It's become clear to me, as a small business owner, that the debate about healthcare reform has reached a critical moment. A profusion of half-truths and exaggerations has muddied the waters of reform. Small business owners must sift through the flurry of falsehoods and misstatements to discern the truth - which is that we are sinking under the weight of health care costs, and reform is needed to buoy bottom lines and ensure that our businesses can succeed.
Small Business Majority, a national, nonprofit small business advocacy group focused on health care reform, recently released the results of a survey of Alaska small business owners. The poll showed that 92 percent of small business owners not offering health insurance say they can't afford to, and of those who do, 79 percent are struggling to provide it.
These statistics are more than numbers on a page to me and so many other small business owners I know. They represent the challenges we face in our daily struggle to balance skyrocketing health care costs with the risk of leaving our employees and ourselves uninsured.
When Small Business Majority asked small business owners in Alaska how we feel about the key elements in the reform packages pending in Congress right now, an overwhelming majority expressed support.
According to the poll, 84 percent want insurance reform, specifically the elimination of preexisting condition rules; 87 percent support the establishment of a health insurance exchange or marketplace to purchase insurance in a competitive, transparent marketplace; and 72 percent support the sharing of responsibility for financing health care among individuals, employers, insurance companies and the government.
Notably, 40 percent of the survey respondents identified themselves as Republican, 16 percent as Democrat and 28 percent as independent. Contrary to what's reported by the media, this shows that there is bipartisan support for reform, and those who suggest that pro-business equals anti-reform are wrong.
Small business owners cannot be financially successful if we continue to be hit with double-digit insurance increases every year. We can't continue paying exorbitant rates for benefits that continually decrease in quality as they increase in price.
The status quo is no longer a viable option, and my fellow small business owners know it.
When I started providing coverage to my full-time employees approximately 15 years ago, it was inexpensive enough that I covered 100 percent with a $250 deductible. For a number of years it was a 75/25 split, and effective Nov. 1, it will be 50/50 split of the premium with a $2,500 deductible. I'm looking at the possibility of a $5,000 deductible next year. It's important to me to provide health insurance for my employees -as a moral obligation and because it makes good business sense - but I won't be able to shoulder that kind of financial burden for much longer. Soon, my only choice will be to stop offering insurance, which is a last resort. That's a choice I'd rather not make.
I'm not the only one who feels this way. Small Business Majority's polling shows that Alaska small business owners' number one concern in health care reform is controlling costs. And, like me, most small business owners support real reform that would accomplish this.
Fearmongers and naysayers can't be allowed to manipulate us into thinking that reform is out of reach. We're in the thick of one of the most important policy debates of our time, and the truth is that we're closer to effecting real change than ever before. We must remain committed to seeing this through. The economic health of small businesses depends on it.
Perry Merkel is the owner of Café del Mundo in Anchorage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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