The Oregon Senate voted today on SB 99, legislation that will create the state health insurance exchange. While lawmakers should be commended for their work implementing this critical component of healthcare reform, the bill as it stands has no teeth. It won’t give the exchange power to negotiate for lower insurance rates. Without this authority, small businesses won’t get relief from high premiums that harm their competitiveness, stifle economic growth and limit job creation. The State House should now work to enact an exchange that has the necessary negotiating power to lower premiums and help small business owners and those they employ.
For years, Oregon small businesses have suffered from skyrocketing health insurance premiums, often watching their healthcare costs double or triple in one year. This forces small employers to make tough decisions like forgoing coverage or passing off the cost to their employees. They’ve wanted elected leaders to find solutions to this problem, to rein in costs and to help create a more business-friendly economic environment.
State health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, will bring some of the biggest savings to small business owners. An exchange that has the power to negotiate for lower rates would allow small business owners to join together to purchase health insurance at a lower price. Employers will be able to choose from a variety of plans that best meet their budget and needs, and won’t be subject to outrageous premium hikes like what we’ve seen year after year. It would increase choice and competition in the marketplace, and drive down health insurance premiums so small businesses can afford to cover employees without breaking the bank.
In Oregon and elsewhere, small business owners need all the help they can get. Oregon legislators have an opportunity to set an example for other states to follow and set up an exchange responsibly—one that has power to negotiate for lower rates and puts choice in the hands of individuals and small business owners, not insurance companies. They shouldn’t squander this chance to do right by Oregon small businesses.