Blanche for small business in health care debate

The public option may be dead (and we have plenty to say about that) but the Senator is showing signs of life in related areas. Is it possible she can “make up” for being instrumental in killing an essential part of this necessary legislation. Wait and see.

Since I am loaded down with other obligations (how do real full time students do it?), here is the cut and paste stuff. Your comments are always welcome.

Lincoln: I am committed to ensuring that small businesses can access quality, affordable health care

In every Congress since 2004, Lincoln has introduced legislation to help small businesses afford quality health insurance coverage

Lincoln’s plan emerging as framework for national health insurance reform

Washington – In her ongoing commitment to ensure Arkansas’s small businesses can access quality and affordable health care, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln is pushing for an expansion of a tax credit that will allow more small businesses to afford health coverage for themselves, their employees, and their families.

“Small businesses are the number one source of jobs in Arkansas,” Lincoln said. “These businesses are the engines of our local economies. They are also the least able to weather price increases in health insurance premiums, as they have little capital to combat the steep and ever-increasing rise in health care costs. In Arkansas, only 29 percent of businesses with fewer than 50 employees offer health insurance coverage because it is simply too expensive. I am committed to ensuring that our small businesses have the opportunity to access quality, affordable and stable care for their employees and their families.”

In every Congress since 2004, Lincoln has introduced legislation to help small business owners afford health coverage for themselves, their employees, and their families.  Lincoln’s plan includes the following components that are currently a part of the Senate health insurance reform bill: tax credits to help small businesses afford coverage, insurance “exchanges” through which consumers can compare insurance plans side-by-side to choose the option that is best for them, insurance market rating reforms that limit what an insurer can charge based on age, and insurance market reforms that ban the practices of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or increasing your rates when customers get sick.

Sen. Lincoln’s plan also includes allowing private insurers to sell plans nationwide with a strong federal administrator that would be able to negotiate for quality and affordable coverage, a concept that has now emerged as yet another critical part of the framework for national health insurance reform.

“In a state where only two insurers control more than 85 percent of the health insurance market, Arkansans would benefit from more insurance companies competing for their business,” Lincoln said. “Allowing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) — which already negotiates the rates for plans sold to federal employees working in Arkansas and all around the country — to help keep premiums down is simply one more way to ensure more affordable options will be available to consumers in my state.”

A key component of Lincoln’s work has been providing tax credits to small businesses to help them purchase coverage.  This week, Lincoln introduced an amendment to build on the help offered to small businesses already included in health insurance reform legislation before the Senate.

As the bill is currently written, small businesses that contribute at least half of their employees’ health care costs would receive a tax credit. The full amount of the credit would only be available to employers with 10 or fewer full time employees with annual wages averaging $20,000 or less. Lincoln’s proposal expands the wage threshold to qualify for the full tax credit to $25,000, thus allowing more small businesses to qualify.

“This will allow more small businesses workers to access a more valuable credit,” Lincoln said. “By expanding the tax credit, my amendment will ensure we are able to help the businesses that need help the most, and provide that relief immediately.”

Lincoln is also a cosponsor of amendments that would make the small business tax credit available sooner, expand small business participation in the newly-created Health Insurance Exchange, and provide information on small business health care options.

Fighting for Arkansas’s Small Businesses

For years, Lincoln has been working to make sure that business owners, their employees and families, and the self-employed can afford quality health coverage. She first introduced legislation in 2004, the Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act (SEHBP), which would establish a national health program administered by the Office of Personnel Management to offer health benefit plans to individuals, similar to the federal employees’ health program.

Lincoln’s SHOP (Small business Health Options Program) Act, first introduced in 2008 and again in 2009, was an update on the SEHBP bill. SHOP has wide bipartisan support from groups as diverse as NFIB, SEIU, and the National Association of Realtors, to name a few.

From her seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Lincoln was able to include several elements of SHOP in the Committee’s health care reform bill.  Those provisions have been included in the legislation currently being debated on the Senate floor. These are critical provisions for small businesses.

Similar to Lincoln’s SHOP Act, the current Senate bill under debate would allow states to set up “exchanges” through which small groups, including the self-employed, and individuals can purchase coverage from a range of options.  Pooling small businesses and requiring health insurance companies to abide by more fair rating rules—like banning the practices of rating based on health status and denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions—will result in more affordable and stable coverage.

The pending Senate health bill also includes SHOP’s provision to provide tax credits to small businesses to help them afford coverage for their workers and their families.

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About patlynch
I am a broadcaster in Arkansas, a former freelance writer and political columnist in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Writing Coach. Speaker. Director of the Christian Foundations for Ministry program, and presently enrolled in the Anglican School of Ministry Master of Ministry program.

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