Small Businesses of California, Unite!

Fact check #3…

Don’t believe anybody who tells you that small businesses are against health reform. Interesting articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

As a consumer advocate, I’ve been frustrated over the years about the positions of the lobbying organizations representing businesses, like the Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB.

I think it is a reflexive instinct for an organization to oppose any requirement or tax on their constituency, even if they should be considering the long-term benefits. But these organizations even oppose cost containment measures on insurers, hospitals or drug companies, even though the direct beneficiaries would be employers, as purchasers of health care. A lot more could get done if employers recgonized their interest in promoting some key policies.

Is it that there’s a conflict of interest between these business organizations, representing the health industry over their base of employers? Is it ideological?

Regardless, there’s a new poll out today that suggests that California small business owners are in a very different place than their representatives about the health reform ideas on the table.

The poll is sponsored by Small Business Majority, and unlike other surveys, it polls small business owners at random, rather than from membership lists of any organization. The ideological spread was broad: Democrat-38%; Republican-30%; Independent-29%; Other-3%. The August survey of over 500 respondents is scientifically significant, with a margin of error of 4%.

The poll is here:

Small business owners expressed strong support for a range of the proposal on the table, that are in AB8, the Governor’s plan, or otherwise in the conversation:

* 75% favored requiring health insurers to spend at least 85% of their premiums on care — vs. 8% opposed.
* 70% favored offering health insurance regardless of health status – vs. 9% opposed.
* 67% favored requiring insurers to offer coverage to small businesses regardless of the workforce’s health status – vs. 10% opposed.
* 63% favored a requirement that employers offer Section 125 plans – vs. 11% opposed.
* 62% favored requiring insurers and HMO’s to get state approval prior to raising premiums – vs. 15% opposed.
* 58% favored expanding current public health programs – vs. 15% opposed.
* 56% favored setting a timeline for hospitals and doctors having electronic medical records – vs. 10% opposed.

This is impressive, given that small businesses are portrayed as anti-government zealots, that small businesses see a role for government. What is more remarkable is that employers expressed support for reforms that even required them to contribute:

* 67% felt that employers should be required to pay something to provide healthcare to their employees — almost four times as many as those who felt that employers should not have to contribute anything (17%). Of those who agreed that employers should contribute, over half felt that they should be required to pay more than 4% of payroll costs.

* Also, 46% were in favor of a one percent sales tax to make healthcare more affordable – vs. 35% who were opposed.

When the poll asked about the three plans on the table, with short descriptions but that seem to include a straight-out statement about the cost to employers, the plans still got a plurality of support.
· Governor’s proposal — 47% in favor; 31% opposed
· AB 8 — 47% in favor; 33% opposed
· SB 840 — 42% in favor; 40% opposed

They seem to be willing to be part of the solution.

Note that they even supported AB 8, proposed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, at the same level of the plan by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though it asks for a higher minimum contribution. They seemed to pick up the nuance that employers would get a bigger benefit for that 7.5% amount–the benefit of having all their workers covered. The notion that anything over the Governor’s 4% standard is “too much” doesn’t seem to be bourne out by the survey.

And despite strong employer opposition over the last five years by business groups, a slim plurality said that they favored the single-payer plan (SB 840) authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl.

It’s an important contribution to the debate.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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