Reimagining Health Care

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Affordability, predictability, and flexibility were three themes reiterated at the Feb. 7 hearing held by the House Committee on Small Business entitled “Reimagining the Health Care Marketplace for America’s Small Business.” It was held for the purpose of taking a look at the current marketplace and its recent difficulties, and to explore options to improve access, affordability, and consistency.

While no clear legislative path has yet been paved, many facts, figures, and ideas were floated around regarding how to ensure that small business is not an afterthought in the revamping of the healthcare system. Solutions presented and discussed at the hearing included tax credits for small business, across state line coverage, and Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

Here is more about the items discussed.

  • Tax credits for the self-employed: As the Tax Code currently stands, self-employed individuals are restricted from deducting their health insurance premiums. Small, self-employed business owners end up paying more for health insurance because their premiums are not treated the same for taxes as other businesses.

Leveling the playing field by giving these small businesses tax credits would improve affordability for small business owners, as well as expand the pool of coverage, according to Keith Hall of the National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE).

  • Across state line coverage: The number of insurers participating in the marketplace varies widely from state to state, as do the number of coverage plans. The lack of competition among insurers in the current exchanges decreases pressure to keep costs down.

Mr. Hall of the NASE believes that allowing for the sale of health insurance across state lines will boost competition, driving costs down. In order for this to happen, Congress will have to enact a health plan that will modify the existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines.

  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs): A provision of a law signed into Congress last session allows small employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees that do not offer a group health plan to fund employee HRAs to pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses and for non-group plan health insurance premiums, including plans purchased on the public health care exchanges.

Allowing small businesses to offer a bare bones plan and HSAs would allow individuals to decide the best choice for themselves and their families, according to Tom Secor of Durable Corporation, who testified on behalf of the National Small Business Association (NSBA).

This hearing was the first of a continuing series that will take place on the discussion of healthcare repeal and replacement. To read full written testimony from each witness here.

Gloria Larkin, WIPP’s National Partner of the Month – February 2017

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Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, has been a staunch ally of WIPP for years. She leads GiveMe5 webinars, responds quickly and effectively to WIPP’s calls to action, and is always on the lookout for new WIPP members. It’s thanks to people like Gloria that WIPP thrives!

Read our Q&A with Gloria to learn more about her and her work.

Q: Tell us a little about TargetGov and its mission

A: TargetGov is celebrating its 20th year in business in 2017! Our mission is to help small, mid-sized and large government contractors win business and aggressively grow their companies. Our clients have won over $3.9 billion in federal contracts in just the last five years.

Q: Have you always been an entrepreneur? If not, what inspired you to take the leap?

A: I have been both an employee and an entrepreneur. I took the leap 20 years ago because I wanted to do something that no one else was doing—help businesses see great success and increase their revenues with a targeted, proactive marketing and business development process.

Q: Have you encountered challenges you had to overcome as a business woman and if so, what have you learned from them?

A: The challenges have been constant, and access to capital is one of the biggest. Through the years, I have had several business loans to grow my business, and none of them were the amount I asked for. It’s an issue even to this day. In applying for a line of credit, I was offered less than half of what I thought it should be. I had the chutzpah to say exactly the amount I thought they should give me (more than double what they offered) and was pleasantly surprised that they agreed. In the past I wouldn’t have pushed, but now, I do.

Q: Do you have a success story that you are particularly proud of? Tell us about it!

A: My proudest moments are when our clients contact us and tell us of their awarded contracts and successful business growth. It feels like my children are successful and I am one proud parent! The first billion was a heady milestone. Now as we see the four-billion milestone coming this year, we are ecstatic about their success!

Q: What is the biggest lesson learned working with the federal government?

A: The biggest lesson is that the federal government market is constantly changing. The rules and regulations are burdensome, yes, but success is predicated on having a strategy and plan that addresses this constant change and adapts proactively, with a trackable, measureable and scalable process. Seeing it work in real life is extraordinary!

Q: Do you have any tips you would like to share with women pursuing federal contracts?

A: This is a demanding market and one must be well prepared, have a well-thought-out roadmap, the discipline to execute it, and measurable actions to track success. This is truly the market in which you can think BIG and see results. But it takes effort and knowledge; use the experts to help you!

Q: Tell us about your experience as a WIPP member. What resources and value has WIPP provided that has been helpful to you and your company?

