House healthcare legislation would help small businesses

The proposed legislation includes a number of provisions — such as a high-risk pool to be formed in 2010 that would provide small businesses with immediate relief — and a robust national exchange that would be of great benefit to small businesses, especially the self-employed. Mr. Young’s article does not reflect the perspective of small-business owners who will gain the most from H.R. 3962.

Those same businesses also stand to lose the most if a substantive reform bill is not passed this year. Economic research we released over the summer, based on modeling by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, shows that without reform, small businesses will spend $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years on healthcare costs and lose $52.1 billion in profits.

Additionally, opinion polling we recently conducted in 17 states reveals small-business owners are not afraid of reform. On the contrary, an average of 67 percent believe reform is necessary to fix the economy, and the majority want reform that contains costs and offers choice and convenience. It’s not healthcare reform that small businesses fear, but a continuation of the status quo.

Small businesses are languishing under the current system due to exorbitant premiums and double-digit annual increases. It’s vital that legislators and journalists alike take all the voices of small business into account —they are the ones who will suffer the most if reform fails.

From John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO, Small Business Majority, Washington

Misguided efforts on chemical safety

(Regarding op-ed, “Bill would protect chemical plants,” by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., in “Special Report: Homeland Security,” Oct. 28.) We agree with Chairman Thompson that we live in a dangerous world, and our industry continues to work effectively with the government to protect our citizens, property and our economy.

But the House now seems determined to fix a federal security system for protecting chemical, agricultural and energy facilities that is not broken. The result could raise costs, kill jobs and hurt the businesses and consumers who depend on our products — and ultimately undermine the security it seeks to strengthen.

Lawmakers are due to vote on a new regulatory regime called Inherently Safer Technology (IST) when they vote on chemical security legislation. As the name suggests, the intent behind IST is to upgrade with safer technologies, which usually means chemical substitution or a reduction in the amount of hazardous chemicals used in processing.

While the concept may sound good, this mandate is seriously flawed. IST would increase or simply shift risk, such as when a facility reduces its inventory of a chemical only to see it stored where it poses a greater risk to people and property, such as in transit.

Chemical security is best pursued as a holistic program that uses comprehensive risk management systems, in which IST is inherent. Such an approach enables a facility to assess the overall risk and then determine the best suite of options to use to reduce that risk. The comprehensive approach is superior to government mandates on specific substances, because it enables a facility to continually analyze all of its risks and reduce those to the lowest practical level.

The chemicals we are talking about are already regulated under EPA, OSHA, and state agencies. Imposing an IST regime would likely raise refinery operating costs. Higher costs could make it more difficult for domestic refineries to compete with foreign companies in countries that do not have similar regulations. If refineries and processing facilities moved offshore, it could leave consumers more dependent on foreign sources for refined petroleum products like gasoline, food products and medicines.

Since the Chemical Security and Safety Act of 2006 was enacted, thousands of facilities have improved their security under the current standards. We urge lawmakers to resist efforts that would undermine a system that is working, and instead, to simply extend the existing standards.

From Robin Rorick, director, marine and security, American Petroleum Institute, Washington