Healing healthcare wounds

April 1, 2006 By    

For more than 20 years, the No. 1 concern of small-business owners nationwide has been the runaway cost of health insurance.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

In fact, health insurance costs were rated a “critical” issue for 65.6 percent of respondents in a National Federation of Independent Business‘s Small Business Conditions report for the fourth quarter of 2005 – the highest percentage for any problem in the survey’s 22-year history.

That’s understandable, since the largest portion of America’s uninsured population are the 27 million men, women and children covered by the small-business community. According to NFIB, 48 percent of small businesses offered health insurance to their employees in 2003. Just 41 percent of firms with fewer than 10 employees offered the benefit; 78 percent of those with 20 or more workers provided coverage.

Small businesses have been begging for solutions to rising health-care costs, lack of access and related concerns. Yet insurance premiums continue to grow at a double-digit clip every year, far outpacing the ability of mom-and-pop shops to keep up.

Long-overdue help with this crisis may finally have arrived with the March 15 vote of the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to support The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act.

This bill would allow small-business trade groups to band together to buy group health insurance, realizing greater bargaining power, economies of scale and administrative efficiencies. These Small-Business Health Plans would provide much-needed competition for the small-group market, and offer relief from costly state mandates from which larger corporations and labor unions already are exempt.

As written, the bipartisan legislation is projected to cut the number of uninsured in the small group market by 900,000. It also would reduce aggregate health insurance premiums by 12 percent for small employers nationwide. That’s roughly $1,000 per employee in today’s dollars.

In a nation that boasts the world’s most advanced medical resources, the fact that more than 45 million Americans go without health insurance is shamefully inexcusable.

Senate bill 1955 is no panacea. It does not attempt to address the underlying cause of high premiums, such as the high cost of health care in general, advanced technologies or the demands of an aging society.

But it is a vital step that deserves the full Senate’s support so that workers in America’s 24 million businesses can afford to get sick.

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