Carper Introduces Small Business Health Care Legislation

Bill Would Help Small Business Pool Efforts To Buy Health Insurance

WASHINGTON (March 4, 2004) – In an attempt to curb the rising cost of health care, stimulate job growth and expand coverage for the uninsured, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today introduced new legislation that would allow small businesses to buy better-quality health insurance. The legislation, titled the “Small Employers Health Benefits Program,” would allow employers to cope with rising health care costs by pooling their risk and purchasing power in order to secure greater access to affordable health insurance. Modeled after the federal health insurance program, the legislation would dramatically expand the choices available to small businesses and provide a host of incentives for them to provide health insurance for their employees. “One of the top concerns I hear from businesses every day is the rising cost of health care, and for small businesses in particular, the costs can be debilitating,” said Carper, who joined Democrats Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, and Richard Durbin, of Illinois, at a Washington, D.C., news conference today. “Premiums can be unreasonable, especially for workers with pre-existing health conditions. Workers often lack quality choices as to what kind of plan they’d prefer. And small businesses simply don’t have the negotiating power that big companies command when they buy health insurance.” Carper continued, “If we’re serious about growing the economy and creating jobs, we’ve got to find creative ways to defray the cost of insurance for small businesses. Without some help, small businesses are going to continue to cut health benefits and the number of uninsured Americans will continue to grow.” There are 41 million Americans uninsured in this country, and a majority of those individuals are connected to the workforce. About 72,500 Delawareans do not have health insurance – about 11 percent of the state’s population. For about 80 percent of uninsured Delawareans, at least one person in the family works either full-time or part-time. More than half – 55 percent – have family members who work full time all year. “We have both moral and economic reasons to do more about the uninsured in America,” said Carper. “But if we’re going to get serious about addressing this problem, it’s going to take more than empty rhetoric. It’s going to take creative, common-sense solutions. This bill is one place to start.” The legislation would create a Small Business Health Benefits Program that would be eligible to all businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The program, which would be similar in size and scope to the benefits program offered to federal employees, would offer small businesses access to a variety of health insurance programs, including fee-for-service options, PPOs and HMOs. The premiums would not be government-subsidized, but many employers would receive an annual tax credit to defray part of their employer contribution. Because lower-paid workers are more likely not to have any kind of health insurance, the bill would provide refundable tax credits to businesses with low-wage employees (those earning below $25,000 annually), provided they pay at least 60 percent of the worker’s premium. In addition, the bill would provide tax credits for employers who sign up with the program early, as well as for employers who cover a higher percentage of the premium for their employees.