Small Businesses Will Rally For Lower Health Care Costs

NJBIZ — Monday, June 15, 2009

By Beth Fitzgerald

Several New Jersey small-business owners will go to Washington, D.C., on June 24 and 25 to participate in meetings and rallies in support of changing the nation's health care system to provide a "public option," or a federal government-run health plan, to compete with private insurers.

The public option is being debated in Congress this summer as part of the Barack Obama administration's proposals for covering the estimated 40 million uninsured Americans and lowering health care costs.

The New Jersey Main Street Alliance, funded by the national Main Street Alliance and organized by New Jersey Citizen Action, a statewide consumer lobbying group, said 400 of the state's small-business owners, self-employed individuals and nonprofits have signed on to the group's support of increased disclosure by health insurers, lower costs and a public option.

For at least a decade, surveys of small-businesses owners have identified rising health costs as their top problem, with companies reporting they are cutting back on coverage or dropping health plans they once provided to their workers.

Christine Stearns, vice president for health and legal affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said her members "on the one hand will consider anything that will control health care costs," but at the same time view the public option "with skepticism," and are concerned the government will pay less than private plans for medical care, and potentially destabilize the healthcare system.

Kelly Conklin, founder of the 13-employee Bloomfield architectural woodworking company Foley-Waite Associates, said he now pays $5,000 a month to provide health coverage for the 10 employees in the plan. He switches insurance carriers nearly every year to keep his premium from skyrocketing.

He said that expense leaves him less capital to invest in his business. Conklin said he had an opportunity recently to buy his own building, which would have cost him $5,000 instead of the $3,500 he now pays in rent. If his health care bill could be cut, he'd have the money to buy his own shop "and put my business on a sounder footing."

He said he pays 80 percent of the insurance premium for his workers. To ask them to pay more "would be like giving them a pay cut. ... And how does that benefit our economy if they have less money to spend? And why should we spend all of our money on an inefficient system?"

Conklin said he wants the government to provide a health plan as an option that small businesses could purchase, adding this would lower the nation's health care bill by providing insurance companies with competition. He said there needs to be far more transparency in the health care system, so businesses can compare competing plans and know which medical procedures will be covered before buying into a plan.

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