WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 1999 -- NFIB called the latest move by the sponsors of the leading HMO reform plan --a request for $7 billion in offsets to pay for the high costs associated with the plan -- further proof that it would hike health care premiums and drive more Americans to the ranks of the uninsured.

NFIB is strongly urging members of Congress to oppose H.R. 2723, sponsored by U.S. Reps. John Dingell (16th Dist.-Mich.) and Charles Norwood (10thDist.-Ga.), when it comes before the U.S. House of Representatives later this week. Small business opposes the bill because it fails to address accessibility and cost and would leave employers who provide health benefits open to lawsuits filed by employees who become dissatisfied with treatment decisions made by their HMOs.

Dingell and Norwood recently filed an amendment to offset the costs associated with H.R. 2723, acknowledging that health care premiums could rise as a result of the new requirements their bill places on managed care companies. Businesses that offer health insurance to their employees can deduct the costs of the premiums from their tax returns. The offsets would cover the revenue losses estimated to result from the increased deductions for higher medical premiums.

"Cost is by far the No. 1 threat to existing health coverage and the greatest barrier to improved coverage," said Dan Danner, vice president of federal public policy for NFIB. "The Dingell/Norwood plan utterly fails to address costs. In fact, today's request for offsets to cover the high costs associated with the plan is further proof that it completely ignores the real crisis in health care today -- the uninsured."

A Census Bureau study released yesterday shows that more than one million Americans were added to the ranks of the uninsured in 1998, bringing the total to 44.3 million -- three out of five of whom are from families headed by someone who is self-employed or works for a small firm.

NFIB is calling on members of Congress to vote for the Quality Care For The Uninsured Act (H.R. 2990), introduced by U.S. Rep. James Talent (2ndDist.-Mo.). The Act would increase the number of Americans with health insurance by giving small businesses the right to band together to purchase health insurance through association health plans, providing tax benefits to individuals who purchase their own health coverage, and enhancing medical savings accounts.

"Mr. Dingell and Mr. Norwood are clearly acknowledging that their legislation will lead to higher health care costs and add even more Americans to the ranks of the uninsured," Danner said.

The National Federation of Independent Business is 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 Mindi Boyagian at 202.554.9000.