Small-Business Owners Press For Health Care Exchange Law

The Record ( — Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Record

Owners of small businesses in New Jersey delivered letters signed by more than 200 owners to Governor Christie's office Wednesday, urging him to enact a state-run health exchange if a state law reaches his desk a second time.

The state chapter of the Main Street Alliance, a national group of self-employed and small-business leaders who have publicly supported health reform since 2008, said they wanted a meeting with Christie before a major November deadline to press their case for a state-run exchange, which would allow tiny companies to band together to maximize their bargaining power for health coverage.

In light of the June 28 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama's healthcare law, states must decide by Nov. 16 whether to create their own exchanges through legislation. If they fail to enact a law by the deadline, the federal government would step in and operate the exchange. The business owners said a federally run exchange would not give them the bargaining power of a state-run exchange.

Eleven states so far have passed bills setting up exchanges, and three more have done so through executive order. The business owners said small companies in some of those states are seeing cost savings. New Jersey lawmakers passed a similar bill, but Christie vetoed it in May, before the Supreme Court ruling.

Employers at Wednesday's press conference said a state-run exchange would give small businesses better access to negotiated plans and rates typically available only to larger groups.

Odette Cohen, a pediatrician based in Willingboro, said premiums on the plan she offers her 10 employees have risen while co-pays have increased ten-fold in a year, "from $5 to $50."

Like many small businesses, she said she wanted to continue providing insurance to employees, and hoped the state-run exchange - a virtual marketplace for health plans - would help her find ways to stabilize that cost,

"We as small businesses may not have the money of the larger groups, but this law impacts us as much as any other company," Cohen said.

Yamilca Santiago, who runs a storyboarding company with her husband in Carteret, said she and her small business were "one accident away from financial ruin."

She had recently opted out of insuring herself, she said, because her monthly premiums had risen from $900 to $1,600.

The group, joined by representatives from New Jersey Citizen Action, delivered the letters to the Governor's office, saying, "A robust health exchange that can negotiate on our behalf will make it easier for us."

Christie, in vetoing the state-run exchange bill this spring, noted the constitutionality of Obama's law was in question. Following the Supreme Court's ruling in June, he said in an interview he had begun reviewing the written decision. "I think if Mitt Romney is elected president, then there won't be any more Obamacare. So this is step one in what is probably at least a two-step process in this year to see whether Obamacare survives," he said at the time. But he pledged to meet any hard deadlines required by law, which he said were unlikely to come before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

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