Friday, September 08, 2006

Re: Don't Bypass State Insurance Coverage Requirements!

Dear Mrs. K:
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding health insurance for small business owners, employees, and their families. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your views with me, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

I am a sponsor and one of the strongest supporters of Small Business Health Plans (S. 1955) to provide access to quality, affordable health care to millions of Americans at no cost to taxpayers. SBHPs empower small business owners, who otherwise cannot afford health insurance, to offer "Fortune 500" company quality health insurance to their employees.

SBHPs allow national trade and professional associations, from the National Federation of Independent Business to the American Farm Bureau Federation, to respond to the needs of their membership and sponsor health care plans. In other words, SBHPs are a solution to a problem that does not discriminate by locale - it helps the small business owner in cities and towns as well as the farmer and rancher. Any small business owner can buy into these plans for themselves, their employees, and their dependents.

Unfortunately, on May 11, 2006, S. 1955 received 55 votes, but was denied the opportunity to come before the Senate for a vote since 60 votes were required to overcome the opponent's filibuster. This bill is similar to legislation that twice passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Congress on a strong bipartisan basis. Not only does this legislation have bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, but President Bush has voiced strong support as well.

I understand your concerns with respect to preempting state insurance laws. Let me offer several observations in response:
1. 46 million people currently have no insurance. Most of them work in small business. Benefit mandate laws do not help you if you don't have insurance at all.
2. The state benefit mandate laws currently do not apply to big company health insurance. Yet that insurance tends to be high quality and almost always includes coverage in the areas protected by benefit mandates. Small business health plans would be just as good as current Fortune 500 plans; they would allow small businesses to get coverage on the same terms and conditions as big companies.
3. I am open to commonsense solutions that would allow states to keep their benefits provided it would not render the bill unworkable. I supported an amendment offered during the Senate debate of S. 1955 that provided the following: if 26 states covered a benefit then that benefit would apply to SBHPs, to protect that benefit in its adopting states. These benefits include those which have been widely adopted such as breast reconstruction, diabetic supplies, emergency services, mammography, maternity stay, mental health coverage and parity, prostate screening, and many others. With this amendment, the uninsured would have national pools set up under federal law with certain basic patient protections and coverages that are guaranteed.

I believe that now is the time to enact SBHP legislation to unburden small business owners from worrying about how to provide health care to their employees. This is real help for small business owners and their employees - quality, low-cost health insurance without any taxpayer expense.

Again, thank you for contacting me. If I may be of further assistance, please don't hesitate to write or call.

If you would like to contact me via e-mail, please visit

Senator Jim Talent


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