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Healthcare Reform: How Will It Affect Businesses?

Although the healthcare debate is far from over, business leaders would agree that costs must be controlled and the marketplace must become more transparent.

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Maintaining the ERISA Framework
The NAM has not taken a position yet on the Senate Finance Committee's overall bill. However, one provision that NAM does support is the protection of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) framework, which gives manufacturers the ability to continue to offer quality benefits so that employees can keep their existing plans.

ERISA provides a comprehensive federal scheme for the regulation of private-sector employee benefit plans. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while ERISA does not require an employer to offer employee benefits, it does mandate compliance with its provisions if such benefits are offered.

Besides the regulation of pension plans, ERISA also regulates welfare benefit plans offered by an employer to provide medical, surgical, and other health benefits. ERISA applies to health benefit coverage offered through health insurance or other arrangements (e.g., self-funded plans).

In his testimony for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Speranza noted, "The reason so many employers are able to offer quality, affordable health insurance to their tens of millions of employees is because.ERISA allows them to administer uniform benefits across state lines, with maximum flexibility to allow employers to design plans that meet their employees' needs."

Manufacturers' Wish List
The NAM and other business groups support healthcare reform legislation that would do the following:

• Maximize pooling to allow individual and small group purchasers to gain the benefits of distributed risk and the purchasing power of large group providers in an expanded market.

• Increase access to transparent, meaningful health information in a consistent manner to allow individuals and groups to compare healthcare plans and providers on the basis of cost, quality of performance, and overall patient outcomes.

• Provide affordable, diverse options to help uninsured individuals and small businesses to access and purchase affordable care through a market that offers a variety of competing private health-plan options that fit the diverse needs of individuals.

• Contain a "do-no-harm" policy that protects employer-provided health benefits and opposes costly mandates, and allows the millions of Americans who receive health insurance from employers to continue to do so.

• Establish legal liability reform that sets clear standards for liability and punitive damages in medical malpractice suits based on actual malice, intentional infliction of harm, or a knowing and reckless disregard for safety.

• Promote wellness and prevention programs through incentives to create a healthier work force.

• Implement health information technology to reduce waste and improve system efficiency.

Wrapping It Up
The healthcare reform debate is likely to continue into 2010. While many business groups believe that the Senate Finance Committee's bill is the best one introduced so far, there is still much work to be done.

The U.S. Chamber recommends that the Senate Finance Committee focus on three areas: controlling the costs of healthcare and insurance, reforming the way insurance companies do business, and creating a vibrant, transparent marketplace in which people can shop for insurance. These steps could be taken in a bipartisan way that is far more affordable, that would achieve the goals that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the business community share with the President, and that could be understood and supported by the public.
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