 states. In addition, by third quarter 2010, the Trust will test several ancillary health coverage plans: a cancer insurance plan and a hospital indemnity plan.
The trust also offers its members dental insurance, Medicare supplement, and long-term care insurance. Some of these plans will also be undergoing improvements in the coming months. For more information about these or other AIA Trust programs, please contact me at 202-626-7567.