Small Biz Wants To Insure Its Workers. What Do Its Lobbyists Want?
BY Robb Mandelbaum
Small firms want to offer health insurance to their employees. That's one takeaway message in the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2007 Employer Health Benefit's survey. The 198-page report briefly made headlines when it was released last week for revealing that health insurance premiums rose 6.1 percent over last year, which outpaced the rise in both inflation and real wages.
We'll come back to that later. Today, though, as Hillary Clinton prepares to unveil her plan for universal health insurance, I want to concentrate on the lengths that small businesses go to insure their employees. Forty-five percent of firms with up to nine employees--which make up 60 percent of all companies--offer insurance to their employees. That's perhaps a little higher than I expected, but the threshold for insurance seems to be just ten employees--much lower than I expected. Seventy-six percent of firms with ten to 24 workers offer them insurance, and the rate of offer rises to 83 percent for those with 25 to 49 staffers. Among firms with 50 or more, it ascends to 95 percent.
Among firms that offer insurance, the share of eligible employees is highest among the smallest firms (and so is the "take-up rate" among employees). Small employers are more likely to pay all of their employees' premiums than large firms. Finally, small firms are "significantly more likely" than large firms--47 percent versus 28 percent--to offer health benefits to opposite-sex domestic partners.
Those that don't offer insurance wish that they could. "Twenty-three percent of non-offering firms have offered health benefits in the past five years, while 39 percent have shopped for coverage in the past twelve months," according to Kaiser. "The likelihood of shopping increases from 38 percent of firms with between 3 and 24 workers, to 72 percent of firms with 25 to 199 workers." What keeps them from buying? Cost, say nearly three-quarters of them, followed by the rather vague concern that their firm "is too small" to offer it.
We'll return to these two notions soon. The thing is, if I'm surprised by the generosity of small firms, it might be because the organizations that claim to represent them are so hostile to the premise of insuring their own. They seem more interested in avoiding mandates and shifting the costs to employees than trying to find a solution to the bigger problem. Which is not, after all, how do we lower costs for businesses? but, how do we ensure every American gets access to health care? Maybe it's just a question of rhetoric, or maybe a matter of tactics, but it makes me want to ask: who do these organizations represent, anyway?