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News & Press: WIPP Leadership Columns

But Think of the Trees

Monday, November 02, 2015  
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But Think of the Trees

by Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations

 

Rarely do I write about the goings on of my small advocacy firm in DC that has fought for women entrepreneurs for more than a decade. It is not necessary for me to detail for you the day-to-day challenges of a small business. This month, when we have had a big budget deal, a new Speaker, and even good fodder from the debates to opine on.

 

The focus of this column is usually policy-oriented. But this month, I am compelled to talk about something that happened in my business last week. And I do it on behalf of the trees.

 

Late one afternoon, FedEx arrived with a box full of non-descript packages from our health insurance provider. Nearly a thousand pages of plan information, benefit summaries, and the fine print none of us would ever have the time or patience to digest.

 

And then came another box. And then another, and another. All in all, more than 20,000 pages of insurance jargon, in roughly 200 booklets, encased in 50 packages.

 

As the boxes kept arriving, I asked one question: why?

Well, if you didn’t know, November 1, 2015 marks the beginning of enrollment for 2016 insurance plans. The enrollment period ends January 31, 2016, but if you need insurance starting January 1, you need to enroll by December 15, 2015. So somehow, somewhere, this meant that our provider should send a paper copy of every plan they will offer in 2016 to customers from 2015.

 

Really? Every plan. In hard copy. At the White House this week, business leaders discussed the need to make sure businesses re-enrolled in 2016. But this hardly seems the most efficient way.

  

 

 

The mail just never stopped coming. 

 

Healthcare is going quiet again. Despite the open enrollment period and two policy changes affecting business owners, few headlines are devoted to “Obamacare” as in years past. But insurance requirements are no less real than in year past. Failure for individuals to have insurance in 2016 is a $695 penalty or 2.5% of your income – whichever is higher.

 

Congress has acted twice in recent weeks on Obamacare. They removed a requirement that forced businesses with 200+ employees to auto-enroll new employees in insurance plans and left it to states to decide if 50-100 employee businesses should be considered “small” (previously, these businesses would be considered small and included on small business exchanges in 2016). The White House agreed to both changes, but again, quietly.

 

It is nice to see that the door to amending the law has opened just a bit, but we have a long way to go. From silly requirements that lead to the delivery of 20,000 pages to my office, to real concerns like the still-impossible Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) so valued by small businesses, Congress has more to do to improve the Affordable Care Act. 

 

Traction, however, on changes to Obamacare doesn’t sit well with many Republicans who want only a full repeal. Democrats, meanwhile, have largely moved on to other battles, considering health reform an issue of the past.

 

WIPP laid out three changes to the Affordable Care Act that would make coverage more affordable and accessible for women business owners and their employees. First, we recommend bringing back HRAs, which allow small businesses to reimburse employees for plans they find on their own. Second, define full time work as forty hours per week. Third, simplify and expand eligibility for the Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit. We are working to get these changes into law, and stem the tide of rising costs, fewer benefits, and unnecessary requirements that lead to an office full of insurance plans.

 

Perhaps Congress will find our environmental appeal more compelling than our policy appeal to make coverage better for small businesses.

 

After all, think of the trees. 

 


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