WASHINGTON – Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, introduced two bills this week designed to improve access to quality health care for small businesses, their employees and their families. The bills establish an intergovernmental task force to enroll eligible children of small business employees in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) and create a grant program for Small Business Development Centers to promote available health insurance options to small firms.

“We have two million children in this country who are eligible for S-CHIP, and many of them are the dependents of folks who work for small businesses or are self-employed,” said Kerry. “Unfortunately, many small businesses and their employees don’t have the time or resources to access adequate health care coverage for themselves and their families. Our proposals will get America’s entrepreneurs the information they need so they can take action today while Congress works in a bipartisan way to enact health care legislation that will put us on a path to providing coverage for every man, woman and child in America.”

"Access to affordable, quality health insurance continues to be the top issue facing small businesses today," said Snowe. "As Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee, I remain committed to finding solutions to this crisis. By highlighting the various, existing coverage options available to small businesses and their employees, our measures will help to reduce the ranks of the nearly 47 million uninsured individuals in this country."

The Small Business Children’s Health Education Act, introduced by Kerry and Snowe, would create an intergovernmental task force headed by the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), along with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of the Treasury, to launch a campaign to enroll eligible children in the S-CHIP program and provide information about eligibility criteria. A recent Urban Institute report shows that two million children out of a total nine million uninsured are eligible for enrollment in the S-CHIP program. Many of those children are dependents of small business employees and self-employed workers. All SBA business partners, Chambers of Commerce, health advocacy groups, and small firms themselves can participate in the campaign.

The Small Business Health Insurance Options Act, introduced by Snowe, Kerry, and Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah), establishes a grant program for Small Business Development Centers to provide regional information for small businesses about health insurance options available to them. This measure is based on research conducted by the non-partisan Healthcare Leadership Council, which found that after a brief education and counseling session on health insurance options in their geographic area, small businesses are up to 33 percent more likely to offer health insurance to their employees. The provisions in this bill were included in the Entrepreneurial Development Act (S. 1671) which the Committee unanimously passed yesterday, June 26th.

At a Committee hearing in February, SBA Administrator Steven Preston committed his agency to doing more to get health care information to small businesses, including the S-CHIP program.