A: WIPP has truly changed my life. I started getting involved as a committee chair, then learned how to talk to my Congress people. I participated in virtually every area WIPP works in and found a home on the procurement committee. Then I worked my way onto the government board, and then to Chair of the Educational Foundation. Thanks to WIPP, I have testified before the House Small Business Committee, and traveled to more than 15 states and had lifetime trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Japan and Oxford, England to speak or work with women in those counties. Working to start the GiveMe5 program, and supporting it through the years has been a great highlight. WIPP has impacted more than 30,000 women business owners through GiveMe5! And I am deeply honored to have many WIPP members as clients and heart-felt friends.

Guest Post: ONBOARD Program Revolutionizing the Board Diversity Problem

By Michael Morales, White House Fellow, U.S. Small Business Administration

Diversity of thought and experience on corporate leadership teams boost company innovation, resiliency and growth. Gender and racially diverse individuals, for example, bring a variety of thought to their workplaces by virtue of their backgrounds and experiences.

A 2015 McKinsey study of 366 public companies in the Unites States, United Kingdom, Canada and Latin America, titled “Diversity Matters,” found that “diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts market share towards more diverse companies.” It determined that companies in the top quartile of gender and racial diversity were 15 percent and 35 percent (respectively) more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median.

Unfortunately, despite this strong correlation between diversity and performance, today’s corporate boardrooms do not reflect the diversity of our population. McKinsey’s study concluded that women account for just 16 percent of executive team members in the United States and that 97 percent of American companies have senior leadership teams that fail to reflect the demographic composition of the country’s labor force and population.

Many organizations and experts passionate about addressing this issue have concluded this is a demand rather than a supply problem. I agree. My own work in this space has exposed me to a deep pool of diverse talent and domain expertise ready and eager to contribute their ideas and experiences to corporate boards across the country.

On the demand side, however, the fact is that public companies, particularly those in the Fortune 1000 cohort, do not have high boardroom turnover and are unlikely to add board seats simply to diversify their executive teams. In addition, boardroom recruitment is largely a word-of-mouth exercise demonstrating that who knows you often matters as much as what you know.

To address the demand issue, while continuing to develop and grow the supply side of the diverse talent equation, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) developed a new initiative: the Open Network for Board Diversity (ONBOARD). We approached LinkedIn as a partner in this important initiative, not only because LinkedIn has the ideal platform for the type of group we are trying to nurture, but because they too are serious about addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion in the labor force. We also sought a group of diverse organizations passionate about board diversity as charter organizations and recognized these partners at our ONBOARD launch event at the Library of Congress on Oct. 13, 2016.

ONBOARD addresses the demand side of board diversity through its Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program. As one of the largest fund-of-funds in the country, the SBIC program seeks to partners with venture capitalists, private equity funds and other vehicles that invest in America’s high growth small business. Since the program’s inception in 1958, it has deployed more than $84 billion of capital in over 174,000 small business investments. Last year, the SBIC program provided $6 billion in financing to 1,200 small businesses. Some of America’s most iconic brands, such as Apple, Intel, FedEx, Tesla, Whole Foods, and Pandora received SBIC funding.

SBICs, and the companies in which they invest, are fertile ground to increase boardroom diversity. Why? SBIC portfolio companies are among our most innovative, rapidly growing and adapting, but in some cases are just creating their corporate or advisory board or have boards where everyone has the same last name. The ONBOARD group on LinkedIn is an ideal place for these companies to find diverse talent and domain expertise vital to their company’s continued growth. The members of our partner organizations are the very talent that these companies need.

As the ONBOARD group grows (we are almost at 700 members to date), we will continue to advertise this talented group with our SBICs. So far, the feedback from SBICs has been overwhelmingly positive.

Furthermore, the valuable content, webinars and events accessible to ONBOARD members makes the group a vital resource for those either looking for greater board opportunities, or who are eager to contribute their expertise to a board for the first time. We are in the midst of a three-part webinar series entitled “Be Board Ready,” the first of which focused on creating your own board value proposition. We encourage you to the join the ONBOARD group (click HERE). We welcome your ideas on how to make this important initiative into something revolutionary.

