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Will PA Help Small Businesses Better Afford Health Insurance?

December 7, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The struggle of small Pennsylvania businesses to stay afloat in a tight economy is being intensified by large annual increases in the cost of health coverage. Current state law requires insurance rates to be reasonable and not excessive, but it's a standard that lacks uniformity.

What’s clear, says Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, is that small businesses are being put into precarious positions on health coverage.

"It's very important that we make sure that they can afford their health insurance. Otherwise we have lost productivity, fewer jobs and lost tax revenue."

Jared Kutchka, owner of Allegheny Graphics in Kittanning, says he's been trying to find health insurance for his six employees which is similar to what he has for his own family.

"The cost is 4.2 times higher per person, in converting from a single family plan to group health care."

Many states have taken steps to review proposed health-insurance rate increases for small businesses and individuals, but Ward says Pennsylvania is headed in the opposite direction, with bills in both the House and Senate which would hinder the state's ability to review most rate hikes. Supporters see them as a solution to the federal government stepping in as of Sept. 1 to review any small group health-insurance rate increase that exceeds 10 percent. They claim the legislation keeps the state's insurance industry under state control.

The potential to have less rate review authority in Pennsylvania is especially alarming, Ward says, considering that the state received more than $4 million from the federal Affordable Care Act to improve the process.

"This bill does nothing, and, in fact, provides less scrutiny and less transparency of health insurance rates - again, moving in the wrong direction."

The legislation is HB 1983 and SB 1336.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA