Fighting for a small business renaissance: a health care diary

I live in NC near Raleigh. My job is in the pharmceutical industry. I work in Cary and don't often leave the office during the work day for much of anything. I bring in my lunch every day and may go out to eat with friends once in a blue moon.

However, some things are really important -- important enough to get me out of my office on a weekday -- so one Thursday several weeks ago I met up with other proponents of a strong public option in America's health insurance reform fight at Kay Hagan's Raleigh office.

I was happy to see a middle class self-employed couple whom I had met during election canvassing was there. I was thrilled to see a personal friend I had invited (who normally doesn't do political stuff) there.

I was not surprised to see the ubiquitous Loud & Rude wing of the Republican party there. (Don't those people have jobs?) As one might expect, the words on their signs and on their lips were the same tired old words they've been squealing for five decades -- all variations on the "Socialized medicine" theme.

Curious about that attitude, one older pro-reform lady went over and asked their feelings on Medicare. I guess I should have known better, but I really expected SOME consistency of words and deeds with the Rude & Loud crowd. I mean, these folks were there in the middle of a workday to protest the evils of an egalitarian health insurace and health care system.

But ... no. They disappointed me. There was no consistency to be found.

Oh, yes, they will or are using Medicare. Absolutely.

Total disconnect. Unreal.

They reminded me of bully sidekicks on the schoolyard playground; "YEAH! What he said!!!" ... the "he," of course, being one or another flavor of wingnut radio/TV "personality" who "entertains" them with bulls#*@ and half-truth so as to keep them scared and ignorant.

::::heavy sigh::::

But I digress ...

I didn't go to Raleigh to just stand around and listen.

Yes, I went to be counted.

I went to "show up" and add to the numbers.

I got up and walked out the office door that day carrying something I needed to give my Senator; something for her to read. See, I live another life besides my work life.

I'm on the Downtown Development Association in my small town. I am a huge "Buy Local" proponent, but I am losing options for buying local. I see the enourmous economic and social good done by local independent small businesses, but small towns are losing small employers at an alarming rate. I see the hurt that happens when a local business struggles or fails.

Consequently, I am dismayed by the toll taken by health insurance costs on small businesses, even when they don't offer it to their employees. Friends tell me their insurance premiums have gone up 300% in the last 10 years. I am infuriated that my "free-market" Republican friends cannot, or WILL NOT, see what I see. All they see is a political scoreboard and this health insurance fight a potential score for one side or the other. It is maddening.

A business that cannot offer benefits to potential employees is one that cannot attract an excellent work force.

A businesswoman who cannot afford health insurance coverage for her own family is one who feels continually stressed and pushed into giving up and working for someone else.

A contractor who covers his workers health insurance is competitively disadvantaged with every RFP he bids.

If Thomas Jefferson was right when he argued that public education was necessary to keep a democracy, then I would argue that independent businesses (the merchant, the barber, the baker, the attorney, the doctor, the florist, the hairdresser, the accountant, the contractor, the artisan) are necessary to make democracy flourish. Independent business people may not run this country, but they are the citizens who make this country run.

From the ranks of independent businessowners come the leaders who sit on Town Councils, serve in civic organizations and run volunteer boards. They contribute to local charities, schools and programs on a scale that far outweighs corporate big boxes. They invest in and are invested in the health and welfare of their communities in a way that corporate businesses will never be. And they are being beaten down more and more and more, year over year over year, by the immoral profit-over-people health insurance system that drives up the stifling costs of health insurance for them and makes complete health care a luxury in this country rather than a basic service.

I am not content to watch the death of the small businessowner continue. Medical bankruptcies account for almost 80% of all personal bankruptcies in this country. Likewise, skyrocketing health insurance costs account for the quiet death of innumerable small businesses. This CANNOT continue.

“Our nations’ smallest businesses not only want health reform but in fact, they need reform in order for their businesses to remain viable,” [Kristie Arslan, Executive Director of the Legislative Office for the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)] commented. “Improving affordability and stability of premiums as well as providing for sustainable cost containment in the overall healthcare system must be a top reform priority.”

...

“The cost of providing coverage is rising at an unpredictable and unsustainable rate, making it difficult for small business owners to secure stable healthcare for their employees,” said Sen. Landrieu. “Simply put, we need to reform our health care system to provide small businesses the opportunity to grow and prosper. The cost of doing nothing is just too great.”

“Small business health reform must be a central component to our broader reform efforts, and that is why I am working diligently, as a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, to craft bipartisan, comprehensive health care reform legislation that will make health care more affordable and universal for small businesses and the self-employed,” added Sen. Snowe.

The NASE, oddly, advocates for government regulation of premiums and coverage to accomplish the goal of making health insurance affordable. Trouble is, that won't work.

As we've seen over the last 50 years, regulation is subject to the whims of an administration's philosophical directives. Any regulatory body that oversees the health insurance industry will too soon fall victim to the "partner" argument/scam of 6 & 7 figure lobbyists that will erode and weaken any regulation scheme that is set up -- even with the best of intentions. The health insurance industry needs competition from a publicly administered plan if ever anyone honesly hopes to effectively contain insurance costs for individuals and small businesses.

Mainstreet Alliance is a true representative of small merchants and business owners. Their study found that

small business people are willing to contribute to make the health care system work if they believe the system design makes sense, if financial responsibility is shared broadly and fairly, and if dollars are channeled toward providing needed care instead of third-party profits.

Of the businesses surveyed, 70% of them believe government needs to play a big role in making health insurance affordable.

I didn't have an appointment at Senator Hagan's office that day, but the staff was welcoming. I gave the nice young man behind the desk several copies of a very interesting study summary published in June 2009: The Economic Impact of Healthcare Reform on Small Business.

This is how to talk to Democrats from conservative districts in Congress -- advocate for a public option with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans-- small businesses are being eaten alive by health & insurance pressures. Only the inclusion of a robust public option in health insurance reform will lift this burden from the small business owner.

Small Businesses, Contractors and Independent Merchants need Health Insurance Relief.

Comments

Put this up at The Great Orange

last Friday. Thought it would be a nice read, or at least the link to the Main Street study would be, in preparation for tonight's speech.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Glad you liked it, SPLib.

Time to make this happen, R support or not.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Good stuff, Leslie

This isn't just about people without coverage, it's also about one sector of our economy that's threatening all the others.

Exactly.

This burden of health insurance threatens every other sector of the American economy.

It squashes initiative.

It punishes people who have done all the right things all their lives and played by the rules, only to come up against illness and denial of coverage or recision.

It straps a huge millstone around the neck of big companies competing on the international stage and small companies just trying to compete with the big guys for top quality employees.

It punishes companies for keeping employees who've gotten sick.

It punishes companies for keeping long serving loyal employees who pass magical age marks that insurance companies don't like.

It is one big sucking sound in small business circles.

If we want a good robust recovery that truly does lift all boats, we've GOT to give businesses and individuals health care relief now.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."