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For Release — Tuesday, May 23, 2006

COUNCIL: 'WAL-MART' BILLS ARE NOT A SOLUTION TO CURRENT HEALTH-CARE PROBLEM

ALBANY, N.Y.—New York’s heath-care policy is in need of a fix, but the solution can’t be found in any of the so-called Wal-Mart proposals being considered by lawmakers, the Business Council’s director of government affairs told lawmakers at a May 23 hearing in Albany.

“This idea isn’t 'fair' – not to employers, and not to the employees whose employers will no longer be able to afford their salaries,” Elliott Shaw, who is also the Council's health-policy lobbyist, said in his testimony. “And it doesn’t ‘share’ the burden of resolving New York’s out-of-control health-care costs.

Several hundred protestors from the Working Families Party and 1199 SEIU, the health-care workers' union, attended the hearing and interrupted the proceedings on several occasions.

For example, Shaw's testimony was interrupted by jeers from audience members wearing Working Families Party tee-shirts. The party had bused in members to protest pro-employer testimony and to rally in front of the Capitol in support of the proposed legislation.

Lawmakers admitted that the point of the proposals is not to provide more insurance coverage, Shaw said.

“The point is supposedly to give business a ‘level playing field,’ Shaw said. “Business people are supposed to believe that the Assembly wants to do us a favor, by forcing all employers to share in a cost some of them aren’t now paying for.”

But no one in The Business Council's membership has asked for this "favor," and the state's business community would be hurt by this proposal, Shaw said.

The bills cited in the hearing notice would punish good, honest employers for the failure of government at all levels, and most particularly in Albany, to do anything to make health insurance more affordable, Shaw said. “It is frightening to believe that the best answer Albany can come up with on health care is to add to the health-care costs of employers,” Shaw continued.

Shaw pointed to differences between New York’s solution to the health care problem, and the solution policymakers in neighboring Massachusetts came up with.

“Massachusetts lawmakers and stakeholders used the potential loss of federal money to work for a consensus solution to seemingly intractable problems,” Shaw said. “In New York, health care interests are spending millions on radio, television and newspaper advertising, lobbying firms and lawyers in a fight to make sure we maintain the status quo.”

States like Massachusetts are attempting to introduce levels of personal responsibility into the health-care equation while New York's response is more and bigger mandates on employers, Shaw said. Monies collected would be used to provide an undefined level of subsidized health-care coverage to certain employees of employers.

In addition to lame attempts at policy making, lawmakers would be causing additional job loss in already struggling areas of the state, Shaw said.

“Even the most conservative estimate calculates job loss at 69,000 according to the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), which sponsored a study to look at the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gottfried,” Shaw said

The study found that:

“One bill, interestingly, exempts manufacturing and agriculture because of the concern over job dislocation,” Shaw said. “That concern should extend to employers of all sizes, in all industries, in all parts of the state.”

It is a concern the Council shares with those employers, Shaw continued. “We will continue to speak-up for sensible policies to make New York’s health-care system less costly for taxpayers and employers and we will continue to champion sound solutions to give employers more affordable health insurance options.”

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