It's no secret that health care costs too much. Most small-business owners in Massachusetts can't help but feel a lot less secure each year when the time comes to renew or re-evaluate their insurance coverage. They wonder why on Earth premiums continue to shoot through the roof, especially when we're in the midst of a recession that has brutalized small businesses and working families.
According to a report last year, health spending per person in Massachusetts has increased faster than the national average in seven of the last eight years. Our state was already one of the most expensive places in the country in which to operate a small business before our version of health care reform in 2006. Now, it's probably going to get even worse.
Gov. Patrick and our Legislature deserve credit for talking about reducing premiums. Unfortunately, their solution doesn't get at the underlying problems.
For owners of small businesses, it's critically important that something sustainable is done now. NFIB represents 8,000 small and independent business owners throughout the commonwealth. Skyrocketing health care premiums are damaging their companies. They cannot increase wages, expand employee benefits or afford to buy new equipment.
Small-business owners are the state's job creators in an economic recovery. But rising health care costs are costing our state thousands of jobs and forcing our state's economy to flounder at a time when small businesses should be strengthened to help lead a recovery in Massachusetts.
Proposals to arbitrarily cap premium increases are not the right answer for Massachusetts. It is true that capping premiums may limit the amount that small-business owners and working families would pay for their coverage in the short term. This would seem to be a straightforward way to give people much-needed relief. After a closer look, however, it becomes clear that this proposal is nothing more than Beacon Hill playing politics with our health.
Caps on premiums don't address the underlying real issue: the relentless rise in the cost of medical services that are causing premiums to shoot up in the first place. What's worse: Premium caps are nothing more than price controls that will soon restrict our choice of doctors and hospitals. Price controls have a disastrous track record from the early 1970s, which we simply cannot afford to repeat in 2010.
Everyone agrees that health care costs too much. But the issue is far too important to settle on a one-sided solution that would make things even worse for thousands of businesses and their employees. Instead of artificially capping insurance premiums, which could have a devastating effect on our health security, Beacon Hill should be talking about how to make the cost of medical care more affordable.
All small-business owners want is for government to allow insurers to compete for our business with a variety of products that fit our businesses' work force and budget. Regulations that limit choice should be loosened to permit options for small businesses. Individuals and small businesses should be given access to information about hospital and doctor costs, and results.
Competition and choice is the world in which small-business owners operate and succeed. We believe state government should abandon its ill-fated and one-sided efforts to control health care costs and seek real, immediate and comprehensive relief involving all parties for the future of our state's economy.
Now is the time to solve the unfinished business of health care reform: costs.
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Bill Vernon is Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business advocacy group.