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Terry Gardiner

Terry Gardiner

Originally published in The Columbian

The debate about raising the minimum wage is a hot topic, and the impact to small businesses is a sticking point in the argument. But what do real small businesses think about raising the wage?

As vice president of policy & strategy of Small Business Majority, I can report that our scientific opinion poll found 57 percent support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

Some have claimed that raising the minimum wage would strain small firms because they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay their workers more. However, more than half of small-business owners agree increasing the minimum wage would not only help the economy, it would make low-income consumers more likely to spend money, driving up demand for goods and services at small businesses.

What’s more, the poll found 82 percent of small businesses already pay their workers more than the minimum wage. Consumer demand is small business owners’ No. 1 concern, and they see a raise in the minimum wage as a way to stoke that demand. An increase would help entrepreneurs create jobs, which strengthens the economy even more, creating an economic domino effect.

Small-business owners are the nation’s biggest job creators. Politicians should listen to what they’re saying and act accordingly.

Terry Gardiner

Seattle

Terry Gardiner
Terry Gardiner

Originally published in The News Tribune

Debate about raising the minimum wage is a hot topic, and the impact to small businesses is a sticking point in the argument. But what do real small businesses think about raising the wage? Small Business Majority asked in a scientific opinion poll and found 57 percent support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

Some have claimed that raising the minimum wage would strain small firms because they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay their workers more. However, more than half of small business owners agree increasing the minimum wage would not only help the economy, it would make low-income consumers more likely to spend money, driving up demand for goods and services at small businesses.

What’s more, the poll found 82 percent of small businesses already pay their workers more than the minimum wage.

Consumer demand is small business owners’ No. 1 concern, and they see a raise in the minimum wage as a way to stoke that demand. An increase would help entrepreneurs create jobs, which strengthens the economy even more, creating an economic domino effect. Small business owners are the nation’s biggest job creators. Politicians should listen to what they’re saying and act accordingly.

(Gardiner is vice president of policy and strategy with the Small Business Majority.)

Terry Gardiner

Terry Gardiner

Originally published in The News Tribune

The state House of Representatives’ recent passage of the Save Toward a Retirement Today (START) bill is a step in the right direction for Washington’s small businesses and their workers. START would help small employers by giving them the option of creating a simple, state-managed retirement account for their employees and themselves.

Small Business Majority found a staggering 85 percent of small business owners believe Washingtonians will not have enough money saved for the future, and three-fourths think the state should do more to help workers prepare for retirement. That’s why two-thirds of our state’s entrepreneurs support the START bill.

Too many Washingtonians won’t have the money to cover basic living expenses during retirement. This will strain state services – something we can’t afford now, and certainly not in the future. We hope the state Senate will take the House’s lead and pass the START bill soon, so all Washingtonians have the opportunity to save for their golden years.

(Gardiner is vice president of policy and strategy with the Small Business Majority.)

Terry Gardiner

Terry Gardiner

Originally featured in The Huffington Post:

If you’re a hardworking small business owner who provides health benefits to your employees, there’s a chance your insurance carrier owes you money. And if it does, you can start looking for a check in the mail. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are being held accountable to their customers in a brand new way — which means they’re expected to owe businesses and individuals a whopping $1.3 billion this year, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The chances your business will get a piece of that are greater than one in four. Twenty-eight percent of small employers offering benefits in 42 states will receive a rebate for part of their 2011 coverage expenses by August 1, thanks to the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provision of the health care reform law.

The rule, effective since 2011, requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of small groups’ premium expenses on patient care and quality improvement. That limits what they’re allowed to spend on administrative costs to 20 percent of premium contributions. If carriers exceed that limit, they must make up for it by handing out rebates for the difference.

This provision is meant not only to put hard-earned money back in Americans’ pockets, but to help make the health coverage market more efficient by eliminating superfluous expenses. And a more efficient marketplace means coverage can be offered at more affordable prices. Walt Rowen, owner of Susquehanna Glass Co. in Philadelphia, Penn., has already seen dramatically lower premium increases directly related to the rule’s impact.

As the third-generation owner of his family’s 102-year-old glass decorating business, Walt has experienced a number of huge rate increases to his small group policy. Several years ago he was even quoted a 130 percent increase. But since the passage of health care reform, he has seen savings he’s been able to reinvest in his business. Last year, his insurance company told him that because it had exceeded the Affordable Care Act’s cap on administrative spending, he would only face a 4 percent rate increase. “That was by far the lowest increase we’ve had in years,” Walt said. “In fact, over the past decade, we faced 10 to 15 percent increases each year. Without this provision, health insurance would be out of our grasp, which is unacceptable.”

Walt is right — it is unacceptable that small businesses’ premium costs have spiraled so far out of control over the past decade that more and more of them are being robbed of their ability to afford coverage for deserving employees. It’s a problem of great magnitude, and not just for small businesses, but for the economy at large. Small firms create the majority of net new jobs in the United States. But when health coverage costs are bleeding them dry, how are they going to keep up that trend?

A nationwide average of $76 per enrollee are projected to go to over a quarter of small businesses, with the biggest average refunds in Alaska ($517), Alabama ($203) and Oregon ($172). Insurers in eight states including Hawaii, Minnesota and North Dakota met their spending targets and won’t be issuing rebates.

By holding insurance companies accountable for how they spend Americans’ premium dollars, the Affordable Care Act is improving upon the coverage market as we know it. And that’s something small employers have to be thankful for.

Terry Gardiner

Terry Gardiner

Original statement issued on April 5, 2012:

Small Business Majority and the Trust for America’s Health recently wrapped up a report with recommendations for ensuring small businesses have the resources they need to implement workplace wellness programs, which can minimize their coverage expenses by helping them maintain a healthy workforce. The report reflects a convening of business leaders, government officials, insurers, brokers and small business owners. Participants discussed provisions of the Affordable Care Act designed to help small business owners carry out wellness initiatives.

The group identified common challenges and opportunities that arise when advocating for and designing wellness programs for small businesses. They reviewed existing policies designed around wellness programs and also looked at new ones created under the federal healthcare law that have the potential to boost their effectiveness—specifically in the small business community.

Workplace wellness initiatives aren’t a new topic of discussion, and neither are the cost-saving opportunities they give employers. The real news is that the Affordable Care Act aims to boost incentives for small businesses to participate in wellness programs, through new policy avenues specifically suited to employers on the smaller end of the spectrum.

Below are the five sections of the report, with highlights from each.

1. The current landscape: Wellness programs for big businesses have a successful track record, but in the small business arena there’s a lack of data, awareness, resources and financial incentives that limits their presence.

2. Opportunities to improve uptake: The healthcare reform law provides opportunities to encourage small businesses to create wellness programs. For example, the state health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, will expand coverage to more small businesses and feature workplace wellness incentives.

3. The workplace wellness model: Participants developed a visual diagram that shows how all aspects of workplace wellness fit together and what stakeholders’ roles are in increasing using of these programs among small businesses.

4. Challenges ahead: To increase the number of small businesses using wellness programs, groups like local chambers of commerce, insurers and brokers can be helpful.

5. Conclusions and next steps: Overall, this is a complex issue but it’s well worth exploring in order to help our nation’s chief job creators. Making sure exchanges are implemented to include effective wellness initiatives will be key, as will participation from small business groups of every kind.

Read the report, “Striving for a Healthier America Through Availability and Uptake of Workplace Wellness Programs in the Small Business Community,” here.