Opinion: Offering health care options to CT’s more than 360,000 small businesses
The Women’s Business Development Council is a mission-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to helping women in business and reach their personal economic goals through entrepreneurship.
Our focus is Main Street businesses, small employers who invest time and talent in their local communities and are an essential part of the economic vitality of the towns and cities where they work and live.
Since our founding 25 years ago, we have helped more than 17,000 customers, supported the launch of more than 12,750 businesses and created more than 27,500 jobs.
We are committed to helping businesses get the tools and resources they need to compete and thrive – and that includes the ability to provide affordable, quality health plan coverage to employees.
Businesses that employ 50 or fewer people are not required by law to offer employees’ health insurance — as are larger companies. While there is no mandate, no small business can expect to compete and succeed if it does not offer health benefits.
It is not only a question of competing for talent (no small challenge amid the current labor shortage), but fostering a workplace culture that supports employee health and well-being and reflects Main Street values.
Problem? It has become nearly impossible for small businesses to find affordable, comprehensive health plan options.
What is needed most is a solution. State lawmakers now have just such a solution: House Bill 6710, which allows what are known as federal health plans to give small businesses access to the same options that give large companies access to economies of scale. Enjoy taking advantage of: Banding together and pooling capital to gain negotiating power.
Association health plans have already taken root in several other states, including Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Maine and Washington. The Connecticut bill is based on legislation that the Virginia legislature passed last year and is now being implemented there.
I am encouraged by the bipartisan support the bill has received in the legislature. It is also supported by more than two dozen professional groups, trade associations and non-profit organizations, all trying to find a solution to one of the biggest headaches faced by their members.
And it addresses real issues and concerns that I share with thousands of my customers, particularly questions about price, quality, equity and oversight.
For example, whether these plans will cover benefits mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, including doctors’ services, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, prescription drug coverage, pregnancy and childbirth, mental health services, and dental services for children ?
Connecticut also requires that health plans cover additional benefits such as breast and ovarian cancer screening, mental health wellness, telehealth services, and immediate crisis center services. Where does Bill stand on those coverages?
Will people with pre-existing conditions be denied coverage? Will these plans discriminate against people on the basis of their health status? Are these plans financially sound? Who provides fiscal and regulatory oversight?
State Representative Kerry Wood, Democratic co-chair of the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, was pleased to hear the legislation was drafted by a bipartisan group, “making sure we keep the values that are important to us in Connecticut.” ACA standards, including status protections already in this bill.
His comments are reflected in the language of the bill. Association health plans are subject to several state and federal laws, including the ACA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, the Public Health Service Act, the Mental Health Parity and the Addiction Equity Act. , and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
These plans must include ACA required benefits and Connecticut-mandated benefits. Coverage cannot be denied because of a pre-existing condition. Those who become ill will not lose coverage or face drastic premium increases.
The bill gives the Connecticut Department of Insurance broad regulatory oversight of association health plans, including establishing and enforcing financial and solvency requirements, licensing and actuarial standards, and transparency and reporting. Plans would be required to direct most of their premium revenue toward medical care, with only a small percentage reserved for administrative costs.
In short, the bill offers real hope for Connecticut’s more than 360,000 small businesses and the more than 741,000 people they employ. It creates choices they don’t enjoy today.
We are dedicated to helping women in business reach their financial goals.
I hope our state legislators will show the same dedication by supporting a meaningful, concrete solution to a problem that is a major stumbling block for all small businesses in Connecticut.
Fran Pastore is the founder and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council.