SB 125 is the first step in controlling health costs
New Hampshire recently took a major step toward returning stability and fairness to our small business health insurance market when I signed into law Senate Bill 125 earlier this month. This legislation undoes the onerous provisions of legislation known as SB 110, which, although well intentioned, sent health insurance rates for many small businesses across New Hampshire skyrocketing higher. This new law provides relief to small businesses by returning stability and fairness to the small business health insurance market. This law ends the ability of health insurance companies to discriminate against sick workers. It prohibits insurance companies from dramatically increasing rates on small businesses just because of where they are located in New Hampshire. No longer will a small business face the uncertainty or unfairness of having their rates jacked up when an employee becomes sick or has a chronic condition. This legislation was only possible because a broad and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers heard the voices of small businesses across New Hampshire, put partisanship aside and focused on making real progress for our citizens. Now we need to bring that same cooperation and focus to reducing the overall growth in health-care costs. Repealing SB 110 was an important step — but it was just a first step. It was the beginning of the discussion. Our economy, our businesses and our citizens cannot afford for it to be the end. The health-care cost increases that we are seeing are not sustainable. The underlying costs of the health-care system, referred to as trend and utilization, are expected to increase 15 to 18 percent in the coming year. This will impact all private insurance plans, big or small, individual or corporate. While SB 125 returns fairness and stability to the health insurance market for our small businesses, it does not address the fundamental problem of rapidly rising health-care costs that are propelling health insurance costs higher and higher. Spiraling health-care costs are not just a New Hampshire problem. Every area of the country and every segment of our economy are suffering from the same problem. These increases are driven by a number of factors, from the transferred costs of the uninsured, demographics of an aging population, costs of new medical techniques, and administrative inefficiencies in our health-care delivery system. We must carefully consider each of these factors as we work to develop a coherent public health policy that will begin to slow the rate of increase in health-care costs. That is why I have created “The New Hampshire’s Citizens Health Initiative.” Building on work begun by the Endowment for Health, this initiative will examine the many complex issues behind rising health-care costs and recommend ways we as a state can work together to reduce that growth. The initiative will focus on three main areas: public health; health-care quality and efficiency; and how we finance health care. Our long-term goal is to make sure New Hampshire people are the healthiest in the nation, where our medical care meets the highest quality standards, where we deliver efficient and scientifically sound medical care, where the costs of the system are transparent, and where growth in costs is controlled. With SB 125, we have taken the first step toward providing some rate stability for our small businesses. I will work closely with the Insurance Department to ensure a smooth transition to this new law and to monitor closely insurance company increases in the period before it goes into effect in January. The Legislature has also established an oversight committee to evaluate the impact of SB 125 on the marketplace. But harder tasks lie ahead. Working together, Republicans and Democrats, insurers and providers, hospitals, doctors and employers, we can improve the system of health care that we provide our citizens and rein in the unsustainable rate of growth in health insurance premiums. John Lynch is governor of New Hampshire.