When asked to identify some of their biggest challenges, small business owners in Connecticut and across the country have said for more than a decade that one of the greatest is the prohibitively high cost of providing health insurance. 

According to recent surveys, more than half of Connecticut’s small businesses cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees. Small businesses that do provide insurance pay significantly more than large companies that have the advantage of being able to buy for a larger pool.  And the uninsured find that individual coverage is the most expensive in the market.

So with Connecticut beginning the process of creating a health insurance exchange established under federal health care reform to provide a marketplace for the uninsured to find affordable, quality health insurance, small business and consumer advocates were hopeful that relief was coming.

But the board that will oversee the exchange, named in August by the governor and legislative leadership does not include any representatives of small business or consumer groups. 

The repeated requests of advocates for small business and consumers to be included in the exchange board membership have been met with resistance. Why not see how the board does its work before finding fault?  Why are we making such a big deal about the membership of this exchange?

For small businesses like mine, the health insurance exchange is a last best hope. Like small businesses across the state and the country, I’ve worked long and hard to support national reform and appropriate state programs and options. This state-based exchange has already been too long in the making. While this board membership may have the best intentions for our constituent groups, it makes far more sense for us to participate in the discussions than to comment on them afterwards.

One solution, suggested by both the governor and legislative leaders, is to pass legislation specifically adding more seats to the board. To be fair, the federal regulations establishing the boards are quite clear that consumers and small businesses should have a majority vote. But if further clarity is needed, let’s do it. 

And what more appropriate time to add small business and individual consumer voices to the exchange than in the “jobs” bill to be taken up in the upcoming special legislative session?

The success of small businesses will be a major factor in Connecticut’s economic recovery, but we cannot succeed without access to quality, affordable health insurance. And it is only right that the groups who will be the most directly affected by the health insurance exchange have a voice in deciding the kind of health insurance we need.

Small businesses and individual consumers aren’t being unreasonable.  We are asking for a seat at the table where important decisions that directly affect us are being made. It is an issue of democracy and simple fairness.

Kevin Galvin is the owner of Connecticut Commercial Maintenance, and chairman of Small Business For A Healthy Connecticut.