WASHINGTON – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ranking Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, is a lead sponsor of legislation that will make health coverage more affordable for small businesses. The Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act (S. 2382), introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), is modeled after ideas Kerry put forward in 2004 to provide Americans the same affordable health care coverage members of Congress have. That system, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, provides health insurance to more than eight million federal employees, retirees, families, including members of Congress.

“If members of Congress have access to affordable health care, so should all Americans, including those who work in our small businesses -- our entrepreneurs. When I talk with small business owners, one of their top concerns is always health care, but Washington’s been silent until now,” said Kerry. “I believe the Democratic alternative to the Enzi bill is a better approach to solving the issues small businesses face in providing health care for their employees. We must not wait any longer while skyrocketing health care costs stand in the way of economic growth or prevent employers from providing coverage to hardworking people.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed legislation this morning on a party-line vote sponsored by Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) that would allow trade associations to sell group health plans to small businesses. The Enzi bill is controversial because it targets its assistance only to members of Associations and preempts important state benefit mandates without giving states the choice of opting out, among other provisions.

The number of small firms with less than 200 employees offering health coverage has declined from 68 percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2005, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. In addition, only 59 percent of small businesses offer their employees health insurance, compared to 98 percent of large firms, according to the same study.

The Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act:

  • Allows small businesses to pool their purchasing clout to negotiate lower rates and reduce administrative costs
  • Recognizes that shared responsibility is the best way to make health coverage affordable with employers, employees, and government all contributing to costs. Employers who pay at least 60 percent of each employee’s health insurance premium would be eligible for a tax credit.
  • Gives small business employees a wider array of affordable health care plan options, including the same kinds of health plans available to members of Congress.
  • Sets reasonable rules on what insurers can charge, giving insurers some flexibility for premium charges, but prevents extreme variations that would make coverage unaffordable for those who need it most.
  • Maintains state consumer protections. The bill requires participating health plans to be licensed in every state in which they operate and to abide by state consumer protection laws. State insurance commissioners would continue to regulate solvency, reviews, and other state requirements.