Local chamber should speak for itself on health care reform

Does the United States Chamber of Commerce speak for the local chamber chapter? Is this massive Washington lobbying organization the amplified voice of our local business community? Do our local bankers, bakers and candlestick makers have the same interests as the giant corporations that fund the world’s largest business lobby?

As the self-proclaimed “world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region,” the national organization circulated an e-mail to local chamber members last week.

Bearing the letterhead of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the letter urges solidarity against a questionable list of “hazard-to-business policies” that it claims will become law if the current version of health care reform passes. It also encourages members to call and “urge our Colorado Representatives to vote against the Senate-passed health care bill.”

According to The Associated Press, “Health insurance companies, excoriated by Obama over a recent spate of double-digit premium hikes,” are funding a well-coordinated campaign to discredit health insurance reform with small businesses.

“The National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and groups representing the construction and food service industries” provide additional support to the campaign.

Apparently, what these disparate groups share in common is a determination to derail health care reform.

So long as they believe their interests are the same as those of the big corporations, small-business owners are likely to use their influence to advance corporate policies.

If, on the other hand, their self-interest is better served by Obama’s policies than the status quo, small-business owners are likely to put practicality before ideology.

Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, challenges the “myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses.” To the contrary, she writes, “reform will ease the burdens on small businesses and help level the playing field with big firms that pay much less (for health insurance) to cover their employees on average.”

Higher costs for small businesses result in lower wages for workers, and lower profits for management, according to Romer. Lack of benefits also disadvantages small businesses in the competition against larger employers for the most qualified workers.

Because of rising costs, small businesses are increasingly less likely than large companies to offer health insurance to their employees. Small firms continuing to offer health insurance are reducing benefits and/or increasing worker costs.

The reforms proposed by the Obama administration enable small businesses to purchase employee health insurance from “insurance exchanges” similar to that used by government workers and Congress to bring down costs.

Tax credits for low-wage firms to provide health insurance, and “pay-or-play” provisions for larger firms are among the incentives to help small business provide health insurance for their workers. Many small operations would be exempt from requirements to provide insurance, but their employees would benefit from the options available from insurance exchanges for individuals. Low-wage employees would be eligible for subsidies to help them purchase private insurance.

To underscore the need for reform, Obama told an Ohio crowd on Monday about Natoma Canfield who lost her insurance because of rising premiums, then discovered she had leukemia. “There but for the grace of God go any one of us,” the President said.

“When you hear people saying that this isn’t the ‘right time,’ you think about what she’s going through.” Obama told the crowd. “When you hear people more worried about the politics of it than what’s right and what’s wrong ... think about Natoma and the millions of people across this country who are looking for some relief.”

While the national Chamber of Commerce continues to resist these reforms, local chamber members should send a message to the Washington lobbyists that Coloradans can speak for themselves about health care reform.

At least for some, Obama’s appeal to their “sense of what’s right and what’s wrong” will outweigh arguments that put profit above people and subordinate principle to the bottom line.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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