Bennet Discusses How Health Care Reform Can Help Colorado's Small Businesses
In a show of his leadership efforts on health care reform, Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, today led a group of his colleagues in back-to-back speeches to set the record straight on the myths surrounding health care reform.
Throughout the hour, Bennet discussed how no one is more burdened by the current health care system than small businesses and their employees. For example, small businesses in Colorado pay 18% more for health insurance though they do not receive 18% better health care.
"Health care reform done right is going to make an enormous difference for small businesses and for the people employed by small business," said Bennet. "It will lower premiums and the cost of health insurance coverage. And it will make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to provide health insurance -- to do the right thing."
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who delivered a speech on the uninsured, thanked Bennet for his leadership on health care: "I appreciate Senator Bennet's willingness to step-up and take this leading role in organizing my fellow Senate freshmen on the important issue of health reform. It can be a challenge to coordinate back-to-back floor speeches by multiple senators on the same topic, and Senator Bennet deserves credit for his leadership role in today's event."
Below is a transcript of his remarks as delivered:
Mr. President, I'm pleased to be here today as we were here last week and the week before that with other freshman colleagues to talk about the need for health care reform in this congress and today what we wanted to focus on was the effect of health care reform on small business.
When I'm in Colorado, what we always start with is a conversation about "What problem is it we're trying to solve?" And, when it comes to small business, they are the biggest losers in the current health care system that we have today. And, by extension, the people that work for small business. Today in my state, small business pays 18% more to cover their employees than large business does. Some people say to me, "Well, Michael, that's obviously because they have a smaller pool of people it's harder to spread the risk". That's true, but from a business perspective, that's ridiculous. From a small business perspective, you're going to spend 18% more on something, you ought to expect to get 18% more productivity out of your company or you ought to at least expect to get 18% better coverage for your employees. And, of course, every small business owner in this country knows the reverse is absolutely true; the coverage is worse, the deductibles are higher. And it's just an illustration of how challenging the status quo is for small businesses who, after all, employ most of the people in our economy and are going to be responsible for carrying us out of this recession. And you can see on this chart the extraordinary effect this has had on my state.
Even before this current recession we saw a huge drop in the number of people that were getting coverage at work. And, many fewer small businesses -- now we're almost at 40%. I guarantee that number is well below 40% today after this recession has occurred --even fewer small businesses are able to offer their employees coverage. Which is heart breaking for small business owners all over my state and all over the other states that are represented here today. Many of these are family-owned businesses. The businesses themselves feel like a family. People feel a responsibility and care for one another, to take responsibility for, among other things, health care, but they are not able to do it anymore and they are making very tough choices as a result. By the way, one of the choices they are making is to not raise wages. Median family income in Colorado went down $800 over the last ten years, and in the country it went down by over $300 in the same period of time. While in the case of my state the cost of health insurance premiums went up by 97%. Small business people say to me that those things are directly related to each other. In other words, people have to make a choice between covering their employees and paying them a living wage and more often than not they're having to choose to compress wages just because of the skyrocketing costs of health insurance.
Health care reform done right is going to make an enormous difference for small businesses and for the people employed by small business. It will lower premiums and the cost of health insurance coverage. It will provide tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance, that do the right thing. Exempt most small businesses from employer responsibility requirement. Subsidize health insurance for employees in small businesses that do not provide health insurance. Increase entrepreneurship, expand the pool of workers available to small businesses and eliminate job lock. Job lock means having to stay in a job you don't want to stay in just because you're so scared of losing your insurance.
The estimate is that the administrative costs for small businesses, when it comes to health care insurance, will drop by over 50%. Most small business people I know who are skeptical sometimes of the reform that we're talking about will tell me that this administrative burden is extraordinary for them today. Today it's a paper-and-pencil system of trying to root out and sort out the health insurance market for their employees. Tomorrow, what we're going to have is an exchange where people can easily compare prices, compare coverage and get the best deal for their employees; not to mention the fact that they're going to be able to pool their purchasing power and drive down costs as a result. The estimates are that small business will save billions of dollars over the course of this reform. $432 billion by 2013. $855 billion just nine years from now. And that's money that can be put into wages. In fact, the estimates are of those savings, what we will see is small business be able to increase wages for their employees by almost $300 billion by the end of this period of time.
So, Mr. President, today we're here to talk about why reform is important for small business. We're at a very perilous moment in our economy for small business who do not have access to the credit they need to help get us where we need to be. They're facing an incredible credit crunch out there, which is making it hard for them to hire again, which is driving our unemployment rate up. Over the medium and long term, what's critical to the success of our small businesses is that we reform our health care system, we make it more transparent, we make it more efficient, we make coverage more available to small businesses and to the millions of Americans that are employed by small businesses in their communities...
I just want to say that for far too long special-interest politics has gotten in the way of fixing this system. And the result has been enormously unfortunate for working families all across the United States of America. When your median family income is going down by $300 over a decade and your cost of health insurance is doubling over the same period of time -- by the way, in my state, it's gone down by$800, cost of the insurance has gone up by 90%, cost of education has gone up by 50% over the same period. So, essentially what we're saying to working families is you're going to take home less but you're going to have to pay more for things that are not nice to have but that are critical for everybody to have a shot at the American dream. For some reason we in Washington can't figure out how to make some changes that would help working families and small businesses all across the United States.
That moment has come now and we're here. We've got the next few weeks to figure this out, and I believe we will. Mr. President, I'm enormously optimistic that we can pass a bill in this Senate and in the Congress that the President can sign that will make a material improvement to the lives of working families and those employed by small businesses all over this country. In fact, anything less than that should be unacceptable to all of us. And I hope that we can do that in a bipartisan way. I hope that we can have cooperation across the aisle and the best ideas from both parties as we design it. But to me, the most important thing is to make sure that the people who live in my state don't need to endure another decade of double-digit cost increases every year, don't need to endure another decade where they lose their health insurance just because they lose their job or they have a preexisting condition, or because, as what happened in my state last week, a baby was born who was deemed too heavy to insure -- fortunately, the insurance company does the right thing in the end-to not have another decade where people are wrestling with their insurers to get paid. So that doctors and people providing health care don't have to spend 30% of their overhead or more just trying to get reimbursed for services that they've provided to their patients.
And I am optimistic in part because of all my wonderful colleagues who are here this morning. I want to thank them for joining me...