• WisBusiness

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The theatrics of health care reform


By Dan Danner
The president's health care summit last week may have been great political theater. But what really was accomplished on behalf of the small businesses that desperately need reform?

Small business owners simply aren't interested in political drama or more talking. They want to see less rhetoric and more solutions that produce real results. President Obama's proposal is basically the same as the House and Senate's flawed legislation. We opposed both of those bills because neither addressed the fundament problem: lower overall costs.

To add insult to injury, the president's now promoting even worse ideas that will further threaten the future of small businesses with burdensome new taxes, mandates and fees.

If the White House is serious about reforming health care, then it needs to pursue reforms that help the people that need it the most our nation's small business owners. Otherwise, the summit and its aftermath will only show that small business has simply become a sound bite for reform that provides little relief and increases the cost of doing business.

Small business owners have been constructive and valuable participants in the reform debate. They have worked hard, taking time away from their businesses, to help our leaders understand the struggles they face owning and operating a business. They also continue to urge policymakers to adopt ideas that offer sensible solutions.

For example, the president could give small businesses greater purchasing power to help drive down costs by letting them pool their risks together across state lines to purchase insurance, just like big business and unions do today. Why is that so hard to consider? Or he could support an idea called the optional free choice voucher. This would allow employers to give pre-tax dollars to their workers and let the worker purchase the plan that best fits their needs, like a 401(k) for health care. These two ideas together create choice, portability and puts the consumer in the driver's seat, a win-win for employers and workers.

There are lots of good ideas out there but, sadly, small business owners are left with a bill that's short on savings and big on costs. They're now left asking, "Will Congress and the president stop playing politics and create reform that improves access and affordability, or will they continue down the same path with new taxes, mandates and fees that threaten my ability to run and grow my business?"

It can't be emphasized enough -- in economic times like these, when small businesses are struggling just to survive, policies must be aimed at helping them. No one has a larger stake in this debate. So we must tread lightly and always remind our leaders in Washington to continuously check their ideas by asking one simple question: "Will this help or hurt small business?"

And our leaders also must realize that the old adage of the health care profession applies here as well: First, do no harm. Only then can they address real reform.

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

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