Illinois Senator Dick Durbin thinks SHOP may pave the way
Brian A. Bernardoni
Having given orientation to Realtors on governmental affairs issues, I have been able to, over time, change my unscripted mental notes to reflect progress where Realtor associations at the local, state and national level have provided real value and service on core issues for our members. One area where I have not been able to show that level of success is in health care.
This is not for the lack of trying. In my six years with associations, we have gone to the Hill each year bringing forward the message regarding the importance of health care, formally through H.R. 111. A majority of the U.S. House signed onto that bill, and the U.S. Senate also gave support — but not enough. As the father of two daughters, a husband and the son and grandson of two breast cancer survivors, I often wonder how Congress can see fit to allow trade unions to buy health care on the open market, but not the largest trade association in the world, the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
With Spring, however, comes hope, for both Chicago Cubs fans and those who want to see a health care reform package move through Congress. A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Norm Coleman (R-MN), have introduced legislation designed to make health insurance more available and affordable for the 47.1 million employees of the nation’s 5.8 million small businesses, and for 14.1 million self-employed individuals. What makes this bill substantive and worth watching is who else is supporting the bill. Joining the Senators in support of the legislation were Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB); Charles McMillan, president-elect of NAR; and Mary Kay Henry, the executive vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Admittedly, this is a strange coalition. In a meeting with Senator Durbin last week, before a small group of Illinois Realtors and NAR senior staff here in Chicago, Durbin noted that this bipartisan effort marks a significant achievement in paving the way for a passable bill. He was especially pleased that the NFIB, SEIU and the Realtors were able to work together on this after months of meetings.
NAR has jumped on board. “For many Realtors and those with families, the total cost of health insurance can rival or even exceed their monthly mortgage,” says McMillan. “This bill will empower trade associations and other organizations to help guide their self-employed and small business members through the process of finding coverage.”
The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) bill would:
• Allow small businesses to band together in a statewide or nationwide pool to obtain lower health insurance prices by spreading their risk over a larger number of participants.
• Keep prices low by offering a range of private health plans that have to compete for business.
• Provide small business owners with an annual tax credit of up to $1,000 per employee ($2,000 for family coverage) if they pay for 60 percent of their employees’ premiums.
• Provide small business owners with a bonus tax credit if they pay for more than 60 percent of the premiums.
In addition, SHOP would:
• Make insurance ratings based on health status and claims experience illegal so that premium increases will be more stable and predictable.
• Ensure that the variation in premium rates will be reduced so that small businesses will be better able to afford coverage without facing as much of a competitive disadvantage if they have older workers.
• Provide a Web site with comparative information about a variety of private health plans.
• Allow for new health plans to be offered nationwide, but will continue to rely on state insurance commissioners to ensure that all health plans meet state requirements for financial solvency, network adequacy and claims and appeal procedures.
• Allow the self-employed to purchase insurance in the same pool as small businesses.
• Provide self-employed individuals with a $1,800 annual tax credit ($3,600 for family coverage) to purchase health insurance.
BRIAN A. BERNARDONI IS THE DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS FOR THE CHICAGO ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS AND IS ALSO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS DIRECTORS FOR THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS FOR 2007-2009. HE CAN BE REACHED AT BBERNARDONI@CHICAGOREALTOR.COM.
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