BY BOB MIODONSKI
PUBLISHER AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
WHAT A DIFFERENCE a couple years — and a couple words — can make. Exactly two years ago this month, in this same space, we expressed our support of a bill in Congress that would have allowed trade groups such as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association to offer health insurance as a member benefit. The idea was that by pooling their resources, small and medium-sized businesses could offer their employees medical coverage that was similar to the benefits provided by large corporations.
We thought this was a terrific idea for a couple reasons. First, it would help many of you provide health insurance to your employees who otherwise couldn't afford it. Second, it would help small and medium-sized contractors compete for job candidates who understandably want medical benefits to go along with their job.
Despite our backing, and the support of 200 or so trade groups including PHCC, the bill to allow Association Health Plans went nowhere. About the only things that have changed in the last two years are that millions more employees and their family members are going without health insurance, and p-h-c contractors are struggling even more than they were to attract qualified people to work for them.
But here's where a couple words have made a difference. Someone had the bright idea to rename Association Health Plans as Small Business Health Plans. Re-branding the bill with the words "small business" has struck a warm chord in Congress.
Small businesses, we're told, create seven out of 10 new jobs each year. It's startling to hear that 60% of the people who work for small businesses do not have health insurance.
If nothing else, changing the name of the bill demonstrates that marketing and branding can be as effective in the halls of Congress as they are in your own business. Keep in mind that the two bills to allow Association Health Plans two years ago and Small Business Health Plans today are very similar.
The Senate, which took no action on Association Health Plans, plans to vote on Small Business Health Plans in early May after its Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee narrowly approved the legislation along party lines in mid-March. PHCC members who visited Congress for their annual Legislative Day the day after the committee voted were urged to use the words "Small Business Health Plans," not "Association Health Plans," when visiting their legislators.
Members of the Massachusetts PHCC delegation invited me to accompany them on their visits where they effectively voiced their support of the health plans to congressional staff members. They were part of the 100 or so PHCC members from Tennessee, Wisconsin and other states who traveled to Washington in mid-March.
Although most of you reading this did not visit Congress, we encourage you to contact your representatives in Washington nonetheless to tell them that you're behind Small Business Health Plans. Whatever you call the legislation, it deserves your support.
What haven't changed much in the last two years are the reasons that many of you would benefit from these plans. It would help you to offer medical coverage and make your firm more attractive to a wider group of people.
Your active support is needed because passage of this bill by Congress is far from guaranteed. Not much of importance is being passed these days because of the divisiveness that exists in Washington between the two houses of Congress, the two political parties and within the parties themselves.
And, many of the same opponents are still lined up against the legislation because they're not swayed by the name change. Some big health insurance companies want to maintain the status quo, and a number of special-interest groups are concerned that certain medical conditions no longer will be covered under the new plans.
The resistance appears to be softening, however, as the plight of small businesses makes for a more vivid image that legislators can understand and address. A couple words can make a difference, and so can your support of Small Business Health Plans.