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Sibyl Goes To Washington

HUB International's Sibyl Bogardus describes her experience testifying before the House of Representatives on Health Care Reform's impact on small business.

My road to Washington began in mid-November when a staff person for the House Small Business Subcommittee called to discuss my availability to testify on health care reform, including its impact on small businesses and its overall effects on employers and the economy. I was invited by the Democratic staff who informed me that my selection was based on the fact that I appeared to be neutral on the law from a political perspective and had taken a leadership stance of how to address the issues and challenges rather than simply focusing on flaws, as many other experts had.

A crowd greeted me as I walked off the plane...not really. Truth be told, I didn't sleep well the night before, which is not like me. I was more nervous than any past presentation since I knew I had to tell the Representatives the facts...and many complicated but serious pitfalls in the law that need to be addressed, without losing their attention or respect in case they supported the overall concept of the law. I was on a mission to express what I had learned and heard working with clients and prospects over the last four years. I made a single page of notes, knowing I could never squeeze my written testimony into five allotted minutes. Then I rewrote my notes, as I sat in the hallway for two hours waiting for my time. When I began presenting alongside three other panelists, it was so hot in the room...too many lawyers? No, it was the TV lights. A camera crossed back and forth in front of me. No pressure. I missed turning on the microphone the first time, then I got into the flow.

I hit on the control group rules and challenges in actual application. I contrasted the difference between an employer voluntarily offering retirement benefits and needing to account for plan design across the whole group with the employer mandate, which is not voluntary at all. I emphasized that control for tax purposes does not mean actual control or authority, as with investors or the fourth generation of a family business where many related owners may be entrepreneurs in their own right, pulling in entities with no connection whatsoever. Then, I moved into concerns about reform in general, the lack of guidance, the sheer complexity, and worries about the current system not being sustainable. I touched on costs small businesses are experiencing and long-term issues such as carrier participation. I stopped at seven minutes.

The toughest part was fielding the questions. Each Representative got a set number of minutes to ask questions. Some of them spent 95% expressing their views and then asked for us to confirm what they had said. Not wishing to take sides politically, I responded to one gentleman that the simple answer was yes but gave him no more than that. Other questions were thoughtful, and I was touched by the sincere concern of the Committee leaders and most of the members.

My proudest moment? When we bogged down with yet another question from one side or the other...doesn't matter...reflecting politics, I spoke up that health reform is an issue crying out for leadership. It affects our businesses, our neighbors, our families, and ourselves in some profoundly disturbing ways no one anticipated, and the American people are counting on someone in Congress to fix it, not to use the issues for political purposes.

When we all finished, the Chairman gave me a large coin that says the House of Representatives and his name and motto on the other. I keep it in my nightstand.

Click here to view Sibyl Bogardus' testimony and Q&A sessions.