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By Don Mayer
As a small business owner, I'm following the health care reform debate like my life depends on it -- because it does. Every day, businesses like mine are being forced to drop or dramatically reduce health coverage, lay off employees, or shut their doors for good because of the rising costs of health care. Small businesses needed health care reform yesterday. This train has already left the station.
Under what can loosely be called our current health care system, many
small businesses find it impossible to provide an affordable health
insurance plan because one of their employees has a pre-existing
condition. Employer-funded health care is failing as more and more
employers push more and more of the burden onto their employees through
higher deductibles and co-pays and asking their employees to pay a
greater share of the cost. Small businesses that do provide health
insurance are paying a health insurance "tax" that is euphemistically
called "insurance premiums."
Statistics show that only 45 percent of America's smallest companies can afford to offer health care benefits to their employees. The cost of health insurance for small businesses has increased 129 percent since 2000. And small business workers pay more -- an average of 18 percent more in health premiums -- than those who work for larger firms with the same benefits. It's no surprise that more than 28 million of the uninsured in this country are small business owners.
We cannot afford to see our insurance costs continue to skyrocket with double digit increases in premiums each year. We cannot afford to keep scraping by with no real choices and no bargaining power to keep the insurance companies in check. We cannot afford to keep going with this "system" that gives insurance companies a free pass to discriminate based on our employees' health status or gender.
Many worry that meaningful health care reform will be too burdensome on an already stressed economy. But before we get too excited about the cost of health care reform, let's remind ourselves of one key point: We're all paying the costs of our broken health care system already -- and in the most expensive and inefficient ways. We need to make an upfront investment to fix health care, bend the cost curve down, and get small businesses and the economy back on track.
Political opponents of health care reform are showing they will stop at nothing in their efforts to block proposals for comprehensive reform. Recently, they have started taking up arguments about small businesses to advance their anti-reform agenda. As a small business owner myself, I resent that. Trust and honesty are fundamental to success in small business. In my 35 years as a small business owner, the trust of my customers is the most important asset I have built. That is why I am especially frustrated to see the name of "small business" used by opponents of health care reform to push their political agenda.
Nobody has as much to gain from serious health care reform as small businesses. We have been paying more for less coverage for decades, and we have no bargaining power and few choices in the current system. That is why things like a health insurance exchange, a competitive public health insurance option, and new rules that prevent insurers from discriminating based on health status or gender -- all of which are included in the House of Representatives' proposal for health care reform -- are so important for small businesses.
Make no mistake: The best way for our members of Congress to demonstrate their support for small businesses is to pass a strong health reform bill this year.
Mayer lives in Warren and is the president of Small Dog Electronics in Waitsfield.