WASHINGTON – Today Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called a meeting of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to evaluate the current health care landscape for small employers and pushed for the Senate to consider comprehensive solutions to address the health care crisis. The hearing focused on all available options and the need to go beyond Association Health Plans (AHPs) as the sole-solution to helping small firms cope with skyrocketing health care costs.

"The most effective, efficient, and fair solution to the small business health crisis is through fundamental health care reform," said Kerry, Chairman of the Committee. "There hasn't been a concerted effort, until now, to address the health care costs and lack of access to coverage for low-income individuals. Over the last decade, Congress has focused on narrow solutions. But, done the right way, comprehensive health care reform would give small businesses access to functioning insurance markets, ensure that they and their employees have adequate health coverage, and would make insurance more affordable for everyone."

At today's hearing, Kerry advocated for universal health care coverage, as well as other policies that would help small businesses now while moving the nation toward comprehensive reform – including federal reinsurance for high cost cases, responsibly expanding coverage pools, and a 50 percent tax credit for small firms that provide coverage to their low- and moderate-income employees. Last month, Kerry introduced S. 99, the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit Act, to provide an interim step to help small employers while comprehensive legislation is developed.

Mary Beth Senkewicz, formerly with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, testified that in order to ensure affordable, adequate coverage there needs to be larger and more efficient pooling for small firms in order to spread the risk and level the playing field. She also advocated for federal subsidies – including tax credits – to assist with purchasing health insurance. "The simple fact is health insurance costs a lot of money and a lot of people simply can't afford it. It's going to cost tax dollars to provide subsidies so people can become insured and access the health care system most efficiently," Senkewicz said.

Kerry also noted that in the absence of leadership at the federal level, states like Massachusetts have stepped up to the plate with proposals. Massachusetts enacted a plan last year that seeks to give small businesses the advantages of a large insurance pool while helping individuals afford the cost of quality coverage without regard to health status. Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the board tasked to implement Massachusetts' health plan, testified on the state's consensus plan that requires adult participation in the health insurance pool and employers to help pay for insurance if they have more than 10 employees. The state also subsidizes coverage for the uninsured who earned 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level.