Most Criticize Health Reform Bill As Bad For Small Business

NJBIZ — Monday, March 22, 2010

By Beth Fitzgerald

Sunday night's historic passage of health reform by the House of Representatives is drawing mixed reaction in New Jersey, ranging from praise for the extension of coverage to millions more Americans, to criticism for not doing enough to reduce the cost of health care.

Health care costs will rise unabated, said William J. Marino, with the bill doing nothing to address this problem."This is not the reform small business asked for or can afford," said Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business/New Jersey. "They need reform that lowers health care costs ... instead, this bill dumps disproportionate costs and mandates on small businesses, and provides unfair exemptions for big business and labor unions."

While his company supports reform, William J. Marino, chairman and chief executive of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, said the legislation falls short when it comes to "slowing the growth of health care costs, improving the quality of care and increasing access to coverage. Under this legislation, health care costs will continue to rise, as will insurance premiums ... in coming years, we will still be grappling with these same issues." Marino said the legislation "will increase taxes on insurers and enable people to purchase health insurance after they get sick, which will increase health care costs. Furthermore, the legislation does little to increase evidence-based care or transparency on provider cost and quality."

But Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of the consumer group New Jersey Citizen Action, applauded the legislation. "Thanks to their 'yes' votes, we can now look forward to the security of good health care at a price we can afford, and not have to worry about being denied care or going bankrupt trying to pay for the care we need," she said.

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, said the legislation will grant states access to federal funds to develop disease prevention and wellness programs.

"The state will be able to apply for tens of millions to help train a health care work force; the state will have an opportunity to develop wellness zones in cities. So there is enormous opportunity for the states to create a healthier work force and reduce costs long term," Sarno said.

Thousands of small New Jersey employers won't be required to provide health insurance, Sarno added, but he predicted small employers will be pressured to provide insurance in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, Betsy Ryan, CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, said 920,000 of the 1.3 million uninsured New Jerseyans could be added to insurers' rolls as a result of the House bill.

"The nation's hospitals committed early on to be part of this new and improved health care system by agreeing to more than $150 billion in funding reductions over the next decade that will help pay for other key components of reform," Ryan said. New Jersey will suffer about $5 billion in reductions over the next decade, but "we firmly believe that everyone — including insurance companies, hospitals, physicians and consumers — must have a stake in health care's future," she said. "It is, quite simply, the right thing to do."

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