Friday, November 20, 2009

As Key Senate Health Care Vote Nears, Landrieu Aims to 'Institute the Right Reforms' to Aid America's Small Businesses, Workers, Families

Today, on the eve of a pivotal U.S. Senate vote to begin the debate on health care reform, Sen. Mary Landrieu [D-La., pictured], chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, pledged her support to do what's right for small businesses, their workers, and families.

"As you may know, this week, the Senate unveiled its healthcare legislation," Landrieu wrote in a letter to small-biz stakeholders across the nation. "This bill will create a system of exchanges that will pool small businesses to spread risk, lower costs, and give owners and employees more predictable, quality health care choices.

"To ensure these exchanges work effectively, the bill contains consumer protections and market reforms -- including prohibiting insurance companies from denying or rescinding coverage based on health status and an individual mandate to obtain coverage rather than an employer mandate to provide coverage.

"While these reforms are a step in the right direction, there is still more work to do. As we continue negotiations to reform our nation’s health care system, I will persist in working to ensure that the concerns of our nation’s 29 million small businesses remain a central focus. Today, it is more important than ever for Congress to work together to institute the right reforms to aid America’s small businesses and families."

To help clarify how the Senate health care bill -- dubbed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- affects small businesses, Landrieu's committee has compiled a fact sheet that highlights the bill's key points:

Why Small Businesses Need Reform
* Fewer small businesses offer coverage: Over the last ten years, the percentage of small businesses [i.e., with fewer than 200 employees] offering health benefits has dropped from 56 percent to 46 percent.

* Small businesses are not providing insurance because they cannot afford it: America’s small businesses will spend $156 billion on health coverage this year alone.

* Lack of competition causes small firms to pay more: Big companies with more people to spread risk have lower rates because of a lack of competition, causing small firms to pay 18 percent more.

* More jobs will be lost without the right reforms: In 2018 alone, 178,000 small business jobs will be lost due to the high cost of health care.

* Without the right reforms, small businesses will pay more: By 2018, small businesses are expected to spend nearly $2.4 trillion on health coverage.

How This Bill Helps
* Makes health care more affordable: Improves affordability by instituting exchanges that will provide small businesses with more choices and lower costs.

* Tax credits increase affordability: Provides tax credits to small businesses, to make coverage more affordable and to encourage employees to enter into exchanges.

* Levels the playing field for small businesses: By pooling employees in small firms, the exchange system will make small businesses more equal to their larger competitors.

* Promotes entrepreneurship and creates jobs: Encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own businesses by providing realistic health coverage choices for themselves and employees.

* More quality coverage: Consumer protections and market reforms, like preventing insurers from denying or rescinding coverage based on health status, will ensure that the largest possible pool is participating in the exchanges and help bring down costs.

GoodBiz113's take: The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit by $127 billion over the next 10 years, and as much as $650 billion in the decade following -- saving hundreds of billions of dollars while extending coverage to 31 million more Americans. We appreciate Sen. Landrieu's leadership and advocacy on this landmark legislation to reform health care, and hope that she and her colleagues pass it by year's end.

SOURCES: Congressional Budget Office, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Sen. Kerry, Rep. Klein Help Small Businesses Employ Military Reservists

Sen. John Kerry [D-Mass., pictured], a senior member and former chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, and Congressman Ron Klein [D-Fla.] today announced their introduction of a bill to support small businesses that employ military reservists.

The Small Business and Military Family Assistance Act of 2009 will provide tax incentives for small-business employers who make up the salary difference for their reservist employees while they’re serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. While many large businesses can afford to supplement the lower wages that reservists earn while in active duty, small-business owners struggle to offer the same service.

"Our legislation supports the small businesses that stand by our men and women in uniform when reservists are deployed," said Sen. Kerry. "It keeps our service members employed, and small businesses open for business. In the face of a tough economy, we can do more to support the employers and reservists who make such profound contributions to our economy and national defense."

"One of our most important responsibilities is to stand behind our military service members," Rep. Klein added. "This legislation does exactly that by ensuring that reservists and their families do not see a drop in income when they are called up to active duty.

"Many small businesses voluntarily choose to support our troops by making up the difference between military and civilian pay when one of their employees is called to active duty service. This is the right thing to do, and these businesses should be supported and rewarded with tax incentives. This selfless dedication to our service members proves once again that small businesses are not only the heart of our economy; they are the soul of our communities."

