By Sharmina Manandhar
WASHINGTON – More than 130 small business owners from around the nation, including three Marylanders, met with lawmakers and federal officials Tuesday to address the impact of increasing health insurance costs on their businesses and lives.
The lobbying effort came as the House is preparing to debate health care reform legislation and was organized as part of the small business “D.C. Day” by several advocacy groups: U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Main Street Alliance, Small Business Majority and Consumers Union. The Senate is crafting its bill, which should be unveiled in coming weeks.
The House health reform bill, costing $894 billion over 10 years, includes a government-run health insurance option alongside private plans, expands Medicaid eligibility and caps annual out-of-pocket spending. Under the bill, small business owners with payroll less than $500,000 a year are not required to provide health insurance to their employees.
The huge cost of health care has affected small businesses, which provide the majority of the jobs in United States, according to Marsha Geist, owner of Metropolitan Landscape Management in Dayton, Md.
“It’s not a Democratic or a Republican issue, it’s a human issue,” Geist said of the need for health insurance reform.
The increased cost of providing health insurance to about 10 employees has prompted her to hire more part-time workers, Geist said.
Jane Brettschneider, who co-owns Risky BBQ, a freelance copywriting and advertising business in Baltimore, with her husband Jeff Alphin, said she supports health insurance reform, and wants it “as soon as possible.”
“As a small business and as freelancers, our only option is individual plans and the cost of the individual plans is so outrageous and getting more and more outrageous and we have no choice,” Brettschneider said.
Alphin has two pre-existing conditions — he has had hip replacement and suffers from diabetes, Brettschneider said.
“We can’t afford to drop our health care but we can’t afford to keep our health care,” said Brettschneider, who declined to give their ages.
Brettschneider and Alphin pay about $950 a month for their health insurance, which is more than what the family spends in food, heating and gas per month, combined, Brettschneider said.
She met with representatives from the offices of Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, Brettschneider said.
The meeting was “frank and productive,” according to Paul Kincaid, spokesman for Cummings.
“Small businesses create jobs and are the economic engines in our neighborhoods and communities,” said Heather Molino, spokeswoman for Ruppersberger. Molino also said that the congressman is “very supportive of the health reform which helps the small business owners to provide affordable health insurance to their employees.”
Earlier in the day, the business owners attended a news conference with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Small business owners and those who are self-employed will be the biggest winners under the reform bills being considered, said Harkin, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee chairman.
“Our legislation will create health insurance exchanges to increase competition, enable small businesses to easily compare prices, benefits and quality of health plans, in other words — transparency,” said Harkin.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, at a White House event later in the day, cited a new report that found that on average, small businesses pay up to 18 percent more than large firms for the same health insurance.
“Small business owners are the backbone of this economy,” Sebelius said. “They are the entrepreneurs who drive our business innovations and inventions and (are) being squeezed at the heart of the current system of health care in America.”