The health care debate begs for broad and diverse input because the health of our communities is no small matter. We've already heard from the insurance lobby, drug companies, providers and politicians. One key voice that hasn’t had its fair say is small business.
As the owner of a small accounting firm, Graco Services Corp. in Sunnyside and Maspeth, I would like nothing more than to be able to provide health insurance to my employees. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. Over the years, my firm has worked with hundreds of other small businesses; they have often expressed the same desire. Providing insurance guarantees a healthier, more productive workforce – it also just feels like the right thing to do – but it’s simply unaffordable given the current lack of options.
Employers who do provide insurance are doing so at great expense, and still the coverage we get is paper thin. Imagine forking over more than $1,000 a month per employee in premiums, and then still having that employee pay a $10,000 deductible before the coverage kicks in. You don't need to be a genius to figure out that just doesn’t make good business sense.
Why have insurance companies gotten away with this for so many years? Because small businesses are a captive audience – we have nowhere else to go. For too long, insurance companies have been allowed to run the show all by themselves – and now they’re running small businesses into the ground. Without competition – say, from a health insurance plan that is actually affordable and comprehensive in its benefits package – we can’t expect insurers to do the right thing. There's no incentive. That’s why I believe we need the choice of a public health insurance plan.
A public health insurance option will give small businesses real choices and leverage by driving down costs for health care across the board. According to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, a public plan could save us $3 trillion on national health expenditures and $231 billion for private employers from 2010 to 2020. Immediate health insurance savings for small businesses would include 20 to 30 percent lower premiums.
We need coverage we can count on, not this “insurance” that disappears right when you need it most. No one should have to lose their health insurance if they lose their job, or if they want to start their own business. A public health insurance plan will give entrepreneurs the freedom and flexibility they need to help create jobs and grow our economy.
One more thing – this health reform we’re talking about, it’s got to cover everyone. Whether you work for a small business or a Fortune 500 company, whether you’re young or old, and whether you’re fifth-generation American or first – everyone should be included. Everyone, immigrants and citizens, should have both the opportunity to be covered and the responsibility to contribute.
Congress has promised to have legislation on health care ready sometime this summer. A big lingering question is, will they accept the insurance companies’ non-binding offer and back down from comprehensive reform?
As a small business owner, I know good business is built on trust and serving your customers well. The insurance companies haven’t served us well and they’ve broken our trust. Why should we trust them now with something so critically important as getting health care right? We owe it to ourselves and to the future economic health of our nation to create a new public health insurance option and guarantee quality, affordable health care for all.