• WisBusiness

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fix the broken insurance marketplace


By Dan Danner
Whether they're young or old, entrepreneurs always have a hunger to come up with the next big idea, or to do something better than anyone else. That's the spirit that lives in each and every small business owner. That's what drives them to create jobs and continue to build our economy.

There are, however, many challenges that new and even well-established businesses face—in particular, the rising cost of healthcare and health insurance. The inability to affect or reduce health insurance premiums from year to year continues to be the greatest challenge for small business owners, along with the lack of competition and choice in the marketplace.

For these reasons, small business should be the focus of the healthcare debate. It's baffling that small business owners need to reiterate why they need reform. They continue to see examples of how big businesses like Safeway and General Mills are doing great things for their workforce, driving down costs, and just want the same. But here's a newsflash: Under current laws and regulations, small businesses can't do it.

So their message is simple: Fix the broken marketplace. For decades, small employers and the self-employed have been forced to bob and weave between the individual and small-group marketplace. These two markets either deny individuals the coverage they need, or they raise rates so high, employers can't afford to keep coverage. Something is wrong with this picture.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have been striving to craft an acceptable healthcare reform bill. As they work, they need to know what's not acceptable to small business owners:

* An employer mandate: Some proposals require employers to offer healthcare to full-time and part-time employees. Research shows an employer mandate could cost 1.6 million jobs, with more than 1 million lost in the small business sector. The greatest effect will be on low-income workers, who will pay through depressed wages and lost jobs.

* A payroll tax: The House would charge a payroll tax of up to 8 percent on all employers with a payroll of $500,000 or more, if they don't provide "qualified" health insurance to their employees. The tax would apply no matter whether the business makes a profit or not.

* A public option: Some bills establish a government-run public option. As advocates for competition and choice, we're deeply concerned that a public option would further compromise the viability of private insurance and eventually would restrict choice to a single plan: the government-run plan.

After 15 years of loudly shouting at Congress about this issue, small business owners should be steaming mad that it's taken this long to get a real discussion going about real reform. Maybe that has something to do with the power and money that comes from the insurance lobby. Maybe now that Congress is seriously engaged, they'll listen to their real constituency, not those who can afford to pad their pockets.

Here's something every voter needs to know: Small business owners need and want reform. To that end, we support market reforms that will increase access to insurance plans and drive more competition and lower costs, not a bunch of new taxes and confusing rhetoric. That's the only way we'll get more Americans covered at lower costs.

Americans in general, and small business owners in particular, should contact their representatives and urge them to pass the reforms that truly help small businesses and their employees

You can follow the latest news and information about the debates here.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

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