Bush Backs 4A’s on Health Insurance

A top official at the American Association of Advertising Agencies met with President Bush last week to discuss a bill that would allow small-to-midsize shops to get health insurance through their business associations.

The issue is key for smaller agencies as they face escalating premiums, said Dick O’Brien, 4A’s evp in Washington, who was among some 100 small-business owners and experts at the Wednesday meeting. “Something as mundane as health insurance has slowed down the entrepreneurial juice that lets people open their own agencies,” he said.

The Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2003 passed the House last May but is stalled in the Senate. O’Brien wants 4A’s members to lobby the Senate to get the bill passed.

The 4A’s stopped offering health insurance to its members eight years ago, when states imposed conflicting rules. If the bill passes, some 225 of the 4A’s 600 total members would benefit, saving them $10-15 million a year collectively, O’Brien said. Bush, who supports the bill, told the group it would allow small businesses to “bind together … to negotiate lower health-insurance rates and cover more workers.”

Bob Gardner, president of 65-person independent Gardner Geary Coll in San Francisco, faces a 20-30 percent increase in health premiums this year. “Either we have our employees pay more or go to higher deductibles or fewer benefits,” he said.