"It is important to involve all relevant parties, including the insurance companies, small businesses, and state governors to formulate a solution to the health care crisis currently facing this nation's small businesses," Ms. Davis says.
Dealing with the crisis is especially relevant for Hispanic companies since many of them fall into the small-business category. Michael Barrera, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says, like most business groups, health insurance is a major issue for all of his constituents.
"The Latino business owners are having the same issues. As health insurance rates grow, a lot of the [Hispanic] businesses are small businesses, and the microbusinesses are going to be hit the hardest," he says. "Employers are being asked to pay more. The general costs of doing business are increasing – if they raise the minimum wage and regulation costs continue to rise, especially for small businesses – and then you add health care.
"Also, it can be a double cost," he adds. "Because if you lose employees due to no health insurance, then you have to spend money to hire and train replacements."
Mr. Barrera says that he thought the bipartisan effort made by Representative Velazquez and Republican House member John Boehner of Ohio was a promising start.
"We'd like to see associated health plans, which would allow business to purchase health insurance across state lines," he says. "There is a lot more regulation with state-by-state plans, and if you have a national plan, you can drive the rates down."
When the 109th Congress closed in September, having not come to a consensus on how to deal with the insurance issue, some state governments forged ahead, looking for ways to create go-betweens for businesses and workers.
For example, Arizona has had an established state-sponsored health care program for single- and small-business owners since 1986. The Healthcare Group of Arizona covers more than 23,000 members as of July, up 94 percent from two years ago with 48 percent of that growth occurring within the past 12 months.
In California, a bill introduced by the Senate to create a single-payer, state-run health care system was vetoed in October by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the plan would hurt business. Another bill that would have required companies with more than 10,000 employees to create a payroll set-aside for health benefits was also vetoed.
Lloyd Chapman, president of the American Small Business League, says his nonprofit group is looking to states, and not Washington, to help address the insurance mess.
"Our members have expressed concern regarding health care and hope some piece of legislation can be created that takes the burden off the individual and can pool together multiple small businesses to help create a less expensive group option," he says. "I feel this can be accomplished at a state level as opposed to a federal level."
Other business groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small-business advocacy group, are pushing solutions composed of a mixture of health savings accounts (HSAs), tax credits for small-business health care purchases, and multi-state association health plans, which would create larger insurance pools, such as those mentioned by Mr. Chapman.
These options, in addition to high-risk pools for entrepreneurs, reinsurance in small group markets, and allowing small employers to buy into the federal employees' health benefit plans, have graced House and Senate desks, but none have found unanimous support.
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