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Coleman to discuss health care costs with small business owners in Bemidji

Small business owners could cut health care costs with targeted tax credits, expanded risk pools and more predictable premiums under legislation offered by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

Small business owners could cut health care costs with targeted tax credits, expanded risk pools and more predictable premiums under legislation offered by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

Coleman, R-Minn., will be in Bemidji on Friday to hear from local employers on health care issues and take input on his bill.

He will meet with local entrepreneurs, small business employees and community officials 1:15-2:45 p.m. at Bemidji City Hall. He comes to Bemidji after holding similar sessions Friday morning at Hutchinson and Marshall.

"Access to affordable health care has been a major concern of Minnesotan small businesses for some time now, and with the current economic downturn it is more important than ever," Coleman said Wednesday in a statement.

Earlier this month, Coleman introduced the Small Business Health Options Program Act, joined by Sens. Dick Durban, D-Ill., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

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It's the second time the Minnesota Republican has launched an effort to help small businesses with soaring health care costs. In 2006, he offered the Small Business Health Plan which would have allowed small business owners to band together through their trade or industry associations to insure their employees using small business health plans.

The bill would have pooled small business groups, using their combined power to leverage negotiations for affordable health care benefits. The measure failed to receive the 60 votes necessary to move it along in a Democrat procedural shuffle, and disagreement over the trigger point of the number of employees a small business could have to join the pool.

The latest effort, SHOP Act, sets up a five-year process that ultimately allows small businesses to choose between two insurance markets. States will establish statewide purchasing pools for small businesses to purchase private health insurance. Also, businesses will have an option of purchasing health insurance in a national private health insurance pool.

SHOP also imposes state-based and national rating restrictions in the small business health insurance market and provides a tax credit to businesses to make insurance more affordable, according to information about the bill. More than half of the nation's uninsured workers are either self-employed or work in businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

"Small businesses are the primary job creators in the nation, so the success of our economy hinges greatly on the success of these businesses," Coleman said. "In order to help ensure their vitality, we need to provide small businesses with the support they need to provide affordable health care for their hard-working employees."

There are currently 41.7 million employees working in 5.8 million small businesses in the United States, he said.

In addition to allowing small businesses the option of a range of private health plans that have to compete for business, SHOP Act would provide small business owners with an annual tax credit of up to $1,000 per employee -- $2,000 for family coverage -- if they pay for 60 percent of their employees' premiums. And they'd get a bonus tax credit if they pay for more than 60 percent.

SHOP would also allow the self-employed to purchase insurance in the same pool as small businesses.

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"These events will allow me to hear their concerns, discuss potential solutions and continue my dialogue with small business owners and employees about this important issue," Coleman said of his three-city tour on Friday.

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