October 2009


The Oregon Small Business Council offered its support today for Senator Jeff Merkley’s provision of the HELP Committee health care bill to require employers to allow reasonable break times for nursing mothers to express breast milk in the first year of an infant’s life.

This existing Oregon law has worked quite well and will be an excellent addition to the final health care reform bill. It is important that it be included in the final Senate bill to support working families across the nation.

Here is the official text of OSBC’s letter to Senator Merkley:

October 30, 2009

The Honorable Jeff Merkley

United States Senate

107 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Merkley:

I am writing on behalf of the more than 400 small business owners that comprise the Oregon Small Business Council to thank you for your tremendous leadership in working to overhaul our nation’s broken health care system. As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, you were a tireless advocate for small businesses, Oregonians and all Americans.

We would particularly like to praise your leadership in bringing an existing Oregon law to the national stage to help working mothers take time to express breast milk for infants in the first year of life. This provision will establish a terrific opportunity for working mothers around the country to build healthier children and better workplaces.

The law is working well in Oregon and we believe it will be just as successful across the nation, as employers offer small amounts of time to allow mothers to provide for the wellbeing of their children. As you know, low breastfeeding rates have been linked to an increase in infant mortality rates and a variety of illnesses later in life. Balancing the needs of a career with the importance of motherhood is difficult, and this provision will ease that burden significantly for working families across the nation.

Again, we truly appreciate your commitment to small business owners, working families and all Oregonians. We support your provision to allow break time for nursing mothers and look forward to working with you as we continue to move toward a health care system that works for small businesses and all Americans.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held a press conference this morning to release the details of the final version of the health care bill that will come to

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

the floor of the House of Representatives.

Speaker Pelosi said the House leadership are “putting forth a bill that reflects our best values.”

The bill includes a public insurance option that will insure 36 million more Americans and will not add to the national deficit, Pelosi said.

The hour-long press conference featured remarks from several House Democrats discussing the importance of health care reform and their involvement in the negotiations.

Watch the video here.

by Mark Kellenbeck, Founding Principal and COO, Cascade Management.

Cascade Management is a 30 year old, Oregon-based real estate management company specializing in affordable housing.

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Cascade Management operates statewide, employs over 300 employees and, due to dramatic increases in health insurance costs, has been forced to raise the annual insurance deductible per employee from $500 to $2000, and raise the employee portion of the premium from 14% to 17%.  Had we not raised the deductible, the cost increase in the last seven years would have well exceeded 100%.

While we pay 83% of our employees’ monthly medical insurance premiums, due to the cost we are currently unable to insure our employees’ family (dependents). So needless to say the children of our employees, who are the most vulnerable and whose early and preventive care would yield the greatest long term return, are most often not covered and often go without proper care.

With a $2000 deductible the same occurs with our employees (the parents). Many forgo medical care they would benefit from, because the deductible is painfully high. Even I, as one of the highest paid employees of the company, find the $2000 annual deductible obnoxiously high. Recently I spent $2400 out of pocket for diagnostic tests my primary care doctor felt were prudent. I am sure 90% of my employees would have been unable to have or delayed the same tests, even though they were physician-ordered and essential for their care.

Each year we seriously search for medical insurance alternatives and use a professional agent to obtain as many quotes for coverage as possible. Most years even with 300 employees we obtain only one or two quotes for coverage.  In this current year our carrier quoted us a 23% increase, forcing us to change carriers and even with the change and substantial negotiation our increase was a staggering 13%.  We believe that many years of little to no competition in the marketplace substantially underlies the dramatically rising insurance costs we have experienced.

We pay $73,000 every month for our employees’ medical insurance, much of which comes at the expense of better wages for our employees, employee programs we can no longer afford and continually asking more of our employees.  Not surprisingly as a company we simply think the system has to change. It is way past the time that innovative, affordable and equitable health insurance be a reality.

Following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s announcement of the Senate health care bill that will come to the floor, Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley, issued the following statement late this afternoon through his Web site:

Senator Jeff Merkley

It has been clear from the beginning of this debate that a public option is absolutely necessary to provide consumers with more choice, hold insurance companies accountable and keep costs down.

Senator Reid made the right decision to include this critical component in the merged legislation.  States may choose to opt-out based on their individual needs and the input of their citizens, but this provision will ensure that most Americans will have the choice between private insurance or a public plan that operates on a level playing field.  This is a reasonable compromise to this issue and takes us one step closer to action by the full Senate to finally pass health care reform and fix our broken system.

Senator Merkley’s comments echo what he has said in the past and reaffirm his commitment to real health care reform. Read the statement at the source.

This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) held a press conference to announce the final version of the Senate health care bill that will now be sent to the Congressional Budget Office for an economic analysis.

Senator Reid’s announcement described the new bill as containing a public

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

insurance option with an “opt out” provision, meaning states will have until 2014 to determine if they want to not participate in the national public plan.

He expressed that the reason for the public option with an “opt out” provision rather than the much-discussed “trigger” was that the public option is “fairer.” Senator Reid should be commended for his continued work on this issue, but now is the time to continue to tell our senators and representatives to support the strongest public option possible as the bills come to the floor of both houses of Congress.

Please consider calling or writing to our congressional delegation to ask them to stand up for small businesses by advocating for a strong public option to help control costs, increase competition and provide coverage for all.

Also, think about writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about why a public option for health insurance will help your employees and your bottom line. For talking points or assistance, please contact OSBC at 971-634-0010.

Watch the video of Senator Reid’s press conference here.

Saturday’s New York Times features a very timely article about the steep increases many small business owners are facing in health care costs. Around the country, sharp upswings in the costs of providing coverage to employees are seriously harming small businesses.

From the article:

Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent for the coming year — double the rate of last year’s increases. That would mean an annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010.

The higher premiums at least partly reflect the inexorable rise of medical costs, which is forcing Medicare to raise premiums, too. Health insurance bills are also rising for big employers, but because they have more negotiating clout, their increases are generally not as steep.

Higher medical costs aside, some experts say they think the insurance industry, under pressure from Wall Street, is raising premiums to get ahead of any legislative changes that might reduce their profits.

As insurance industry representatives continue to make claims about premiums going up as a result of current health care reform proposals, small businesses are already feeling the pains of sharp cost increases under the current system.

Read the rest of the article here.

Oregon Small Business Council Action Team member Jim Houser of Hawthorne Auto Clinic was featured on Portland’s KOIN6 local news, discussing the burden health care costs place on small business owners in Oregon.

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