ABA Meets With Congressional Staff to Discuss Small Business Health Coverage

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The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business tackled the issue of health insurance for small-business employees on Wednesday, March 14, at a hearing on "challenges and solutions" to health insurance coverage for small businesses. Oren Teicher, ABA COO, attended the morning hearings, which featured witnesses from the small business community, health care experts, and the insurance industry.

Following the hearings, Teicher and Dan Cullen, ABA's information director, met with policy staff from the offices of Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Small Business, and of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The meetings, which ABA had requested in January to bring attention to members' concerns, focused on how ABA and independent booksellers nationwide might assist the committees' work on fashioning health care solutions.

Noting at the hearing that "I think everyone will agree that the current system is broken," Rep. Velazquez said, "If the American health insurance system is at a crossroads, small business is at its center. Entrepreneurs will tell you that this is the number-one issue they face. And, unfortunately, this problem is getting worse."

Only 48 percent of the nation's smallest firms offer health benefits to at least some of their workers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, down from 56 percent in 1999, and small business owners nationwide have consistently cited the cost of offering health care as their most pressing problem. Velazquez characterized the hearing as the beginning of a process geared to crafting "changes at the federal level that can help improve the health insurance market."

While noting that a number of congressional committees will be looking at the problem of health care coverage, she said, "My focus is to make sure that small businesses are part of the debate. We cannot have a discussion on reducing the uninsured without helping the 23 million Americans without health insurance who work at, own, or have a family member working at a small business."

Testifying at the hearing were Michael Cavanaugh of Queen City Electric in Cincinnati, Ohio; Adam D. Cockey, Jr., senior vice president of Prudential Carruthers Realtors; Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans; Todd Stottlemyer, president and CEO of National Federation of Independent Business; and Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project HOPE.

Following the two afternoon meetings with Congressional staff at the Rayburn and Russell buildings, Teicher said that the members of Rep. Valazquez' and Sen. Kerry's staff were "well aware of the enormity of the problem" and "were quite clear that they are committed to working toward solutions." He told BTW that "there could not be a more important challenge facing independent booksellers than finding a way to offer affordable health coverage to employees, and today marked a very positive step toward reaching that goal." --Dan Cullen