Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Tuesday, March 27, 2001


ALBANY—A new bill that would make affordable health insurance more accessible for sole proprietors of businesses is a major step forward in the ongoing effort to make employment-based health insurance affordable, available, and widespread, Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh said today.

The bill's sponsors, Senator James Seward (R-Otsego County) and Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle (D-Monroe County), joined business leaders from across the state at an Albany press conference today to discuss the bill (S.3795/A.7413). They were joined at the press conference by Senator William Larkin (R-Orange County) and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Suffolk), chair of the Assembly Small Business Committee.

"Across the state, access to affordable health insurance is diminishing for small businesses and especially for sole proprietors," said Garry Douglas, president and CEO of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Chamber Alliance of New York State (CANYS). "This is threatening the mom-and-pop businesspeople who make our economy and our communities work. Addressing this worsening situation is a top priorities for New York's chambers and the small businesses they represent, and we appreciate the leadership of Senator Seward and Assemblyman Morelle in tackling this challenge."

"Keeping health insurance as affordable as possible is not only a survival issue for New York's small businesses, but also a competitiveness issue for New York and its entire business community," Senator Seward said. "This bill, coupled with the tax credit for health insurance costs that the Senate has proposed, will provide valuable help to the small businesses that are such a key component of New York's business community."

"As the owner of a small computer software company and former chair of the Assembly Small Business Committee, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to oversee the day-to-day operations of a business," Assemblyman Morelle said. "Chambers and trade associations make our job a little easier by offering the services and products to allow small companies to be more efficient and cost-effective. Health insurance is one of those services. Without the affordable chamber of commerce health insurance products, many small businesses will have to go without coverage. Direct pay health insurance products are not feasible for most sole proprietors."

"Throughout my career in public service, I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with my local chambers of commerce," Senator Larkin said. "I see the work they do and the services they offer. That is why I am pleased to support their efforts to provide affordable health insurance to those who need it most."

"The Assembly is strongly committed to nurturing our small businesses, and we recognize that helping them purchase affordable health insurance is a key part of that commitment," Assemblyman Sweeney said.

"State legislators and Governor Pataki have done much to improve New York's business climate over the last half-dozen years, and making affordable health care accessible to our smallest enterprises would continue that tradition in a very important way," The Business Council's Walsh said.

Sole proprietors' struggle to buy health insurance: In recent months, the cost of health insurance has been especially burdensome to small businesses proprietors, who have seen sudden premium increases of as much as 30 percent or more. "These increases in health-insurance costs threaten many businesses ability to offer any health insurance at all and, in some cases, imperil the viability of the entire business," Douglas said.

Pressured by skyrocketing costs, many insurers are eliminating sole proprietors' long-standing access to group-rated insurance coverage available to sole proprietors through their membership in chambers of commerce or other business associations, he added.

How this bill will address the problem: This bill would amend the state Insurance Law to include sole proprietors in the definition of small groups eligible for group-rate insurance available through chambers or other associations. Current law permits that group-rate insurance to be available only to groups of between two and 50 employees. The bill would also require sole proprietors to be certified by general-purpose chambers or associations as legitimate businesses and thus eligible for group-rate insurance.

Other organizations' support for the bill: Chambers of commerce from across the state joined the press conference to express support for the proposal. The bill was also endorsed by the New York Farm Bureau and the New York State Retail Council.

"There are still many family-owned farms in New York State that are run by a sole proprietor. This bill will make sure that our farmers can spend their time and financial resources on producing a healthy, abundant and inexpensive food supply for our state and beyond," stated John Lincoln, president of New York Farm Bureau. "This bill will help the small farm owner continue to compete in an extremely competitive industry without having the business eroded by rising health insurance costs."

"Thousands of retail stores across New York State are one-person shops for whom health-care price spikes come directly off the bottom line and, in many cases, turn black ink into red ink," said Ted Potrikus, senior vice president and director of government relations of the Retail Council of New York State. "We salute Senator Seward and Assemblyman Morelle for taking this important step to help the retail sector, which is such an important part of New York's economy."

Other small businesses health-care issues: Health-care issues were a central focus of Small Business Day this year and are high on The Business Council's list of small businesses policy priorities.

For example, The Business Council and Chamber Alliance are also strongly supporting the measure in the Senate budget proposal, and a similar measure sponsored by Assemblyman Morelle, that would create a tax-credit to help small businesses afford health insurance for their workers.

In addition, both groups also support making the Healthy New York program available to more small businesses, as put forth in a proposal by Senator Larkin and Assemblyman Sweeney.

Small Business Day: Today's press conference was held at the Empire State Plaza in Albany as part of the annual Small Business Day, which is sponsored each March in Albany by The Business Council, the Chamber Alliance of New York State, and the National Federation of Independent Business. Its purpose is to give small-business operators a chance to discuss priority issues with key lawmakers and staff.

Each year, some 400 representatives of small businesses and local chambers of commerce participate in the event. The agenda typically includes addresses by key legislative leaders, discussions on legislative issues of importance to the small business community, and opportunities for visiting small business proprietors to meet and lobby lawmakers and their key staff members.

In past years, these meetings have been critical to business efforts to convince lawmakers to reduce taxes, reform workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and make other critical improvements to New York's business climate.