Commentary: Small-business owners say the future looks bleak if health care law overturned

The Washington Post
April 1, 2012

By Jamal Lee

Last week, the nation’s attention was riveted to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments were being made over the constitutionality of the health care reform law, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

Pundits have been making one prediction after another as to how the high court will rule. But what we haven’t heard are predictions about what will happen to small businesses if the law is overturned.

As a group of long-standing small-business owners who have been suffering for decades under ever-rising health-care costs, it’s frightening to think the safeguards put in place by the law could be undone with the drop of a gavel.

The new law has already reined in costs through provisions such as the medical loss ratio, which requires at least 80 percent of small groups’ premium dollars be spent on patient care instead of administrative costs. Just a couple years ago, a member of our group — small-business owner Walt Rowen in Columbia, Pa. — was quoted a 130 percent increase to his premium. This year, because of the MLR provision, Walt’s premium increased by just 4 percent — the smallest increase he’s seen to his premiums in 10 years.

Numerous others in our group have benefitted from the small-business tax credits in the law. This year, at my recording studio in Laurel, I expect to receive money back from the credits that I’ll use not only to better afford insurance for my employees and myself, but to help grow my business. A lot has been said about the tax credits not being robust enough to help small-business owners, but as small employers constantly watching our bottom lines, we can say without hesitation that no small-business owner will ever turn down a tax credit — whether they think it’s robust or not. Free money is always welcome.

And in two more years, we’ll see even more help through state health insurance exchanges. We’ll be able to pool our buying power with our fellow small-business owners and enjoy the same kind of buying power large companies currently have. Not only would that lower our costs overall, but it would put us on a level playing field with big companies in recruiting and retaining talented employees.

For decades, we’ve listened to elected officials, insurance companies, the media and small-business organizations — including the National Federation of Independent Business, one of the plaintiffs in the suit — lament the high cost of health insurance for small-business owners. Double-digit and even triple-digit increases were the norm.

The Affordable Care Act is the first significant break small businesses have had regarding our health insurance costs. Without it, we’d be mired once again in a system that drains our coffers and hampers our growth. An economic analysis commissioned by the Small Business Majority found that without reform, our health care costs would more than double to $2.4 trillion by 2018 and 178,000 small-business jobs would be lost as a result.

Overturning the law would not help us. It would hurt us.

While the NFIB says it’s bringing this suit on behalf of small businesses, with all due respect to the owners who are members, most of the nation’s mom-and-pop businesses aren’t. Hundreds of thousands of us are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act in multiple ways.

We hope the Supreme Court justices are aware of that fact as they deliberate on this historic piece of legislation.

Jamal Lee is owner of Breasia Studios in Laurel. He co-wrote the piece with other members of the Network Council of the Small Business Majority, a Sausalito, Calif.-based organization.

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