Affordable insurance

Thursday, February 23, 2006

By Jason Crowell

I appreciate Tuesday's op-ed column by Sharon Feltman, director of the Health Access Project Missouri Association for Social Welfare, and thank her for endorsing my goal of making health care more accessible for Missourians.

My plan, I-Care Missouri, embraces the concept of combining all self-funded state plans to increase the bargaining power for health-care consumers. This is necessary in order to provide access to health care for high-risk Missourians. Feltman and I are in agreement on this. However, I do not share her sentiments regarding association health plans.

Providing insurance to 20 employees of a small business is more expensive on a per-employee basis than offering it to the thousands who work for large corporations, because the economies of scale are tipped in favor of the large firms. This means large businesses can operate more efficiently and offer employees cheaper health plans than smaller businesses can.

If these same small businesses had the ability to join together to be covered by a group health plan, the individual costs would decrease and the employees would receive health and financial benefits. However, current Missouri law prevents employers from forming associations for the sole purpose of obtaining insurance.

My legislation, Senate Bill 663, would level the playing field by enabling small businesses and self-employed individuals to band together under employer purchasing alliances, or association health plans, to purchase health insurance. The strength-in-numbers approach would enable small businesses to have more buying power and operate more efficiently and could reduce their health-insurance costs by 15 to 30 percent.

The easiest way to make health insurance more accessible is to make it more affordable. These purchasing alliances would be structured to specifically meet the needs of individuals so they are offered an array of health-benefit options.

I believe quality, affordable health care should be available to every working family in Missouri, not just to those who work for large companies. Over 80 percent of the uninsured in Missouri are workers or a dependent of a worker, and half of the uninsured workers are employed by small employers.

We can shrink the percentage of uninsured if we increase competition in the insurance industry by letting small employers join forces to purchase health plans. I support association health plans that can serve as a free-market tool for small businesses so they can make health care more accessible and affordable for their employees. That is why I will be fighting in the Missouri Senate for the passage of SB 663.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate.

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