According to preliminary results from a survey of nearly 300 companies nationwide, health insurance premiums paid by HVACR contractors have risen by more than 60% since 1999. The survey was conducted by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Arlington, VA. On average, responding contractors paid 61% more for employee health insurance premiums in 2002 than they did in 1999. At the same time, average employment by HVACR contractors has remained flat over the past three years, and 64% of respondents have reduced benefits available to employees since 1999. Another 16% of respondents indicated that they intend to reduce benefits in 2003. Premiums have increased in all regions of the country, although the areas that have been hardest hit appear to be the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Mid-Atlantic. All told, contractors will spend 7.1% of their total operating expenses on health insurance premiums in 2002, an increase over the past two years of 18%. "There is a health insurance crisis for small employers in the U.S. that must be addressed," said Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA President & CEO. "Unlike Fortune 500 companies, community-based businesses, like HVACR contractors, are prohibited from pooling together nationwide to help reduce their insurance costs. "If Congress were to give these small employers access to association health plans, these small employers would be able to lower their costs per employee. On average, large employers spend $1,000 less per employee on health insurance than small employers. This is a situation that is bad for working families and bad for communities. Association health plans will go a long way toward making the situation better."