Remodelers could rightfully be relieved or confused by the health care package that President Obama signed into law on March 23 and amended a week later.

Exhale, a bit, if you pick up at least half the cost of your employees’ health insurance. Retroactive to January, you’ll get a tax credit of 35% of your contributions (if you have 10 or fewer employees whose average pay is $25,000 or less), and a smaller credit as your roster and paychecks grow.

“Perhaps the credit will encourage small remodeling companies to offer better benefits, to attract and keep good people,” says Jenna Morgan Hamilton, an assistant vice president at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The credit ends when companies reach 25 employees or pay them more than $50,000.

Don’t offer health insurance? For now, assuming you have fewer than 50 staff, you’re exempt from the $2,000-per-employee penalty that takes effect in 2014. But don’t exhale yet. A hotly contested amendment to the bill, backed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), singled out construction firms from the small-business exemptions, requiring those with payrolls of $250,000 and more than five employees to provide health insurance.

That effort was abandoned at the last minute, but the unions that lobbied for it say it will be back. Construction insiders don’t doubt them. “We will be watching every legislative vehicle for the possibility that it will be attached to something very quietly,” Hamilton says. Follow NAHB’s response through Nation’s Building News (search for NBN).

2008 REMODELING Wage & Benefit Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation 2009 Employer Health Benefits Survey

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.