Companies Start to Pay for Health Care Law, Accusations Fly

Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is calling major corporate executives to a hearing to challenge the accounting charges their companies have made in response to passage of the health care legislation. (Bloomberg, “AT&T, Deere CEOs Called by Waxman to Back Up Health-Bill Costs.”)

From the committee’s homepage:

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on April 21, 2010, regarding claims by Caterpillar, Verizon, and Deere that provisions in the new health care reform law could adversely affect their company’s ability to provide health insurance to their employees. These assertions appear to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs.

They’re not “claims,” they are financial and accounting decisions the companies are required by law to make and report. President John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers addressed the company charges in an interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto Friday. Engler:

There was a suggestion, “Oh, these companies are overstating this, they’re making it up.” But, remember, the CEO and the CFO sign …under Sarbanes-Oxley under penalty of law the accuracy of the statements. They cannot make this up. Cannot!

The Administration originally tried to spin the charges as hyped or “irresponsible,” but the White House has obviously decided to change its approach. White House economic advisor Valerie Jarrett was just on ABC’s “This Week,” and she responded to the questions about the company charges as serious ones warranting a serious response.

Jarrett argued the companies will benefit more in the big picture, long run, from the health care legislation even with the charge offs. And, she continued, the White House has talked to the Business Roundtable during the drafting of the health care legislation, and agreed with the group’s request to delay parts of the law’s effects until 2013. So the White House now, after a little hemming and hawing, clearly regards the companies’ actions and businesses’ objections as legitimate.

If there’s anything that’s suspect, it’s the always hyperpoliticized accusations of the Oversight and Investigations panel. As The Wall Street Journal editorialized Saturday in “The ObamaCare Writedown“:

Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don’t like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

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