Sorting Through Small Business Health Reform Polling

I haven’t seen any conclusive polling on how much support or opposition there is among small business owners for health reform that would require them to provide coverage or pay a penalty.

The NY Times’ Robb Mandelbaum has an extended explanation of why he can’t report on polling conducted by Small Business Majority, a health reform advocacy group that is broadly pushing policies like an employer mandate favored by Democrats. (The survey was conducted by one pollster who mainly works for Democrats, and didn’t pass muster with Times editors.) But Mandelbaum did report on a leaked poll from the National Federation of Independent Business, conducted by Mason-Dixon, that found the following:

Mason-Dixon asked businesspeople to respond to the statement, “All employers should be required to offer health insurance to all their full-time employees and pay 60 percent of the premium.” Seventy-nine percent disagreed; 63 percent strongly so. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.

A few points on this:

[See update below]

1) It’s not entirely clear who the sample is, but Mandelbaum suggests they polled 500 NFIB members and 500 randomly chosen companies with fewer than 250 employees. I’m guessing NFIB membership skews conservative. To the extent that’s true, if NFIB members were a disproportionate part of the sample, that would affect the poll results. The poll isn’t public yet, so it’s hard to tell.

2) The statement the poll asks people to respond to — “All employers should be required to offer health insurance to all their full-time employees and pay 60 percent of the premium” — doesn’t actually represent any proposal on the table right now. Both reform plans from the House and Senate health committee have exemptions for companies under a certain size, so no one is talking about requiring “all employers” to pay 60% of premiums. As Mandelbaum’s fellow blogger Scott Shane points out, the penalties for not providing coverage “will be concentrated on only about 5 percent of businesses.” It’s those companies at the margin that this debate really focuses on, and as Shane points out, they would take a hit under the House bill. But they certainly don’t represent “all employers.” Indeed, what size companies are subject to “play or pay” mandates is one of the central questions for small business.

The best polling, though imperfect, that I know of on the question of requiring employers to provide coverage comes from a bi-partisan survey released last December by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Two pollsters — one Democratic, the other Republican — surveyed 400 small business owners with between 2 and 50 employees. It’s important to note that all businesses in this sample already paid for at least some share of their employees’ health insurance — so the sample is not representative of all small employers. Here’s what they found on “pay-or-play” mandates:

When asked if they would support a plan requiring employers with 10 or more employees who do not provide health coverage to pay four percent of their payroll to help cover the uninsured, a majority (53%) of those surveyed favored the proposal.


40 percent of small business owners said they think a mandate requiring employers to offer insurance to their employees would hurt their business.

If you’ve seen better polling on this, let us know in comments or on Twitter. And if you’re taking part in the online White House chat with economic advisor Christina Romer today, let us know what you think. What would an employer mandate mean for your business? Has Obama made the case to you for reform? What kind of changes do you want to see?

Update, July 30: Robb Mandelbaum emails to clarify that the results he reported were from the random sample of businesses with 250 or fewer employees from the D&B database.

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