Friday, June 26, 2009

In Washington, DC, lobbying for health care reform

It's been a while since I posted; didja miss me? It's been a really, really busy couple of weeks, with important work going on.

I just returned from Washington, D.C., where I joined 80 small business owners from twenty states to lobby our Congressional delegations on health care reform. There were four of us from Montana, and we spoke with staffers in Senator Baucus' and Rep. Rehberg's offices and met with Senator Tester himself.

Small business owners from across the state have been contacting me since I was elected to talk about health care. In many cases, coverage is too expensive for them to offer health insurance to their employees, but health insurance is a deal-breaker for workers. They might be perfectly suited for a job, but will hire on to a company that offers health care rather than one that doesn't. Health care coverage has become a competitive advantage--or disadvantage--to businesses.

I've helped pass laws in the Montana Legislature to expand health coverage, including an expansion of Insure Montana, a program that small businesses can use to group together to buy health insurance for their employees in a larger pool, when ordinarily, they could not afford the policies individually.

In Montana, small business is defined as one with one hundred employees or fewer; for the vast majority of our business, that's the standard. And small business, Main Street Montana, is the engine that keeps this state running.

Every small business owner in our group supported and lobbied for a public option to be included in the health care reform bill.

In Washington, D.C., Shahid Haque-Hasrath, an immigration attorney in Helena, Montana, and Mike Craighill, a restaurant owner from Billings, joined me in lobbying our Congressmen. Shahid would like to hire on some paralegals and clerks and add attorneys to his law firm, but he cannot afford health insurance for his employees. Mike has two restaurants, and he and his wife had to cash out--at a significant loss--their retirement savings to pay medical debts. They still cannot afford health insurance, after their premiums doubled one year, then doubled again the year after that, with no major medical costs, no reason.

From other small business owners across the nation, there are similar stories. Chris Peterson, a family farmer in Iowa, told us that he recently he needed hernia surgery. The surgery was pre-approved by his insurance company, but after the surgery, the company wouldn't pay. They denied the claim after approving it initially, dropped Chris and his wife's policy, and Chris was left to pay all of the medical costs. He could participate in Iowa's pool for uninsured people--at $1300 a month in premiums--so really, he cannot participate in that plan. It's prohibitively expensive. Chris says, "For what private insurance has done to me and my family, I'll trust the government to do a much better job for health insurance."

Dan Sherry owns an engraving store in Illinois. When he interviews for jobs in his shop, he considers someone's skills and pay. But the question that ends the interview, he says, is whether or not he can provide his future employee health care. It's the deal breaker, he says. He may have the perfect graphic designer in the interview, but that person goes to work for his competition, who can offer (minimal) health coverage. Dan and and his wife had paid premiums to a health insurance company for twenty-one years, and during a particularly busy time at their business, his wife missed just one payment to the company. They were promptly dropped from coverage. They rejoined the company, at a much higher rate than they'd been paying, and for Dan's high blood pressure medication, his claim was denied as a pre-existing condition, uninsurable. For missing one payment in 21 years.

There are similar--or worse--stories from thousands more people.

The important thing is to include a public option in health care reform. Small business owners ask for it, and so do 47 million Americans currently with no health care coverage at all.

More soon on my individual meetings with our Congressmen.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Let There Be Light

As part of the re-roofing/home improvement, there's now a light tube (a self-contained skylight) called a solatube at the top of the stairs in my home. It's just an unbelievable difference. I'm convinced I could light my entire home with solatubes and natural light refracted through these structures.

Lo, the power of refraction. Two sets of before-and-after photos:

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

NCAA Rules and Montana Gambling Laws--All's Well

This afternoon, I was in a meeting about small business cost for health insurance for employees, and my phone rang (silently). When I checked the message twenty minutes later, it was a call about NCAA championship events in states where gambling on sports is legal. Montana does offer legalized gambling, but no betting on live games.

The issue arises from some court decisions in other states recently, Oregon, Nevada, and Delaware, where NCAA events and state gambling laws have come into conflict. But Montana prohibits live game betting and internet gambling. We prohibit any betting by student athletes, coaches, university personnel on the outcome of games. The Montana Lottery does have fantasy sports games, and has had them since 1991, but the game was on race cars until recently.

I called the Sports Information Director at Montana State University, Bill Lamberty, a friend of mine for many years and a fellow member of the MSU Bobcat Football Stat Crew (I've been on the stat crew 19 years!) He explained that the NCAA has taken a position against sports gambling, and that the NCAA language applies only to actual game betting as the criterion for hosting a post-season championship game.

I called the Montana Lottery and left a message for the director to call. Then I called the University of Montana Law School. I spoke with David Aronofsky, UM Legal Counsel, who graciously described the issue.

The NCAA language says, “No session of an NCAA championship may be conducted in a metropolitan area with legal wagering that is based upon the outcome of any event (i.e., high school, college or professional) in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship.”

It seems that the NCAA is reviewing state laws across the nation after a decision last month in Delaware.

Aronofsky is working with the NCAA, and he is confident that Montana law is sound and does not conflict with NCAA rules. If there is some conflict, a bill could be introduced in the legislature to clarify state law.

I'm confident that, after a review, the NCAA will find that Montana teams and athletes comply with state law and NCAA rules, and that there is no conflict.
Montanans follow the rules. We'll comply with state law, federal law, NCAA rules, and any other good sporting policy.

Aronofsky will continue working with the NCAA and their rules that determine eligibility for holding championship games.

Two Smarts in One Family (well, more than that!)

My 92-year-old Grampa rode in my smartcar a few weeks ago, and was quite taken with it. So much so that he's buying one himself.

I've been handling the details for him with the same dealer that sold me my smartcar. I had the smart in Helena during the session, when parking is at a premium and the rolling, climbing streets are icy. The smart did very well!

I'll go to Utah to pick up Gramp's smartcar and drive it back to Montana for him. It'll match mine, almost exactly; just one feature different: Gramp decided on a single CD player instead of the six-CD changer I have!

My smartcar gets 40 miles per gallon and is a diminutive 5x8 feet. It's a sporty little number, much like myself. Rear wheel drive, with the engine in the back over the back wheels, it had better traction and control than many pickups or light SUVs this winter. The rear wheel base is a bit wider than the front wheels, too, so the vehicle sits solidly on the road. Heated leather seats, rear defroster, panorama roof with screen. It has a gasoline engine, and smart corporation plans to release an electric model in the US in a year or so. I think it's particularly funny that there's a car alarm if the vehicle is picked up off the ground. Spose the college prank factor came into play with that feature?

Go small, go green, everybody. It's as roomy inside as any other car. The passenger cabin is as roomy as anything else; it's just that there's no back seat and no trunk. There is plenty of room for cargo; I loaded six big boxes in the back, and still had all of the passenger seat to fill. I can easily get grocery bags, shopping, whatever in the back.

It's good to be smart.

Monday, June 01, 2009

In with the New (Roof)

Big doings lately. My house is being re-roofed, so while there's the opportunity, along with new shingles we're installing a solar hot water system. There'll be a solar panel on the roof to heat water in a new high-efficiency tank. We're also putting in a solatube for some natural light. Not a skylight; an enclosed tube, low-profile on the roof, for some illumination in a dark stairwell.

Harnessing the power of the sun!

Some photos of the process: