Senators Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) joined today to introduce bipartisan legislation to increase access to high quality and affordable health care for our nation's small business owners, their employees and families. The Affordable Coverage for Small Employers Act addresses current problems with health care costs and access that keep many small business owners from providing health care coverage to their employees.
"Rising costs and limited options place an undue burden on small businesses who want to offer health insurance to their employees," said Smith. "This legislation will significantly expand access to high quality, affordable health care for our nation's small business owners and lays the foundation to deliver health care to all Americans. It's time to reform our current health care system so we can help the rising number of Americans without health insurance."
"The health of our nation's most vulnerable citizens is too often neglected because they lack the income to access our languishing health care system," said Lieberman. "This legislation marshals our resources in response to the health care challenge. First, it recognizes that employees and their families should not have to forgo health insurance merely because they work for a small business. Second, it provides small business owners the assistance they need to obtain health coverage for their workers. This bill offers small business workers and their families, the security many of us take for granted, by providing them access to medical care through a free and independently-regulated market."
Smith and Lieberman's bill removes barriers to health care coverage for small business owners, which will encourage them to offer health insurance to their employees and reduce the number of uninsured Americans. More than half of the nation's 47 million uninsured individuals are employed by, or have family members employed by a business with fewer than 100 employees.
The legislation would partner the federal government with states and small businesses to create regional health care pools that would allow for more competition in the small group market. It offers more health insurance options to small business owners so they can pick the health care coverage that best fits their needs. It also provides an option to extend coverage to all Americans.
Affordable Coverage for Small Employers Act provisions include:
· Requires the development of an affordable, comprehensive standard benefit package that will be available nationally. This benefit package mirrors the health care benefits available to Members of Congress and other federal employees.
· Creates regional health care exchanges that will develop common rating or "beneficiary premium costs" guidelines that may not include health status as a factor, nor impose waiting periods or exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions.
· Allows regional health care exchanges to expand coverage to sole proprietors, individuals and larger employers.
· Provides advanceable, refundable tax credits to working families to help offset the cost of health coverage.
· Provides tax credits to small employers who contribute to their employees' health insurance premiums.