June 21, 2002
Council, Chambers win bill to give sole proprietors more affordable health care
A two-year effort to improve sole proprietors' access to more affordable health care reached a successful conclusion Thursday when Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced agreement on a bill.
The bill would let sole proprietors buy insurance at group rates through chambers and other associations. Most group rates now apply to groups of between two and 50 employees.
The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. James Seward (R-Otsego County) and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester), would also require chambers to certify that sole proprietors are functioning businesses eligible for group-rate insurance.
Elizabeth Coleman, president of the Greater Southern Dutchess Chamber of Commerce and statewide chair of the Chamber Alliance, said that "on behalf of the more than 100 chambers of commerce throughout New York State who have worked tirelessly for more than three years to ensure access to affordable health insurance for our state's small business owners, I want to thank Insurance Superintendent Greg Serio, Senator Seward and Assemblyman Morelle, whose hard work and commitment made this historic legislation become a reality."
"This has been a priority for The Business Council and the Chamber Alliance," said Council President Daniel B. Walsh. "We thank Senator Seward and Assemblyman Morelle, and state Insurance Superintendent Greg Serio, for their unwavering support."
The Council has been staunchly supporting this proposal with a range of advocacy activities. For example, The Council sponsored an "electronic-advocacy" campaign which let visitors to The Council's Web site (www.bcnys.org) automatically generate faxes to elected officials in Albany. Hundreds of business leaders, sole proprietors, and members and executives of local chambers of commerce participated in this campaign to support this proposal.
At The Council's annual Small Business Day last March, several hundred small-business leaders and chamber executives strongly indicated their support for this change at a panel discussion on insurance issues featuring Serio, Assembly Insurance Committee Chairman Alexander "Pete" Grannis (D-Manhattan), and Sen. Seward, who chairs the Senate Insurance Committee.
In recent years, small business proprietors have faced dramatic premium increases of 30 percent or more. Such increases threaten many businesses' ability to offer any insurance, and can threaten the business itself.
Many insurers, facing skyrocketing health costs, have eliminated the access to group-rated insurance coverage that sole proprietors had for many years through membership in chambers or associations.
"New York's small businesses are the backbone of the state's economy and our sole proprietors - the smallest of New York's businesses - deserve access to more affordable health insurance coverage for themselves and their families," the Governor said in a release.
"This bill will make affordable health insurance available to more than 250,000 people by giving sole proprietors access to the same coverage as other small businesses," Senator Bruno said.
"Small businesses and sole proprietors are an important part of our state's economy and this legislation will ensure that these hard-working New Yorkers now have equal access to health insurance for themselves and their families," Speaker Silver said.
The legislation has passed both houses of the Legislature, and the Governor has said he will sign it.