Local Small Business Owners Speak Out Against Health Insurance Rate Hikes

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

October 26th, 2012

When the health insurance premiums for Leighton Imaging in Durham increased by 20 percent this year because of health insurance restructuring that was ramrodded by Republicans in the Legislature, it was a difficult cost for owner Geoff Leighton to bear.

“I’m proud to be a small business owner and proud to contribute to the economic success of our community, but if insurance rates keep going up so much so quickly, I don’t know how we’ll be able to continue,” said Leighton. “This big of an increase this quickly has a huge effect on our bottom line. We need to elect members of the legislature who will put small business owners” interests ahead of those of the insurance companies and who will vote to repeal the rate hike bill.”

Leighton’s rates went up because of the passage of a new law last year allowing health insurance companies to charge higher rates for small businesses, especially those in rural areas or with older employees. More than 1,200 members of the Maine Small Business Coalition signed petitions, wrote letters and lobbied in Augusta against the law, but the bill was eventually pushed through on a narrow, mostly party-line vote with the support of Anthem and other large insurers.

Since the law’s passage, more than 90 percent of small business owners have seen rate increases.

“Anthem is now defending the law by funneling thousands of dollars into independent expenditures supporting Senator Lois Snowe-Mello and attacking her opponent John Cleveland,” said MSBC director Kevin Simowitz. “It’s no secret why. Snowe-Mello voted for the rate hike bill and increased Anthem’s profits at the cost of local businesses. That’s why they want her to stay in office.”

For Larry Mann, owner of Lustersheen Distributing LLC in Auburn, the rate increases have meant that he now pays a huge amount for very little coverage.

“My co-owner and I used to have a comprehensive medical insurance plan. In 2007 it became too expensive. That’s when we switched to a health insurance policy through Anthem that covers nothing until the $15,000 deductible has been met.”

“Now, thanks to Maine’s rate hike bill voted into place by Senator Snowe-Mello, our medical insurance costs for this high-deductible plan have increased by 19% and we are on track very soon to pay as much for this emergency-only policy as we did for comprehensive medical insurance just a few years ago. Soon, like many small business owners, we may not be able to afford coverage at all.”

For Peg Hoffman, an occupational therapist and small business owner in Auburn, the small business rate increases are just one troubling part of the law. As a health care provider, she’s also concerned about the elimination of the rate review process for individual insurance policies.

“I was grateful that the Bureau of Insurance had the power to reign in Anthem’s extreme rate increase requests. But now, because of the rate hike law, Anthem and other insurers are now able to raise their rates by up to 10% every year with absolutely no oversight. I am now insured by Medicare, and very grateful for it, but middle-aged small business owners, who are now barely able to hang on to their insurance, will soon have to give it up completely.”