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NRMCA and AGC government affairs unearthed a Senate health care bill amendment--targeting construction firms and potentially materials producers--sharply lowering a payroll threshold for employers to provide insurance coverage

Sources: CP staff; Associated General Contractors of America, Washington, D.C.; National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Silver Spring, Md.

NRMCA and AGC government affairs unearthed a Senate health care bill amendment--targeting construction firms and potentially materials producers--sharply lowering a payroll threshold for employers to provide insurance coverage. The widely criticized bill snaking toward a Dec. 24 final vote requires companies with 50 or more employees to offer health care plans or pay a fine; an amendment added over the Dec. 19-20 weekend, possibly emanating from an organized labor ally, drops that threshold specifically for construction firms to five employees.

If Washington was looking for a way to push more construction workers into unemployment lines, the late-night amendment to the health care ÎreformÌ measure does just that, AGC Chief Executive Stephen Sandherr noted in a statement. With construction unemployment already at 19.4 percent, nearly twice the national average and higher than any other category, the Senate's decision couldnÌt come at a worse time for contractors. It is impossible to understand the wisdom of singling out small, mostly family-owned construction firms, even though the vast majority of them already provide comprehensive health insurance.