Main Street Alliance Leader Testifies Against Rollback of Federal Health Law

On January 18, New Jersey Main Street Alliance leader Odette Cohen, a pediatrician and owner of Son Light Pediatrics in Willingboro, NJ jumped on a train down to Washington, DC to testify at a hearing on the proposed rollback of the Affordable Care Act.

“The health care law throws a series of lifelines to small businesses,” Dr. Cohen said. “The new small business tax credits, stronger rate review, a value for premiums requirement, and state insurance exchanges – these measures will give small businesses more bargaining power and end the worst insurance company abuses. Who would want to take that away from us?”

Main Street Alliance lader Dr. Odette Cohen speaks with Congressman George Miller before her testimony against the repeal of federal health care reform.

For business owners who will benefit from the new health premium tax credits that took effect for tax year 2010, rollback of the health law would take money straight out of their pockets.

Jim Houser, who owns Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, OR with 15 employees, said, “My accountant tells me that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ll be receiving almost a $15,000 health care tax credit on the $90,000 we paid in premiums last year. That’s big money for a small business like mine. I need that credit to continue to cover my staff and their families. I can’t afford to have it repealed.”

Dr. Cohen is quoted in the story “Health Care Repeal Would Kill Off Tax Breaks” (Catherine Clifford, January 19) on CNNMoney.com. Dr. Cohen’s testimony was broadcast on C-SPAN, and the video clip is available here (move the cursor to 40:50 for Dr. Cohen’s remarks). Her full testimony is below.

Testimony of Dr. Odette Cohen, Son Light Pediatrics and New Jersey Main Street Alliance, before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee – January 18, 2011

Good afternoon. My name is Odette Cohen. I am the owner of Son Light Pediatrics in Willingboro, New Jersey and a member of the New Jersey Main Street Alliance.

I want to thank Chairman Miller, Chairwoman DeLauro, Leader Pelosi, and the members of the Steering and Policy Committee for inviting me to testify today.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. In New Jersey, we account for 98.5 percent of the state’s employers, and another 590,000 New Jersey residents are self-employed. On behalf of New Jersey’s small businesses, I want to thank you for the work you’ve done to enact legislation to make health care work better for us.

As a small business owner, I oppose efforts to roll back the protections and benefits of the health care law. Both my business and my patients stand to lose important benefits if the law is repealed or watered down.

Experience with Health Care

When I began my medical practice 21 years ago, I couldn’t afford to offer health coverage to my employees. As a result, I couldn’t compete for the most qualified applicants, and lost many to larger businesses that offered better benefits.

Now that I do offer health insurance, I dread renewal time every year. In 2009, my premium increased 33 percent. This past year I was quoted a 50 percent increase – 50 percent! I had to switch to an inferior plan with a much higher copayment.

Waiting for that renewal quote every year, it feels like you’re on a ship that’s sinking. Well, that’s where the new health law comes in – throwing a lifeline to small businesses like mine by protecting us from unreasonable rate hikes.

Small Business Tax Credits

My business is one of an estimated 144,000 businesses in New Jersey that could benefit from the new health care tax credits. The money I’ll receive in the credit this year will allow me the flexibility to relieve employees of their portion of rate increases and provide coverage for an additional employee.

As these credits and other incentives expand over the next four years, I look forward to hiring another provider and support staff. Repealing these credits would prevent me from expanding my practice and creating jobs in my community.

State Insurance Exchanges

I am also looking forward to the new state insurance exchange set to be up and running by 2014. Through the exchange, my business will be able to pool together with thousands of other small businesses across the state to access higher quality coverage at a lower cost, finally putting us on a level playing field with the insurance companies. A vote to scrap these exchanges is a vote endorsing the discrimination and lack of bargaining power small businesses face in today’s insurance markets.

Value for Premiums and Minimum Medical Loss Ratios

As a physician, I am keenly aware that health care consumers aren’t getting fair value for their premium dollars. Insurers use premiums to pay for many things that are not health care – things like executive bonuses, lobbying activities, and expensive political advertising. But now, thanks to the health law, small businesses and other consumers can count on having a basic level of value for our premium dollars. And if insurance companies don’t meet the minimum standard, we’ll get a rebate starting next year. I say it’s about time!

Consumer Protections

Small business owners and our employees should have the right to the same protections as everyone else. But that’s not how things worked before the new law was passed – I know this from personal experience.

In 2008, two of my first cousins were diagnosed with cancer at approximately the same time. The first, a young woman of 25, worked for a large company and had access to good coverage through her job. Today, she’s alive and doing well.

My other cousin worked for a small family business that simply couldn’t afford health insurance. Uninsured, he didn’t seek the care he needed early on. When his pain became unbearable, he went to the ER where he was diagnosed with end stage metastatic cancer. He died two months later at 35 years old.

The choice to work for a small business versus a large company should not be a life or death decision here in America – but it was for my cousin. The new health care law changes that, giving small businesses and our employees the basic security and protections we deserve.

Conclusion

These lifelines – the new tax credits, stronger rate review, new consumer protections, and the insurance exchanges – these all help give small businesses a fighting chance to access quality, affordable health care.

As a small business owner and a physician, I believe we must continue to advance policies aimed at providing quality health care for everyone, at putting health care decisions back into the hands of physicians and their patients, and at rewarding quality care.

We must not step back into the broken health system of the past. I urge you to stand with us, Main Street’s small businesses, and oppose any effort to roll back the benefits of the new health care law. Thank you.

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