Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Small-business groups battle over health care law

By Jamey Dunn

With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the new federal health care law looming, some Illinois small-business owners are pushing Gov. Pat Quinn to move forward on establishing an insurance exchange in the state.

David Whittaker, chairman of the health care committee for the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, said Quinn should issue an executive order to establish some of the basic components of the exchange, including the makeup of the board that would oversee it. Lawmakers failed to pass legislation in the spring session to set up the exchange.

“It is time for action and leadership. We cannot wait any longer,” said Whittaker. “We need this in Illinois, no matter what the Supreme Court may say later this month.” If Quinn were to issue an order, legislation would still be needed to codify many of the details. An online health insurance exchange would allow customers to comparison shop when looking for health insurance coverage. While most states are waiting for the ruling on whether the federal Affordable Care Act is constitutional before they set up exchanges, some states, including New York, California and Rhode Island, are moving ahead.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the law in the next 10 days. At the heart of the challenge  is the mandate that most Americans purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty collected by the Internal Revenue Service. The case against the law claims that the mandate is an unconstitutional overreach. If the court agrees with that claim, justices must also decide whether the rest of the law can stand without the mandate. For more on the case and the provisions of the law, see this post from Illinois Issues' series on health care.

According to a survey released Wednesday, many small business owners do not want to see the law shot down. Half of respondents said they want the law to go into effect with either no changes or some minor changes, and 34 percent said it should be overturned. More than half, 63 percent, said they would use a health insurance exchange to buy insurance for employees or they would consider using an exchange. The survey of 800 business owners with 100 or fewer employees in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Texas and Virginia has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Of the 100 Illinois respondents, 22 percent said that they would like the law to be overturned. More than half, 63 percent, said the law should be upheld. However, 48 percent said that the law needs some minor changes. The poll was released by an advocacy group run by small-business owners called the Small Business Majority.

 However, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents small businesses nationwide, is the lead plaintiff in the case against the Affordable Care Act. NFIB joins 26 states in challenging the law. “If we win — and we think we will — NFIB and small business will have protected and saved a fundamental element of our freedom as Americans. It should come as no surprise that we were the group with the guts to take the risk and do the right things. After all, that’s what America’s small business owners do every day,” said Jean Card, vice president of media and communications for NFIB. The group also lobbied against the law when it was being considered in Congress and is now pushing for its repeal.

Jim Duffett, executive director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, said that he thinks the NFIB’s opposition is more about the group’s political views than what is good for small businesses. “I think there’s a strong political philosophical difference,” he said.

Duffett said that many people are misinformed about what the law would actually do and that President Barack Obama’s administration dropped the ball on educating the public. “The White House did not do a good job of really taking this to people.”

 Quinn supports the federal law, but he has not said what he will do if it is overturned. He has also ignored calls to establish the exchange through his executive power. “I hope they affirm the Affordable Care Act, and that’s what I go to bed at night praying for. It will make our country better,” Quinn said at a news conference this week. “If bad things happen, obviously we’ll talk about it then. But I think it’s important that we have a positive mental attitude.”

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