Small companies to pay 15-34 cents an hour for health care



WASHINGTON (AP)—Small companies would pay 15 cents to 34 cents an hour to provide health coverage for each minimum-wage worker under President Clinton’s plan, Labor Secretary Robert Reich told Congress on Thursday.

Trying to blunt criticism that Clinton’s mandates on companies would drive firms under, Reich said subsidies to low-wage companies would keep their premium costs affordable.

‘‘The empirical evidence shows minimum wage changes of this magnitude have not had substantial effects on employment in the past,’‘ Reich told the House Education and Labor Committee.

Reich noted that the estimated 15 cents to 34 cents for covering the hourly minimum wage worker was less than the 50-cent rise in the minimum hourly wage that he said the Labor Departmet might recommend.

The costs to small firms could stay under 34 cents an hour, Reich said, because of subsidies Clinton is proposing that could have low-wage firms with fewer than 50 workers paying as little as 3.5 percent of their payroll toward premiums.

When Reich disclosed earlier this week that he might recommend raising the ninimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $4.75 an hour, he suggested at least part of the increase come from health-care benefits.

For instance, if the minimum wage were raised to $4.75 an hour, a small company might provide 15 cents an hour in health care benefits and $4.60 in wages.

Reich said the White House hopes to get the health-care legislation to Congress next week. Some lawmakers have complained that the president is losing momentum on the issue because there is no bill yet.

Meanwhile, the administration kept up its campaign to combat charges the Clinton plan would create a monstrous new bureaucracy.

Judy Federer, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, said Clinton’s proposed National Health Board that will set many of the federal standards would rely on federal agencies already in existence for leg work, research and analysis.

The insurance industry, manufacturers and small businesses launched a campaign to oppose the regional alliances that would be created under Clinton’s plan.

The Coalition to Preserve Self-Insurance, representing insurers, manufacturers and small businesses, said it’s against letting the government ‘‘interfere improperly with a business owner’s right to decide how to best run his or her business.’‘

Under Clinton’s plan, there would be regional alliances, regulated by the government, set up so businesses and individuals could pool their purchasing power and presumably get better rates.

But the coalition said that would take away employers’ flexibility to choose the health plan that best fits the needs of their employees.

Employers would pay the bill, but would not have any right to control, or even influence, the cost, the coalition said.