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The Oregonian
Aelea Christofferson

Although it's good to see The Oregonian editorial board coming out in favor of the concept of Oregon's health insurance exchange, I'm afraid that the board is too optimistic about the current bill in the Legislature that would create one, Senate Bill 99. Without serious improvements -- which the Oregon House has the opportunity to make -- Oregon's exchange will not relieve small businesses of the crushing cost of health care.

I own a small business in Sunriver and have driven to Salem many times over the years to provide state officials with a small-business perspective about Oregon's health insurance exchange. Those trips weren't convenient, but I did it because the exchange is so important to small businesses like mine.

Health care has become a huge problem for my business and my employees. I've offered my employees health insurance since I first opened my business. Since 1991, we've seen a 600 percent increase in our health care costs. I spend hours each year pouring over our options, but the prices are outrageous. We need coverage that's actually affordable.

Not only has the cost of health care increased faster than any other cost for our business, but the coverage is simply inadequate. My employees range from a 21-year-old man in good health, a 30-year-old mother with four kids, and a 61-year-old woman. A one-size-fits-all plan with the same deductible will not work for my diverse workforce. We need more choices, and they must be meaningful ones that actually meet peoples' needs. I know mine is not the only small business in Oregon in that boat. There are thousands of us in this position.

In order to address these challenges, an Oregon health insurance exchange must have the power to negotiate with insurance companies for the best plans at the best price. Without the power to negotiate, the exchange will be little more than a well-designed website with the same expensive choices and spotty coverage that we currently have.

Which is why it's so shocking that the Oregon Senate passed an exchange bill that not only doesn't empower the exchange to negotiate, it actually prohibits the exchange from negotiating for a better price.

The current bill appears to have completely ignored the testimony and input from hundreds of small-business owners from across the state. Instead, the bill bows to the interests of the numerous insurance company executives and agents who have filled every legislative room during this process. They even agreed to have insurance executives on the exchange's board of directors.

So I have to ask: Whose side is the Legislature on here? Is cost control for small businesses a focus for legislators or not? Why are Oregon's senators so against giving small businesses more power in the health insurance market?

The Oregonian editorial board correctly noted that the Oregon House of Representatives can correct this problem. So I ask my representative and the 59 other members of the Oregon House: Please stand up for Oregon's small businesses and give us a health insurance exchange that negotiates for a better deal. That's the best thing you can do to help us out.

Aelea Christofferson is founder of ATL Communications in Sunriver.

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