ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We're following the nationwide debate over health care through the experiences of people in one Maryland county - Howard County near Baltimore. Lisa Jolles has a stake in this discussion in several ways. She and her husband owned a small business, so they're affected by the employer mandate that's in the House Democrats' bill. And their small business is an insurance brokerage, so they're very directly affected by it. Welcome back to the program, Lisa Jolles.
Ms. LISA JOLLES (Jolles Insurance): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, talk to me, as a small business owner with a payroll, the requirement is to provide health insurance or pay a penalty if your payroll's over a quarter of a million, and it goes up to eight percent if you have a $400,000 payroll. Would any of that change the way you do business with your own employees?
Ms. JOLLES: Well, not us personally, except that the provision, I think what most employers do is they obviously try to provide insurance at least for the employee. I see more employers that are providing it. We pay a good percentage, almost all of the employee portion, but we do not pay towards dependents. Part of that mandate is that we're also responsible for contributing a portion towards dependents.
SIEGEL: And you think a lot small businesses that employ people around you and Howard County would have a problem with that?
Ms. JOLLES: Possibly, it depends on how you want to allocate your resources. In other words, you know, if we're going to say we're going to contribute $500 towards their employee benefits, well, that's medical, dental, disability, short term, whatever we're contributing, so we can only slice it and dice it so many ways.
SIEGEL: Can you imagine small businesses trying to game these limits, that is, if you can get your payroll down by calling some people who are now employees, independent contractors or form smaller companies.
Ms. JOLLES: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we had a company recently that just - they, you know, had a meeting, they told everyone we can't afford it anymore and then what they're doing now is they're - they did have another company that was, you know, kind of a dormant Maryland incorporated company, they're bringing that in. They're putting the two owners on there and two other employees, key employees that they wanted to cover and they'll find ways around it.
SIEGEL: Okay, I can see that small businesses with tight payrolls would resist the idea that they have to contribute more toward their employees' insurance. But on the other hand...
Ms. JOLLES: Right.
SIEGEL: ...you're an insurance brokerage. All those healthy 20-somethings out there are subject under the House bill to an individual mandate. The market of people who are going to be having to buy health insurance would, in theory, increase under this bill. Wouldn't you get more business that way?
Ms. JOLLES: Yes, if you sell individual and group insurance, definitely. That's the basic premise that I would think needs to happen. Because, obviously, if everybody is covered, then we don't have the problem with people using the emergency rooms as their doctors and other people paying for it. We also have less adverse selection. So we have more people for the insurance companies to insure, which spreads the risk more. I mean, it solves a tremendous amount of issues.
SIEGEL: What about the idea of the public health insurance plan?
Ms. JOLLES: Well, I don't know that it would operate like they think it would. I mean, we think it would obviously decrease competition because we think that it would kind of be an unlevel playing field.
SIEGEL: You just assume that a public health insurance plan would be marketed through, I don't know who, the Social Security administration or the regional HHS office, not through...
Ms. JOLLES: Right.
SIEGEL: ...not through commercial insurance brokers.
Ms. JOLLES: That's the way that I'm interpreting it. And I don't want to create too much offense here, but if you want something that you can, you know, purchase from nine to five and off on weekends and off on government holidays, I mean, that's going to be our government system.
SIEGEL: Well, Lisa Jolles, thank you very much for talking with us once again.
Ms. JOLLES: You're welcome, thanks so much.
SIEGEL: That's Lisa Jolles of Jolles Insurance in Ellicott City, Maryland, which is in Howard County, where we've been following the progress of the health care debate.
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