Small-business summit marks legislative successes, goals

Health care costs, frivolous lawsuits key concerns
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The AVMA was among more than 300 small-business advocates who participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit—"Access2004"—held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 7-9.

The conference highlighted the small-business legislative and regulatory victories achieved during the past year and reaffirmed priorities for the entrepreneurial community for the 109th Congress, which will convene in January 2005.

The AVMA participates in such forums to stay abreast of common small-business issues and concerns. The Association takes a stand on the issues of most importance to its members, and can join formal coalitions through the U.S. Chamber.

Among the federal government officials in attendance were Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans; Hector V. Barreto, administrator of the Small Business Administration; Illinois Rep. Donald A. Manzullo, chairman of the House Small Business Committee; and North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick, vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Technology and the House.

The U.S. Chamber reviewed the small business legislative successes of 2004 in which it played an instrumental role. Under the heading of health care was enactment of Health Savings Accounts, House passage of the Small Business Health Fairness Act, and legislation that would cap punitive and noneconomic damages in medical liability cases.

The AVMA has designated the Small Business Health Fairness Act among its legislative priorities for active pursuit of passage.

With regard to tax reduction, the U.S. Chamber promoted the legislation passed by the House, which extends through 2007 the increased expensing of up to $100,000 of small-business assets and an increased phase-out threshold.

Small Business Administration 7(a) loans were expanded to $14 billion for fiscal year 2005. The AVMA was active in the Small Business Access to Capital Coalition, which was formed by the U.S. Chamber to lobby the House and Senate for this increased loan funding. According to the SBA, 350 to 400 veterinarians receive the 7(a) loans in any given year.

Workplace regulations continue to be another focus for small businesses. In the past year, the House passed four bills that assist small businesses in contesting alleged violations of standards set by the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration.

The House also passed legislation that would exempt from the No Fax Rule all fax communications between businesses with an established commercial relationship. Efforts to rescind the Labor Department's revised eligibility rules for overtime pay, which took effect in August, were defeated. The U.S. Chamber had supported the revised rules.

During the summit, attendees were electronically polled as to what they felt were the most pressing small-business issues for the upcoming year. Not surprisingly, the two major worries for small businesses continue to be health care costs and frivolous lawsuits.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation's report released Sept. 10, the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums grew an average of 11.2 percent in 2004, marking the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases. Premiums for health insurance jumped to five times the rate of both inflation and workers' earnings. Family health insurance coverage rose to an average of $9,950 annually. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Employee Benefits Survey for 2003 found that benefit costs averaged 39 percent of total payroll, up 40 percent from 2002. Medical benefits accounted for the largest percentage of employee benefit costs.

Frivolous lawsuits are an increasing worry for small-business owners. An informal electronic straw poll conducted during the summit revealed that 46 percent of the audience of small-business owners and associations have been the subject of a lawsuit.

Overall tort claims in 2002 cost the nation $233 billion, which amounts to approximately $800 for each person living in the United States. This is more than double the cost of other nations, according to a study by Tillinghast Towers Perin. In recognition of this problem, the AVMA has supported legislation such as The Small Business Liability Reform Act of 2003.

The AVMA's membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provides the benefits of up-to-the-minute advice on legislation and regulations affecting the small-business community.