Yesterday: Big business wins two, small business picks up one

It was a busy day yesterday for the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.  Two Senate subcommittees and the House Ways and Means Committee held meetings on legislation we supported.  Unfortunately two of these bills did not get the favorable votes we wanted.

The morning started out with a Senate subcommittee on S.145, a bill that would outlaw most favored nation clauses in contracts between health insurance companies and healthcare providers.  These contracts are used to guarantee that one carrier always gets the best provider reimbursement rates forcing the provider often to charge other insurance companies more for the same services.  The result is that other insurance companies have a harder time competing with the company that has the most favored nation clauses in their contracts.  This leads to lack of competition in our health insurance market which drives up rates for everyone.

Only two people testified at the hearing—a representative of Blue Cross, Blue Shield and myself.  The BC-BS argument against the bill was that they are a major employer in the state, they are the only domestic health insurance company in the state and that the Legislature shouldn’t do anything that would hurt even if that means allowing them to maintain uncompetitive practices. 

One Senator totally bought into that BC-BS pitch and threw the free-market and reduced insurance rates for small businesses and individuals under the bus.  The other Senator didn’t think the state should make any changes in our insurance laws until the Affordable Care Act goes into effect.

So don’t look for this bill to see the light of day again until January, 2014, if then.  Congratulations to BC-BS for having their way once again with our Legislature.

Then a Senate subcommittee met to discuss S.536, a bill that would make it legal for third parties to finance and own solar panels installed on homes and commercial buildings and sell the electricity produced to the occupant.  This practice has worked well in other states and results in the financing company to make money and the building occupant to save money.   After lengthy testimony, including mine, on the merits of allowing the free market to reign, the subcommittee voted to hold another public hearing.  The reason—they wanted to hear from the energy companies (Duke, SCE&G and Progress Energy). 

The question is why would the Senators give these companies another chance to be heard?  The energy lobbyists were sitting in the room but simply chose not to testify in public.  The answer is pretty simple.  By having another meeting probably after the Senate deals with the budget, the deadline for moving any legislation from the Senate to the House this year is lost.  Congratulations to the big utility companies for winning once again over the consumers.

But there was a ray of sunshine yesterday.  The House Ways and Means Committee voted to send H.3125, the Microenterprise Development Act, to the full House.  This bill will empower our Department of Commerce to help our non-profit microloan organizations obtain more money to lend to very small businesses (4 or less employees).

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