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Small Business Owners and Support for the Public Option

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Republican opponents of serious health reform like Senator Mitch McConnell love to claim that a public option would hurt small business owners. On the ground, though, the picture is more complex and, if anything, the opposite. Small business owners are suffering under the current system, and many of them strongly support health reform that includes a public option. That’s because enacting real health reform would be a boost – not a blow – to America’s economy.

Looking at the status quo, we find “health care costs choking small businesses.” Listen to the story of this businessman:

Maryland auto shop owner Brian England offers health care coverage to his 18 employees, including part-time staff. He calls it “the right thing to do,” and besides, he knows taking care of his employees makes good business sense.

But every year his insurance premium costs rise another 10 or 20 percent, and England worries about the day when the fees will overwhelm him. After payroll and rent, health care is his largest business expense.

“A business down the road could have their labor rate $5 cheaper than us because that’s how much it costs for us to provide health care,” England said, referring to the hourly rates his business and competitors might offer customers.

[snip]

For England, shopping for policies and finding a way to afford to offer the benefits has become a yearly headache.

I’m in the business to do auto repair,” England said. “I’m not in the business of trying to find out how to provide health coverage and how to get the right sort of plan…. And it’s not easy.”

Brian England goes on to say that he supports a public option.

But anecdotes don’t tell us everything we need to know. In the same story, one of Brian’s peers (albeit someone who employs over nine times as many people) expresses some skepticism about the public option. Turning to quantitative data, then, we get another perspective on small business owners and health care.

Last week, New York Small Business United for Health Care released the results of its statewide survey of 202 small businesses in New York (.pdf). 73% of respondents favored the public option.

Turning to the economic impact of health reform, we see that even the conservative small business groups that oppose a public option recognize the potential economic benefits of an overhaul in the health system.

The prospect of health care reform raising costs for small businesses is “a legitimate fear,” said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an organization that believes employers should provide insurance to their workers.

BUT:

A study commissioned by the organization found that businesses with fewer than 100 employees could save as much as $855 billion over the next 10 years if health care reform is enacted.

And going back to the story of Brian England’s auto shop, we learn that

Of the 46 million Americans living without health care, an outsized majority — about 60 percent — work for small businesses, according to the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute. Owners of those businesses say Congress needs to find a solution to an increasingly costly problem — but they disagree about how to get it right.

Taking all these pieces together, it’s clear that small business owners recognize our current health care system is broken. Moreover, it’s clear that when Republicans say small business owners oppose a public option, they are speaking for a minority. Both survey data and anecdotal evidence suggests that small businessmen are far from united in their viewpoints on health care, and that within the business community many support the public option.

Is that a surprise? Not with over 70% of Americans in favor of the public option. Surely that number includes thousands of hard-working small businessmen and women.

Whether it’s the uninsured, the underinsured, the struggling middle class, or the business owner worried about how to do the right thing for her employees and make her business more competitive, Americans want health reform with a public option. Let’s hope Congress doesn’t get mislead into believing that the men and women who are the engine of our nation’s economy do not want this change.

About the Author: Alex Thurston is a research intern for Healthcare for America Now.

This article originally appeared in Health Care for America Now! Re-printed with permission by the author.

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