POLICY: Pay or Play in California signed into law

In what may be one of his last acts in office depending on how tomorrow’s recall vote goes, yesterday Gray Davis signed SB2. I’ve written more extensively about what SB2 is and more importantly what it isn’t in this post. Essentially it’s a play or pay mandate for businesses with more than 20 workers who don’t provide health insurance.  If the business has more than 200 employees it will also have to provide insurance to the families of the workers. Most importantly it won’t take effect for more than two years or more than 3 years for smaller businesses (20-200 employees), and it doesn’t impact businesses under 20 employees at all and business between 20-50 employees will get a tax credit to cover (some of) the costs of the insurance they have to buy.

So we can expect:
a) a hell of a fight in the next two years by California’s business lobby (in particular the fast-food industry)  to overturn the law in the courts and by referendum
b) a lot of consultants emerging explaining how to restructure your business into several businesses with less than 50 or 20 employees each (depending on how that tax credit works out)
c) (when the law takes effect) some combination of job losses/higher prices for consumers as we see in Hawaii —  all dwarfed by the real driver of the employment market in California which is the national economic state of high-tech, entertainment and the defense industry.
d) gradual acceptance of that fact that that’s a cost of doing business here which the vast majority of employers were paying anyway (OK some editorial in that comment from me!)
e) more legislation to reduce medical care costs (as there is no cost control in SB2).

Of course the major issue behind all this is that 75% of the uninsured in America are full-time workers (and their families)  in low wage industries. Most of them work in businesses too small to be affected by this law, so it will only get some 1 million of California’s 7 million into insurance.

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