10 Things You Should Know From the Linda McMahon Hearing

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

On Jan. 24, the Senate Small Business Committee held a hearing on the confirmation of Linda McMahon (former WWE CEO), to become Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). Here are the 10 things you should know about her hearing:

  1. SBA is still part of the cabinet—President Obama elevated the position of SBA Administrator to cabinet level. President Trump is sticking with that change.
  2. Existing programs are safe…for now—When questioned by numerous senators on specific program commitments, McMahon repeatedly said that if the program is working then it should be continued.
  3. She will go to bat for small business in the executive branch—McMahon sees herself as the small business advocate within the executive branch, and will go to other agencies and make sure that more federal contracting opportunities are provided to small businesses.
  4. She will work to expand the 5% contracting goal for women—Senator Duckworth (IL), asked about the 5% goal, and McMahon expressed support for women entrepreneurs, broadly, “I have been very forthcoming in wanting women entrepreneurship to grow. And I will continue to support that, it is very near and dear to my heart.”
  5. She has a history working with Veterans—According to McMahon, WWE was always concerned about veterans and how to help create jobs for them. Senator Cardin (MD) discussed the Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) program and noted its impact and high performance.
  6. Look for an emphasis on mentoring—Given McMahon’s background in business mentoring, she may focus on programs that incorporate mentorship. As co-founder of Women’s Leadership LIVE, McMahon’s organization educates entrepreneurs about all facets of starting and expanding their business.
  7. She wants to help free small businesses from burdensome regulations—While many senators asked questions about regulatory burdens on small businesses, Senator Ernst brought up the PROVE It Act—legislation passed out of committee last session that empowers the SBA Office of Advocacy to require agencies to analyze rules for their small business impact.
  8. Speaking of advocacy—McMahon expressed support for expanding the independent SBA Office of Advocacy to ensure that the voice of small business is heard on federal regulations.
  9. She wants small businesses to participate in anticipated Infrastructure projects—When asked about promoting fair opportunities for small businesses to compete for work in the highly anticipated infrastructure plan, McMahon stated that small business participation was a given.
  10. Streamlining cumbersome federal contracting—McMahon expressed support for streamlining the alphabet soup of federal websites and databases like SAM and FBO.

This was a conciliatory confirmation hearing. Given the contentious nature of other confirmation hearings, it was unknown what tone McMahon’s hearing would take. But the hearing went well. Senators were polite and McMahon was responsive to concerns. With so much partisanship in Washington, it was positive to see McMahon’s interest in working with the committee—both sides.

Senate Begins Process to Repeal Obamacare

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

The 115th Congress is already at work and taking votes that impact women business owners. The Senate voted 51 to 48 early Thursday to approve a budget resolution that instructs Congressional committees to begin work on legislation repealing major portions of the Affordable Care Act.

Senator Rand Paul was the lone Republican “no” vote and Republicans defeated Democratic amendments defending popular portions of the ACA, including expanded Medicaid and Medicare and allowing kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26.

The House is expected to take up the resolution this week, though debate may extend into the weekend.

WIPP will work with Congress to ensure that whatever changes are implemented address accessibility and affordability—issues that have plagued the small business market.

WIPP will stay on top of legislative developments like this in 2017 to make sure you have the latest information you need.

In With the New

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

With inauguration festivities up ahead and a newly elected Congress hard at work, it is time to get down to business. The New Year serves as a good reminder that while there may be some new faces in Washington, many of the policy ideas are those we have seen before. Below are some highlights of what is both old and new in Washington for 2017.

Old and New. For the first time in years, our Country has unified government in the House, Senate, and White House. The difference this time is that the government is united by the Republicans, not Democrats. Amazingly, it’s only been six years since the Democrats controlled the government. New—now the Republicans are in change.

Old. Some problems don’t change. Creating more opportunities for women entrepreneurs to access capital continues to be a major theme for WIPP in 2017. Today, women entrepreneurs receive only 4% of commercial loan dollars. WIPP’s access to capital platform Breaking the Bank has been well received by policy makers because it is focused on solutions.

New. Some problems just surfaced. WIPP recently released a report, “Do Not Enter: Women Shut Out of U.S. Government’s Biggest Contracts,” finding clear evidence that women-owned small businesses have limited opportunities to win some of the federal government’s most sought-after contracts, despite a proven ability to deliver innovative goods and services. The report also outlines steps policy makers can take to rectify the problem.

Old. 2016 Was certainly a year of regulations for federal contractors. From Paid Sick Leave, to Overtime, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces—it was often difficult to keep them straight.