"MOAA strongly supports this employer wage credit extension, as it recognizes the sacrifices American employers endure in supporting their activated Guard and Reserve employees," said Vice Admiral Norb R. Ryan Jr., USN [Ret.], president of the Military Officers Association of America.

Small businesses employ nearly 20 percent of all reservists who hold civilian jobs. Many employers pay their employees who are called up for active duty a salary differential.

For example, if an employee was making $60,000 before being called up and makes $40,000 in the military, the employer will make up the $20,000 difference. Sen. Kerry’s legislation provides small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, a tax credit for 20 percent of the pay differential. The maximum credit is $4,000.

SOURCE: Senator John Kerry

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Democratic Senators, Congresswoman, Small-Business Owners Discuss Impact of Health Insurance Reform on Small Businesses

Yesterday, Democratic Senators Tom Harkin [D-Ia., pictured] and Mary Landrieu [D-La.], and Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson [D-Ill.] joined Mike Draper, a small-business owner from Des Moines, Ia.; Gwendolyn Barnes, a small-business owner from Shreveport, La.; Dr. Ken Brantley, a small-business owner from Richmond, Va.; and other small-business owners from across the country at a press conference to discuss how health insurance reform will benefit small businesses.

Recent studies indicate that small businesses are likely to see their premiums rise 15% in the coming year -- double the rate of last year’s increase. Small businesses employ roughly 40% of the private labor force in America, making it crucial that we work to ensure affordability of health coverage for this central part of the American workforce.

"The status quo in health insurance spending for America’s small businesses is intolerable and it is unsustainable," said Sen. Harkin. "Today, we have a simple message for small-business owners across America: Help is on the way, and it comes in the form of a health reform plan that puts a stop to the discriminatory insurance industry practice of jacking up premiums for small businesses by up to 200 percent when an employee gets sick, or because the business hires a woman.

"Our bill will end the practice of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or increasing premiums based on health status, gender, or industry. As I have said many times, the biggest winners in a reformed health system will be small-business owners and their employees."

Sen. Landrieu concurred."Small businesses are suffering from skyrocketing health insurance premiums that are eating into their bottom lines and threatening their survival," she declared. "As we continue to make progress toward comprehensive health care reform, Democrats are working to address the health care needs of small businesses. And while we may not yet completely agree on everything, one thing we can all agree on is that doing nothing is simply not an option."

"Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and right now health care costs are simply too much to bear," said Rep. Halvorson. "If we truly want our small businesses to help lead us out of our current economic troubles, we must act to reform health care. Small-business owners and their employees are depending on it. We must act now."

"We try to be flexible, but it's an expensive way to do it," Draper explained. "Right now, health insurance is a volatile commodity, such as oil -- the price swings, the price increases -- and it takes up a larger portion of a company’s budget. If the government were to provide a more stable option and take the market out of things, it would help settle business’s books; it would help them better predict the future. As a business owner, I wouldn't have to worry about finding policies, knowing what is covered, what isn't covered, and how much the company will end up paying."

"We started off with everybody on a group plan, but as the premiums continued to climb and climb, my employees had to start dropping out, so we switched to individual plans," said Barnes. "But one of my employees was denied for a pre-existing condition. And we've had trouble with the insurance company. When my daughter needed a surgery, they mysteriously took her off the surgery schedule. That's not right. It’s time to fix health care -- for small businesses like mine, and for the communities we serve."

"The lack of affordable health insurance hurts millions of small-business owners like me," Dr. Brantley added. "I would love to hire several highly skilled staff to work with me. This would balance the workload, expand our care, and create more jobs. It is virtually impossible, however, to find qualified applicants who will accept a job offer without health insurance benefits.

"The high cost of health care hurts my ability to create new jobs here in Virginia and retain skilled employees. Without competition and meaningful health care legislation, we will continue to see rising health insurance premiums each year that harm businesses and squeeze families."

GoodBiz113's take: Thankfully, President Barack Obama is committed to working with Congress to pass comprehensive health reform this year in order to control rising health care costs, guarantee choice of doctor, and assure high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans -- including small-business owners and their employees. To learn about President Obama's plan to deliver health care stability and security to all U.S. citizens, go to:

SOURCES: U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, White House

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