WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 1999 -- At a Capitol Hill press conference this afternoon, Baltimore businesswoman Ann Casey urged the Senate to reject "Patients' Bill of Rights" legislation sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, Mass. "The only 'rights' this bill would confer on my husband and me is the right to lose our health coverage," said Casey, co-owner of Parcel Place. Casey and her husband are the owners, and sole employees, of the small proprietorship on Honey go Boulevard.

The Senate opens debate today on the Kennedy bill that seeks to strengthen federal regulation of the health care industry. Key provisions of the bill would require all health policies to cover specific conditions -- such as mental illnesses -- often not included in basic coverage agreements. The bill also would allow patients to sue their health plans if they were dissatisfied with benefit claims decisions. Opponents of the measure, including NFIB, the nation's leading small business group, warn that such provisions will unnecessarily raise insurance costs, making coverage unaffordable for many Americans.

"My husband and I are only two of the hundreds of thousands of small business owners and employee who would be stripped of our coverage if this bill should pass," Casey said. "Our health premiums already stand at $300 a month. We are 'on the bubble' of health-care affordability. Even the smallest increase needlessly triggered by this bill would burst this precious bubble, leaving my husband and me with no sense of health security, whatsoever.

"Sen. Kennedy and his supporters argue that analyses of his bill showing it would raise coverage costs by 10 percent are off base. That the true cost would be only half that amount," Casey noted. "I'm here to say that a five percent price hike in health care is a big deal to me and others in my position. It's the difference between having basic coverage and having no coverage at all. To Sen. Kennedy and his colleagues I say, 'Please, please, don't strip us of our health coverage'."

Casey was one of three small business owners brought together at the news conference by NFIB. Also speaking at the event was Sen. Don Nickles, Okla., chief sponsor of an alternative "Patients' Bill of Rights" proposal that omits most of the expensive mandates and the expanded legal liability provisions of the Kennedy bill.

For more than a decade, surveys by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) have found that small business owners rank health insurance costs as the greatest single problem facing their firms. Gaining passage of legislation that will expand health coverage by lowering health care costs for small firms is a top legislative goal for the group.

NFIB the nation's largest small business advocacy group. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1943, NFIB represents the consensus views of its 600,000 members in Washington and all 50 state capitals. More information is available online at www.nfib.com.

CONTACT: Mary Mead Crawford or Jim Weidman at 202.554.9000