SA FIRMS TURN OUT TO BACK U.S. HEALTH CARE REFORM

Byline: ARTHUR FRIEDMAN

NEW YORK--The debate over national health insurance came to SA Monday.
Saying they were acting to "dispel the myth" that small business owners are opposed to universal coverage and employer mandates, a group of about 100 small business owners here--including fashion firms and contractor and labor groups--presented a letter to the New York Congressional delegation urging its support for comprehensive health care reform. The letter was signed by 850 New York area entrepreneurs.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), who formally accepted the letter, told the gathering at the showroom of Nicole Miller, 525 Seventh Ave., "This boat only comes to port once every 50 years, and it's up to Congress to act now or lose this opportunity for a system that works."
Rangel said he felt the House of Representatives would pass legislation that included coverage for all citizens, and shared responsibility between employers and employees to pay for the coverage, but was less certain what sort of legislation would be passed by the Senate.
"As small businesses, we cannot afford escalating health insurance premiums and the ever-increasing premiums and the ever-increasing costs of providing health care coverage for our employees," the letter said. "We can no longer ignore the structural defects in our system, which have left millions of Americans without adequate coverage, cast a cloud of fear and financial insecurity over both employers and employees, and created an unfair competitive edge for businesses who choose not to provide employees with basic health benefits."
The business owners, organized under the auspices of the Health Care Reform Project, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition dedicated to comprehensive health care reform, urged that any legislation include five main points: universal coverage; cost containment; simplification; full deductions for the self-employed, and a limit on employer contributions, as a percentage of payroll, to protect small businesses against potential price shock as they enter the system.
In addition to Nicole Miller, fashion firms signing the letter included Chetta B, Ellen Tracy, Bari Jay, Cuddlecoat, Gloria Gay Coats, L'Zinger International, Lady Carol Dresses, Orlin Sportswear and Vera Ladies Belt Co., as well as the ILGWU, the National Association of Blouse Manufacturers, the New York Skirt and Sportswear Association and the Greater Blouse, Skirt and Undergarment Association.
The keynote speaker for the meeting was Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who pointed out that the U.S. spends 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care, while the closest international competitors are spending just 5 to 7 percent.
"How can you compete in the global economy if you can't get a handle on these spiraling costs?" Brown asked. "The only way is universal coverage."
Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said that under universal coverage, the cost of insurance to the ILGWU's health and welfare fund should decrease, and as a result those savings should be passed on to companies such as his that contribute to the union's fund.
Konheim said that last year he paid $95,000 in health insurance premiums, while 75 employees each paid $1,000 minimum for health coverage, and $1,500 for health and dental coverage.
Konheim said he already has an employer mandate because he could not get good people to work for him if he didn't provide and help pay for health insurance. Under the reform legislation, he believes his costs would go down or at least be contained.

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