SPH Study Counters Health Bill in State Senate

A professor at the Harvard School of Public Health recently publicized a study she completed to fight a Massachusetts health care bill currently pending in the State Senate.

Senior Lecturer on Health Policy and Assistant Dean for Educational Programs Nancy Turnbull and Robert Seifert of the community action group, The Access Project, created the study to combat a bill that would undo the state’s health insurance law, which guarantees all small businesses fixed premiums for their employees.

An advocate of the current law, Turnbull claimed that the bill, “An Act Relative to Small Group Insurance,” would only hurt small businesses and their employees.

“We conclude that the bill would fragment and destabilize the small group market, resulting in higher health insurance premiums for most small businesses, and likely increase the number of people without insurance in this state,” the study stated.

Turnbull said the decade-old legislation that currently stands provides health insurance for employees prone to higher health bills.

The association health plans that the new bill proposes are specifically tailored to an individual company and allow the selling of different types of plans based on the group of employees in a given company.

But representatives of the small businesses, such as the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), support the bill, arguing that it will give employers and employees increased options and more affordable health care plans.

According to Massachusetts State Director of NFIB Bill Vernon, insurance premiums for small businesses double each year and in the last five years alone they have increased over 100 percent.

Vernon said that by providing employees with more options, those with lower incomes will be able to buy cheaper insurance packages that cover minimal costs or emergencies only.

“Small businesses pay substantially more in health insurance premiums than larger businesses because large businesses can negotiate and the small ones cannot,” Vernon said. “We are dragging and kicking the insurance industry into the 21st century.”

Advocates of the bill argue that it permits small businesses to increase their negotiating power by forming buying ‘clots.’

But Turnbull said that clots exist under the current law and that the bill only eliminates vital guarantees for employees. Currently, companies with weaker employees cannot be charged more than twice the premiums of those with healthier ones.

Under the new bill, older employees who may work under conditions that expose them to chemicals, for example, would be charged significantly more for health insurance than personal trainers, who are extremely young and healthy.

But Jon B. Hurst, president of the RAM, said that the study was financed by insurers with their own interests in mind.

“It’s an issue of fairness and discrimination,” said Hurst, who argues that every organization—regardless of size—should be allowed to choose the health care plan for its employees.

But Turnbull said that the companies of Hurst and Vernon fail to recognize the improvement the current legislation has made on the industry.

“Health insurance availability is not an issue today because of the current law,” Turnbull said. She also argued that it minimized widespread discrimination that was once prevalent, particularly against gays in the late eighties.

“I sympathize with proponents of the bill who want to lower the costs of health insurance, but this bill will not do that,” says Turnbull.