MSA and the Maine Small Business Coalition co-hosted a press call on May 17 with small business owners from Maine, Oregon, Montana, and Illinois about health care. The business owners discussed the status of health care implementation in their states and recounted the role of health insurance companies in blocking and undermining new benefits for small businesses.
“Since the insurance industry lost the battle on health care reform at the national level, they’ve been turning their attention to states. They put their lobbyists to work here in Maine and almost overnight they’ve gutted key consumer protections in our insurance laws,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk, Maine and a leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition.
“Anthem and the other insurance companies have taken the money small business owners like me pay in premiums and used it to completely subvert our state’s consumer protections in insurance law,” Costin said. Maine Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Mila Kofman resigned yesterday due to fundamental philosophical differences with Maine Governor Paul LePage over LD1333, the state legislation passed last week that guts consumer protections and imposes a new tax on policy-holders.
“There are clear winners and losers in the law just passed here in Maine,” said Nate Libby, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “The winners are insurance giants like Anthem and WellPoint. The losers are small business owners and their employees, especially people with health conditions, people aging up beyond 48, and rural Mainers. Given this turn of events with LD1333 ramrodded through our legislature with the backing of the insurance companies, small business owners in our network want to know how many of our premium dollars Anthem and WellPoint are using to lobby against our best interests.”
Jim Houser, owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon and co-chair of MSA-Oregon, has served on Oregon’s Consumer Advisory Group for development of the health insurance exchange. “We came up with strong recommendations for our insurance exchange, including giving it the ability to negotiate for rates and services, and protecting its governance from conflicts of interest,” said Houser. “During the meetings we had to develop our proposal, no one from the insurance industry came before us to voice any concerns or ask for modifications.”
“Then, when our proposal was delivered to the legislature, the insurance lobbyists swarmed key legislators to water down the bill,” Houser continued. “They got what they wanted – the bill that passed our State Senate prohibits the exchange from negotiating on our behalf, and it gives insurance executives two seats on the exchange board. Putting the exchange in a straitjacket and subjecting it to a clear conflict of interest in governance is not good for small businesses.”
Brianne Harrington is the owner of The Painted Pot, a small business in Helena, Montana and a leader with the Montana Small Business Alliance. “I just got a call from my insurance company. Despite the fact that we have a high-deductible plan – $5,000 per person and $10,000 for our family – and despite the fact that it pays only half of costs beyond that, we’re still getting hit with an increase of more than 50 percent. That’s why we were holding out to get rate review passed in the Montana legislature. But our big insurers didn’t want that and they got the bill killed, so now there are no protections whatsoever on how much my insurance company can raise my rates.”
Harrington added, “Speaking of the secret money tunnel between the insurance industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we actually dropped our membership in the Montana State Chamber a couple years ago because we saw that our dues were being funneled to lobby for big business interests, not small businesses. The insurance companies don’t have the best interests of small business owners like me at heart. They just want to take my money and lobby against me.”