SOURCE: National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)

National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)

June 24, 2009 00:00 ET

Micro-Businesses Offer Strong Opinions on Health Reform Proposals

Businesses Support Private Insurance Over Federal Plan, Oppose Mandates

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - June 24, 2009) - The nation's entrepreneurs are ready for major changes to the American health care system, but are asking the federal government to implement various proposals to help them cope with the costs. When asked for the most important component of health reform, 60 percent of micro-business owners cited cost containment, even over access and choice. Nearly 2,000 micro-businesses, including members of the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE), took part in this national online survey of their opinions on current health care reform proposals.

Most micro-businesses, companies with 10 or fewer employees, are closely following the health care debate. When asked how many had heard the term "public option" in relation to discussions surrounding reform, two-thirds indicated they were familiar with the term, and of those, 71 percent identified it correctly as "a health insurance program run by the government and open to anyone in need of health coverage."

Most entrepreneurs are strongly opposed to a "public option." Rather, they prefer a free market approach, wherein business owners can work with private insurance carriers instead of purchasing a federally managed plan. Seventy-one percent said that they would choose a private insurer when given the choice to purchase the exact same health insurance policy at the exact same price from either a private insurer or the federal government.

"Micro-businesses are distrustful of the federal government and its ability to manage health care," commented Kristie Arslan, Executive Director of NASE's Legislative Offices. "They continue to bear witness to how the government creates inequities in the tax code, increases red tape and poorly manages their budget. If the self-employed were to run their business in the same manner as the federal government, these entrepreneurs would have been out of business a long time ago. Likewise, business owners do not feel that they should put their health care in the government's hands via a public health plan."

When asked about various market reforms, micro-businesses were most supportive of these choices:

--  Create an exchange or marketplace to facilitate the purchase of
    quality, affordable health coverage by allowing small businesses and
    individuals to easily compare and purchase the plans of their choice;
    
--  Require health insurance carriers to provide health insurance to all
    those who apply regardless of their health status;
    
--  Allow small businesses to group together via associations or
    organizations to purchase health insurance; and
    
--  Create non-profit insurance cooperatives across the country, organized
    by the government but owned by the cooperative members, in which small
    businesses and uninsured individuals can purchase health coverage.
    

As health care costs continue to rise and the current system lacks equitable tax treatment of health care costs for the self-employed, micro-businesses are stronger than ever in their opposition to federally imposed mandates. Respondents were more amenable to the idea of mandates if they received a considerable subsidy, such as a health tax credit, that would help them defray costs.

According to Kristie Arslan, "The ailing economy makes it difficult for this segment of the business population to survive an employer or individual mandate. However, the micro-business community is willing to compromise and accept a mandate, if and only if it is accompanied by meaningful financial assistance."

Other key findings:

--  The top two health tax proposals favored by micro-businesses are
    providing tax credits to businesses and the self-employed to offset health
    care costs and reforming the tax treatment of health coverage so that,
    regardless of whether health insurance is purchased individually or
    accessed through an employer, the worker receives the same tax benefits.
    
--  The majority of respondents were neutral on a recent suggestion of a
    cap on the employer exclusion. However, there were quite a few who strongly
    opposed such a cap.
    
--  Half of all respondents strongly opposed the recommendation to make
    taxable money utilized from Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and
    Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) to pay for health costs. Currently these
    funds are tax-free.
    
--  When asked about a small business exemption to coverage mandates, 38
    percent felt that using the number of employees as a benchmark was the
    right approach to determine the exemption.  However, a number of
    respondents chose "Other" and indicated that an exemption should be made
    based on a combination of factors, such as number of employees and revenue.
    

Many survey respondents gave specific comments on the public option, mandates and other issues impacting the health care reform conversation. Here is a sample of perspectives received:

"I do not think the government should become an insurer. I do think the government should regulate private insurers more."

"I do not agree with the government mandating how businesses should run. They have been unsuccessful with their own budgets. What qualifies them to stipulate this to successful businesses?"

"The federal government would be too large and not specific enough to meet my individual needs. Plus, I believe strongly that the quality of care provided by the government would be worse."

"Employers should not provide coverage. Let individuals subscribe to whatever plan they want and let employees take home money to purchase insurance instead of the employer purchasing for it for them. Individual needs are different."

"I do not think the government should be able to pick and choose the businesses that are required to carry health insurance for their workers."

"The federal government is doing a poor job with the health plans (i.e. Medicare and Medicaid) it controls now. Why would it be good to give them expanded control?"

"I would prefer that the government not be involved in providing my health care. However, I also cannot continue to provide health insurance on my own through private insurers if they continue to increase premiums at the current rate. If I could not afford private insurance, I would hope that there would be some other option rather than no insurance. If that is a government policy, then so be it."

Full survey results online at the NASE Research page.

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