Solving the Small Business Health Care Crisis
By Jim Talent
There are few things more important to Missourians and all Americans and their families as quality, affordable health care. Unfortunately, the number of people who are uninsured continues to increase in our state and across the country. For example, currently there are more than 600,000 Missourians without health insurance.
It might come as a surprise to some that the majority of the uninsured belong to a single set of people. More than 60 percent of the uninsured own a small business, work for a small business, or are dependent on someone who owns or works for a small business. We see them everyday. They work for or own our local restaurants, family markets and rural co-ops. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members and we need to help them.
I've talked to hundreds of small business people around the state and their No. 1 concern is the rising cost of health care. Small business men and women want to offer health care to their employees but the options are simply unaffordable.
There is a solution to this problem. The Senate Small Business Committee took an important first step by holding a hearing to examine the health care crisis facing small business, to consider legislation establishing Association Health Plans (AHPs).
Association Health Plans would allow small businesses to purchase quality, affordable health care through their trade associations. The bill would provide health care coverage to millions of Missourians and Americans who currently don't have it. And the best part is, AHPs would expand health care coverage at no cost to the taxpayers.
Here's how the legislation works. AHPs would allow national trade and professional organizations, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Farm Bureau, to respond to the needs of their membership and sponsor health care plans.
For example, if you are the owner of a small restaurant in Missouri you could join the National Restaurant Association or the National Federation of Independent Business and purchase quality, affordable health insurance, which you could buy for yourself and offer to your employees at more affordable rates.
I was the chief sponsor of this legislation in the House, where it passed two years in a row. This year I believe we can pass it in the Senate.
Whenever I'm at a town hall meeting in Missouri or having a discussion with small businessmen and women and I'm explaining Association Health Plans, I usually ask the following question: If you had a choice between working for a very big company or a small company, and the only factor in your mind was health insurance, which company would you choose? Each time I've asked this question, nobody has ever said they would want to work for the small company.
AHPs would allow small business people to offer the same kind of health insurance that Fortune 500 companies currently offer their employees. These plans would cover large groups and enjoy large economies of scale. In addition, they would give small firms administrative savings, more purchasing power, and new, more affordable options.
I've talked to hundreds of small business people throughout Missouri about the crisis they are facing in health insurance. One of my constituents, Dr. Virginia Dooley, operates a small dental practice in Boonville. She told me she is losing employees because she can't afford to offer health care. I met with Glenn Reeves of Horizon Screen Printing, a small printing company in Cape Girardeau, and his health insurance costs have gone up 34 percent over the last two years.
Association Health Plans would help real people like Dr. Dooley and Mr. Reeves, and small business people throughout Missouri and around the country buy quality, affordable health insurance for themselves and their employees. In the coming weeks I intend to introduce AHP legislation along with other Senators in the new Congress so that we can provide good, quality health insurance to those who need it the most. Now is the time to enact this important health care bill.
About the Author
Senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) was elected to serve Missouri in the U.S. Senate in November 2002. Previously he served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2001) and the Missouri House (1985-1992).