April 2, 2008

Washington, D.C. -

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) led a bipartisan effort today that included Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn) in announcing the introduction of breakthrough legislation aimed at making health insurance plans more affordable for small businesses. The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) is designed to make insurance more available and affordable for the 41.7 million employees of the nation’s 5.8 million small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

"If there's one concern I've heard time and again from small businesses in Maine and across the country, it's the exorbitant cost of providing health insurance to employees," said Senator Snowe, the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. "As costs rise, small businesses are forced to choose between the solvency of their business and the welfare of their employees. This hybrid legislation transcends partisan politics and puts the focus where it belongs – on providing health insurance options that are more affordable and accessible for small businesses and their employees."

The SHOP Act addresses the number one problem for many small businesses and the self-employed -- the high cost of providing health care for their employees -- by:

Allowing small businesses and the self-employed to band together across state lines and spread the risk over a large number of participants in order to obtain lower premiums.

Providing targeted tax credits for small business owners to offset contributions to employee premiums. Maine small businesses would be eligible for the tax credits immediately upon enactment of the SHOP Act.

Prohibiting health status rating based on health status and limiting other factors in order to protect businesses from large rate increases simply because one employee gets sick.

"This bill will level the playing field by allowing small businesses and the self-employed to pool together the same way larger employers are able to do so they can secure quality, affordable health insurance at significantly reduced costs," Senator Snowe added. "By taking action now, and passing the SHOP Act, we can partner with our nation’s job creators and provide better health care options with more choices for less cost."

The SHOP Act’s broad array of support includes the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Realtors and the Service Employees International Union.