New. 2017 is the year of deregulation. President-elect Trump and the U.S. House have strongly indicated many Obama administration rules will be repealed. The House just passed the Midnight Relief Act to quickly repeal any rule finalized in the last 60 days of an Administration. WIPP supports efforts to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to work with the government.

New. Government contracting finalized. While it took many years, SBA has finally released the new all-small business Mentor Protégé Program, and new rules making it easier for WOSBs to work with other WOSBs. WIPP looks forward to working with SBA to ensure WOSBs can use these program changes to grow our businesses.

Old. Wait –Nothing gets repealed in government contracting, there is just more to pile on.

Old and New. In 2017, 125 women hold seats in the U.S. Capitol building. One hundred and four women hold seats in the U.S. Congress, making up over 19 percent of the chamber. A greater percentage of women serve in the U.S. Senate, where there are 21 women (making up 21 percent). While the total number of women is identical to the number last Congress, there is one key difference—64% of the new women elected are women of color.

New. Firsts in Congress. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware is the first woman, and woman of color to serve from Delaware. Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto is the first woman, and first woman of color Nevada has elected to the U.S. Senate.

As WIPP prepares to work in the 115th Congress, we plan to present our ideas based on input from membership. We will work with all Members of Congress, and the new Administration, because one of the few things everyone agrees on is that enabling businesses to grow strengthens our economy. Women are entering the ranks of business ownership at record rates, and launching a net of more than 1,100 new businesses each day. We will work for the next several years to reinforce and grow the success of women’s business owners.

So what are we waiting for—let’s get to work.

WIPP @ WORK: Decrease Company Healthcare Costs With Self-Care

WIPP partnered with Pfizer Consumer Health Care to discuss the growing important of “self-care,” and ways business owners can decrease health costs for their companies. Nationally, employers lose a total of $165 billion in lost productivity costs due to employee health issues. Much of this, however, can be mitigated by encouraging employee wellness — which doesn’t have to be expensive. Gary Surmay, Director of North America Public Affairs at Pfizer, shares employee wellness tips for employers in the webinar Self Care: Empowering Employee Health & Wellness. Filled with clear and simple infographics, this webinar easily guides employees and employers to take control of their health and get back to work. 

Coupons on self-care medicines to get you started:

Santa’s Wish list for Eight Crazy Nights

By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Being located in the Nation’s Capital and leading the advocacy team for WIPP, gives us the opportunity to wish for things uniquely Washington. So, in the spirit of the holidays, and maybe a little tongue in cheek, here’s our wish list for Santa with a nod to Hanukkah.

Santa, please bring us:

1. A Congress that knows how to make deals. This is also called bipartisanship but at the heart of the matter, it requires willingness to bend without compromising principles (or giving away the store). A lost art in Washington, straight party votes and initiatives lead to a “do-nothing” Congress. Perhaps the new President–elect, who wrote a book on deal-making, can assist.

2. More women in Congress. Building on the first wish, we know firsthand that women in Congress are inclined to be practical and open to working with the opposing party. The 114th Congress will start with a record 108 women. Santa, please get more women to run for public office.

3. Busting through the 5% women-owned small business goal for federal contracts. We know that record $$$ were awarded to women-owned firms in 2016, but there is so much work to do to ensure they have equal access to federal contracts. Santa, you may have to place some of your elves in federal agencies to make this happen.

4. Rethinking Red Tape. Federal contractors got hit with lots of new requirements, for example, the Executive Order called Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. Although the contracting community pointed out many flaws in these Executive Orders, they were largely ignored. So, Santa, just get rid of these Executive Orders.

5. More WIPP accomplishments for 2017 than we had in 2016. Ok, we know this one’s on us. We have a pretty long list of 2016 accomplishments on the legislative and regulatory side but we want the sled to overflow. Because of our efforts, Health Reimbursement Accounts are an option for small employers, contracts through the WOSB procurement program increased to over $18 billion, there is a new Mentor-Protégé Program for WOSBs, and more!

6. The end of massive motorcades. This really is an inside Washington request, but the motorcades for the President and visiting dignitaries have now reached epic proportions and wait times have stretched to half an hour. Talk about impeding commerce. We could really use a little Santa ”stealth” when it comes to moving the president around the city.

