April 29, 2005--All Americans enjoy the right to free speech, a speedy trial, and firearms. But another group of Americans--the nation's 5 million small business owners--may get a second Bill of Rights.
Introduced by Congressmen Ric Keller (R-FL) and Bud Cramer (D-AL) in January and approved in the House on Wednesday, the Small Business Bill of Rights calls for small businesses to have the right to band together when buying health insurance, a simpler tax code and equal access to capital.
The Bill of Rights is meant to serve as a blueprint to guide Congress's agenda, said Bryan Malenius, a spokesperson for Congressman Keller.
"The Bill of Rights is like the 1994 Republican Contract with America--simply a list of things to accomplish during the term," said Malenius.
According to Malenius, Congressman Keller consulted 20 small business owners in Orlando before drafting the resolution. During the focus group, the most pressing problem facing all of the businesses were soaring health care costs.
In 2004, employer-sponsored health plans rose 11.2%, marking the fourth consecutive year of double-digit growth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. As a result of higher costs, fewer businesses are offering their employees plans; in 2004, 61% of companies offered insurance plans, compared to 65% three years earlier.
The smaller the firm, in terms of employees, the less likely health plans are offered. Only 52% of firms with fewer than ten employees offered health plans in 2004, found the Kaiser report. But 87% and 99% of firms with 50 employees and 200 employees, respectively, offered their employees plans.
To mitigate the rising cost of health care, Congressman Keller, as well as President Bush, want small businesses to have the right to buy plans in bulk. Bulk plans, known as Associated Health Plans, would give small business the buying power of the larger firms.
In addition to Associated Health Plans, a simpler tax code and equal access to capital, the Small Business Bill of Rights calls for legal and bureaucratic reform, equal access to government contracts and lower energy costs.