Mitchell Cropp, president of Cropp-Metcalfe Air Conditioning and Heating, is proud of the benefits he offers his 100-plus employees. In fact, it’s one reason whyThe Newsselected the Fairfax, VA-based contractor as one of the winners in our inaugural “Best Contractor To Work For” contest three years ago. Among other benefits, Cropp offers disability, life insurance, flex spending, dependent care, paid holidays, paid vacations (up to three weeks), and a Christmas party.

It’s the rising cost of health insurance that concerns him.

“On my end, I was self-insured until two years ago, but that got to be extremely expensive,” said Cropp. “I had to go with a different company, but there already has been a 15% to 20% increase from last year to this year, and they’re telling me that next year it’s going to be another 15% to 20% increase.…These people have no mercy.”

With such increases, Cropp has no other choice but to raise his own company rates. The other option is to have the employees pay for some of their own health insurance costs, but Cropp is trying to avoid that option if possible.

“I’m going to try to hold out,” he said. “We offer it as a company benefit and I desire to keep it that way. But if this keeps up…”


Cropp, of course, is not alone in this dilemma. Contractors all over the country are trying to get a handle on health care costs. When the subject was initiated recently on the Hvacr Forum onThe Newswebsite (, more than a few voiced their opinions and concerns. (And, if you want to join in on this “conversation,” please click on to the Hvacr Forum.)

Paul Stalknecht, president and ceo of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), says it’s time contractors stand up.

“Hvacr contractors are being pinched by group health premiums that are going through the roof,” he said.

Stalknecht pointed to a new study released by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Congressional research agency, which shows a dangerous narrowing of competition in the health insurance market. According to the GAO report, “the five largest carriers, when combined, represented three-quarters or more of the market in 19 of the 34 states supplying information, and they represented more than 90% in 7 of these states.”

It is Stalknecht’s belief that if Congress doesn’t act, many small contractors “may find themselves unable to provide health insurance coverage for their employees at all.”


According to the National Institute for Healthcare Management Foundation, health insurance premiums rose an average 12.5% for small businesses in 2001. However, ACCA said many contractors from all over the country have reported 2002 increases of nearly 20% or more.

Stalknecht called on Congress to give small businesses the same choices for reduced healthcare costs that large businesses and unions have had for years.

“Fortune 500 companies and unions are able to pool their employee numbers from throughout the nation and get buying power to lower their premiums,” he said. “But small, community-based businesses, like hvacr contractors, are stuck with increasingly expensive plans just because they happen to operate within the boundaries of one state. It’s not fair, it hurts the economy, it hurts small business owners, and most importantly, it hurts working families.”

“All Congress has to do is pass the Small Business Health Fairness Act. This bill been languishing in the Senate, and it’s time to get it moving,” he said.

According to ACCA’s president, the Small Business Fairness Act would allow small businesses to join together in association health plans (AHPs). AHPs are designed to promote greater competition and choice in health insurance markets by allowing small businesses to join together to obtain the same economies of scale, purchasing clout, and administrative efficiencies now available to employees in large employer and union health plans.

“Our country should not deny choices to small, community-based businesses that we routinely make available to multinational billion-dollar corporations,” said Stalknecht. “We urge Congress to put politics aside, and give contractors and other small businesses a chance to provide better health insurance to their employees at a lower cost, by letting them join together in association health plans.”

There is power in numbers. Contact your senator and representative — before it’s too late.

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/13/2002