7. A fresh look. We are in the final days of the 114th Congress and about to head into the 115th Congress. Out with the old and in with the new. Here’s hoping Congress hits the reset button to look at women’s business issues in a new way.

8. A stable federal budget cycle. Actions of Congress directly affect the behavior of the economy and the stock market. Congress has all the tools it needs to produce a budget and accompanying appropriations every year. These last budget minute shuffles and funding extensions damage the economy and really put small contractors in a tough place. We realize this is a really big ask. But our understanding is that Santa can work his magic anywhere.

WIPP’s advocacy throughout 2016 has yielded great results for women entrepreneurs, but our strong advocacy is never over. There is still much work to be done. Thank you for your support and happy holidays from the WIPP Policy Team!

2016: What Kind of Year it has Been

While there is little doubt that most Americans think our political system is broken, quite a bit was accomplished in Washington this year.

In February, two announcements by SBA marked the result of more than 15 years of WIPP’s advocacy. For the first time ever, the federal government met its goal of awarding 5% of all contracts to women-owned firms. The following day, the WOSB procurement program, which helped make reaching the goal a reality, was expanded from 83 to 113 industries. The government now contracts $18 billion a year with women-owned small businesses, largely due to this program we spent so many years building.

As the snow began to melt, focus turned to the final months of the Obama Presidency. The Administration moved swiftly to issue Executive Orders aligned with their priorities. New rules were finalized from the U.S. Department of Labor including Fair Pay Safe Workplaces, Overtime, and Paid Sick Leave (though all three are under litigation and are expected to be rescinded by President-elect Trump). The General Services Administration finalized the Transactional Data Rule which adds an unnecessary burdensome reporting requirement for GSA schedule contract holders.

Regulations can also help small business. SBA released its updated Limitations on Subcontracting rule, making it easier for WOSBs to follow subcontracting rules by encouraging additional work with other WOSBs. SBA also began accepting applications for the long-awaited all-small Mentor Protégé Program, that helps WOSBs team with a mentor business and pursue federal opportunities.

In the fall, we welcomed Jane Campbell as the new President of WIPP. Her longtime advocacy for women entrepreneurs, coupled with her experience as a business owner, as the first woman Mayor of Cleveland, and as Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, allowed her to hit the ground running.

At the end of the year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that include policies to help women small business owners by establishing a pilot program to allow subcontractors to seek past-performance credit and dedicates additional agency resources to assist small contractors. These are positive changes that will expand access to the federal market for women entrepreneurs.

Also passed as Congress comes to a close was the “21st Century Cures” legislation that addresses medical funding, cancer research, and changes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. Inside the legislation is the reintroduction of Health Reimbursement Arrangements or HRAs, which offer business owners a tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. WIPP has long advocated for the return of HRAs because allowing employees to find their own individual insurance and reimbursing them was popular with small firms wishing to offer health benefits.

Finally, in 2016 our country elected the most diverse Congress, with more female senators than ever before. As departing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated during his farewell speech, “the Senate is a better place because of the women being here.” We know women in Washington get more done.

As we look forward to 2017, WIPP and women entrepreneurs will continue to press for important policy changes with the Trump Administration and the new Congress. We count on your support to make that happen.

HRAs Back in Time for the New Year

Tucked deep within the 824-page “21st Century Cures” legislation passed this week, was a major victory for Women Impacting Public Policy and entrepreneurs nationwide. The bill, on its way to the President for his signature will allow for the return of Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or “HRAs”, a small business-friendly way to offer health benefits.

In short, HRAs offer business owners an easy and tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. For example, a business owner could offer $200 a month to employees toward their individual premiums instead of providing health insurance through a company plan.

In practice, employees shop for plans in the individual market, finding what best fits their needs and budget. The business reimburses employees for some or that entire premium. This was a popular method for small businesses for which company-wide insurance plans were prohibitively costly.

The Affordable Care Act, however, and its interpretation by the IRS created stiff penalties (up to $500,000) for businesses using this method to offer a health benefit. This legislation reverses that interpretation, making clear that such plans are acceptable, penalty free.

Employers can now offer up to $4,950 per employee per year ($10,000 for employees with dependents) and employees must show they used funds on medical purposes, including premiums. Companies must have 50 or fewer employees and must offer the benefit to all employees to be eligible.

WIPP has long advocated a fix to this unintended consequence and took the lead in pressing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to provide temporary relief last year.

John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations