By Senator Mark DeSaulnier
Health care reform is a matter of national economic urgency for small businesses.
To say that the current health care system puts small businesses at a disadvantage is a huge understatement. Small businesses pay up to 18 percent more per worker than large firms for the same health insurance policy. That means higher operational costs, lower wages, fewer profits, and, ultimately, less coverage. More than half of the Americans who are uninsured, 27 million, own or are employed by a small company.
According to surveys, three-quarters of Californian small businesses rate the availability of affordable health care among their top business challenges. With the vocal minority attempting to hijack health care reform, the views of small business owners are being drowned out at a time when we can least afford it literally.
As a former small business owner, the benefits of health care reform are crystal clear. Small businesses need: reliable, predictable health care costs that are on par with big corporations and foreign competitors.
As the owner of TR's Bar & Grill in downtown Concord for 30 years, I was presented with a familiar lose-lose situation. Small business owners sink more and more money into rising healthcare costs and lose profits critical to further investment and growth, or deny health care to employees, making them vulnerable to medical and financial disaster.
No one should be forced to choose between a sinking business and sick workers. We must fight Big Tobacco, Big Pharmaceuticals, and Big Insurance special interests to ensure small business owners never have to make that absurd choice again.
More and more small business owners are beginning to understand that they will be among the greatest beneficiaries of health care reform that includes a robust public option. And they rightly should be. Firms with fewer than 20 employees accounted for around a quarter of all employment growth from 1992 to 2005.
A combination of tax credits, employee subsidies, exemptions for smaller businesses, and access to a competitive health insurance market that includes a public option all in the current bill before Congress will succeed in providing more dependable and cost-effective options to owners and their workforce.
I know, first hand, that if the proposed new health care system existed when I was running TR's, the restaurant would have been more profitable, employees would have taken home more pay, and we would have had the luxury of choosing between a range of higher quality plans.
I strongly recommend that you take the opportunity to read the White House report on the Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and their Employees' (http://tinyurl.com/HealthCareandEconomy). A strong public option ensures competition will drive down inflated premiums and make health care affordable again.
Now is the time to push back on special interests and ensure that health care reform includes a robust public option. It's what small business ownersour greatest economic driverswant and need.