AARP Helps Small Firms Advocate for Health Care Reform

The National Federation of Independent Business has teamed up with the largest advocacy group for older Americans to aggressively push health-care reform in Congress.

AARP President Bill Novelli noted at NFIB's Washington conference today that while the two groups previously were at odds over health legislation, they have found common ground.

Novelli, who founded the now-global firm Porter Novelli told the audience of mostly small business owners, that he understood where they were coming from reminiscing about his days as an entrepreneur who vexed over making payroll while putting on the coffee pot in the morning.

Novelli said the two groups have had fruitful talks, which has led the AARP to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who is the top Republican on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. The bill is known as the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP Act.

Novelli said AARP will aggressively court Congress to support the measure.

"Many people are just an illness away from financial ruin," said Novelli, who added that it's important to make some headway on the legislation this year to lay the groundwork for a new Congress and administration.

The Durbin-Snowe bill supports affordable health care, including prescription drugs as well as making wellness and prevention issues a matter of national priority.

Novelli's speech was met with wide applause throughout, but his quip to "leave no child with a big behind," elicited some groans from the audience.

He noted that the first Baby Boomer, born Jan. 1, 1946, received her first Social Security check this year, paving the way for her 78 million peers.

Only one-fifth of workers have a 401(k) type plan, Novelli said, adding that the typical balance in those retirement accounts is $35,000, a paltry sum for most Americans to live on during their retirement years.

"The generation following the Boomers will be worse off than their parents for the first time in America's history," he said.

The NFIB and AARP a few years ago were on opposite sides of health care legislation, with the AARP opposing a health care bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.). Novelli said his group had concerns that the Enzi bill would cause increased health care premiums and create disincentives for businesses to hire older workers.

Clarification: AARP said it intends to lobby on the Durbin-Snowe bill but not as part of the Divided We Fail coalition. Some text above has been updated to reflect this change.

By Sharon McLoone |  June 9, 2008; 12:10 PM ET Regulation Legislation
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