Geyerhahn: Health insurance exchanges needed

Ben Geyerhahn

Originally featured in the Long Island Business News.

For small business owners who work long days and late nights, life would be easier if shopping for health care plans were as simple as shopping online. Growing and maintaining a successful business is time consuming, but thankfully these backbones of our local economies are about to catch a break: a way to save precious time and money on one of their largest expenses – health insurance for their employees.

The Affordable Care Act, our new federal health care law, revamps the health insurance market by creating online, one-stop marketplaces for purchasing health plans in every state. On Dec. 5, HealthPass New York released a survey that found strong support for these marketplaces among small business owners, mirroring polling results Small Business Majority released earlier this year.

These online marketplaces, or health insurance exchanges, will allow small business owners to pool their buying power and drive down costs. They’re required to be active in every state by 2014, but complicated politics have kept lawmakers in New York from passing legislation to set up the exchange. That’s unfortunate for New York’s small business employers because research shows they want one. HealthPass’ survey found that once New York small business owners learned more about the proposed state exchange, 84 percent thought it was a good idea. What’s more, 76 percent said they’d consider enrolling their small business in it.

The survey also found that 60 percent of small business owners currently not offering coverage would be more likely to do so if a statewide exchange were available. This survey parallels the national poll Small Business Majority released earlier this year, which found one-third of small business employers who do not offer coverage would be more likely to do so because of health insurance exchanges. Similarly, a third of those already offering coverage said they would be more likely to continue doing so because of exchanges.

As evidenced by the recent reform of New York’s tax code, tensions among New York’s legislative leaders and popular governor, and the sway of seemingly intractable parochial interests, can be set aside when necessary. Long Island’s Senate delegation should lead the way on this important policy evolution.

Small business owners spend an excessive amount of time – time that could otherwise be spent on maintaining and expanding their businesses – scouring the health insurance marketplace for affordable, quality coverage. In New York, 50 percent of survey respondents said they could spend more time thinking about how to grow their business if they didn’t spend so much time dealing with health insurance-related issues.

New York’s small business owners are not alone in supporting state health insurance exchanges. A survey of 800 California small business owners, released by Pacific Community Ventures and Small Business Majority earlier this year, found strong support there, too. The survey found 35 percent of respondents already offering insurance saying an exchange would make them more likely to continue providing coverage, and 32 percent who don’t currently offer coverage more likely to do so because of an exchange. Moreover, just like in New York, more than half – 55 percent – indicated they would be likely to participate in one.

There’s no doubt that sky-high health care costs are hindering small business owners’ potential to hire and grow the economy. Successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act can change that. Health insurance exchanges are the cornerstone of the law for small businesses; they’ll help contain costs while reducing the time small business owners spend on paperwork and administrative duties.

Small business owners in New York and across the country get that, which is why they strongly support state exchanges.

Research has made it clear: Our leading job creators want and need the innovative kind of health care marketplace that exchanges would provide. Legislators in New York and every other state that hasn’t passed exchange legislation need to listen and get moving. All things are possible when our public officials start with a result, which in this case would be building a New York-specific exchange before the federal government comes in and does it for us.

Geyerhahn is the New York director for Small Business Majority.