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Premium Hikes Will Leave Small Businesses Hurting

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Americans depend on small businesses and entrepreneurs in many ways, such as their ability to offer innovative services and goods, and help grow the economy and jobs to name a few. Similarly, consumers have come to rely on health insurance companies to provide quality, affordable health care plans. Yet, the latter is not happening.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010, one of the main features sold to small businesses by its proponents was the promise of lower health insurance costs. Small businesses had long endured rising premiums, and the promise of lower costs, if kept, would provide much-needed relief to struggling firms. However, the opposite has occurred - premium costs are still rising, and businesses that signed up for plans (or had them imposed) are faced with a continuous slew of challenges. Despite affordable coverage, reports are showing that several major providers are requesting premium increases in the double digits. This will place an enormous burden on small businesses, their workforce, consumers, and ultimately the economy.

Recently, insurers' rate requests were revealed in several states. Providers in the Maine exchanges, including Aetna and Anthem, reportedly filed premium rate requests with increases of 14 to 24 percent for 2017. In Washington D.C., providers are requesting premium rates ranging anywhere from a 5.6 percent decrease to a 14.2 percent increase. On the west coast, projected rate increases for California are up to 8 percent. The largest rate request so far comes from Iowa, where Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield plans to raise premiums for their 30,000 enrollees by 38 to 43 percent.

Americans will have to wait until November 1 for final premium rates for individual states to be released, and they will most likely be much higher than what consumers and businesses should be paying for basic coverage. Two months is not nearly enough time for consumers and businesses to prepare for these increases, so the information needs to be released much sooner. With an unpredictable election cycle coming to a head, transparency from the government and insurers on 2017 prices is needed now more than ever. Moreover, businesses and consumers shouldn't be faced with burdens and uncertainties because of the outcome of poor health care policies.

Insurers cite financial losses and the unstable dynamics of the ACA as reasons for the surge in premium rates. The insurance industry can run to the federal government for help when the outcome of the ACA does not quite turn out the way they had planned when helping to design the policies, but small business owners have no one to turn to and are left trying to figure out how to provide coverage for their employees. If 2017 premiums are projected to increase at similar percentages, then what does that mean for 2018 and for small businesses and the tens of thousands of Americans who remain uninsured? This costly trend cannot be allowed to continue.

Small business is a cornerstone of American life and plays a vital role in our economy's vitality and growth. Rising premium rates - again, something that was not supposed to happen under ACA - make it increasingly more challenging for small businesses to compete, maintain insurance for their employees, or offer coverage to those who lack it. With 2017 right around the corner, it's time to start fixing the damages and broken policies that the ACA has inflicted upon businesses and entrepreneurs.

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