Legislation that will enrich Blue Cross NC will hurt small businesses, their employees

North Carolina is one of the best states in the country for small businesses like mine, but the General Assembly is threatening that reputation with House Bill 346. On its surface, the bill (otherwise known as the Reorganization & Economic Development Act) appears to have little impact on us, but a deeper inspection exposes the real danger HB 346 poses for small businesses’ healthcare costs across the state.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is our state’s largest insurance company, and 4.3 million people rely on the company for coverage. Among those millions of North Carolinians are small business owners and their employees, who, according to the NC Insurance Commissioner would suffer higher healthcare costs if the General Assembly passes HB 346 and allows Blue Cross NC to restructure without any safeguards to protect the policyholders and the taxpayers of North Carolina.

Valerie Benton Smith

Valerie Benton Smith

Small businesses are the heart of North Carolina, and owners do everything in their power to take care of our employees. Yet the health care situation for small businesses is bleach. Over 70% of small businesses in our state cannot afford to offer health insurance, because of the costs. Additionally, 80% of small business owners have seen the costs of insurance rise, and nearly half of them say that not being able to offer health insurance coverage makes them less competitive in hiring.

To protect our bottom line, we must often make difficult choices such as raising prices to recover costs or raising employee contributions to health insurance. High health care costs also stop many small business owners from hiring more employees or expanding their business.

We believe that any effective legislation should hold the Blue Cross to three key obligations:

Ensure small businesses and policyholders are not harmed by rising premiums due to the proposed legislation;

Preserve accessibility and affordability of healthcare in North Carolina;

Most importantly, protect the public interest in any major conversion or disposition of Blue Cross assets by placing 100% of its fair market value in a charitable trust to serve the health care needs of North Carolinaians.

We do not believe there has been an adequate examination of the proposed legislation to ensure it meets these three criteria. Since there are billions of dollars at stake, it is vital to make sure that we protect both citizens and policyholders before any bill passes.

We strongly recommend that the legislature should defer action on H346 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 296, until a legislative study commission has examined the legislation fully, there are public hearings, and ensured that it protects the interests of the people of North Carolina.

At a time when many small business owners are considering no longer offering health insurance to employees because of the costs, the General Assembly should be taking every step to keep health insurance costs in check, not passing legislation that could see costs rise across the board.

A whopping 86% of small business owners say they’re concerned about health care costs and want our state leaders to act, for the economic small business engine that drives our rural and urban communities, and not for Blue Cross NC.

Valerie Benton Smith is Regional President for the Greater North Carolina Black Chamber of Commerce.

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