Like the price of oil, the set of problems that together are often called our “health care crisis” affect every business, both small and large. They also affect the cost of everything from bread to Buicks, and the well-being of every individual. Quality, affordable health care is essential to America’s security.
In the past, I was proud to pay the entire cost of “platinum” health coverage for my employees and their families. I considered it the right thing to do.
The year 2002 was a stellar one for my small business, with a more than 12 percent increase in gross income. We all deserved a raise. Instead, a 50 percent hike in our health insurance premiums that same year ate up more than we made. No one got a raise. I had to do three things to make up the difference: choose a lesser-priced, less-comprehensive policy, raise our customer prices and lay off one person for six months.
While laying that out to my employees, it suddenly hit me: No matter how hard we work, ultimately our entire community pays the price or we go out of business. Like noticing someone pouring poison into our water supply, I was compelled to act. I laid myself off, got involved and quickly learned that my circumstance is not at all unique.
It is just plain wrong that anyone’s health care should be at the mercy of their boss’ profitability or personal whim. Necessary health care isn’t a luxury item. It’s more like roads, schools, police, fire protection and countless other things we do together because we can’t do them alone. It’s barbaric that we don’t cover everyone.
As confidence is to our economy, so the well-being of people is to our health care system. Recognizing that health care is about more than our money, 73 percent of Maine small businesses recently surveyed believe that we need the option of an affordable, comprehensive, public insurance plan. I certainly share that view.
Compared to what Mainers already pay toward health care through taxes, premiums, co-pays and deductibles, the individuals of all other industrialized countries are getting a much better value. Additionally, the unsustainably rising cost of health care here inflates the price of everything else. Health care is the mother of hidden costs. Now, in these hard economic times, this painful fact simply must be addressed.
Part of this is about insurance. Part of it is about actual care. All of it is about our communities. Small-business people believe that it is appropriate and necessary that our government play a stronger role in guaranteeing affordable, high quality health care for everyone in Maine and across America.
I’m grateful to our president and to our senators and representatives for supporting SCHIP and the health care investments made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They are a great first step. However, much remains to be done. We can not afford to wait, or to settle for anything less than real, transformative, com-prehensive reform of our health care system.
President Obama’s budget lays the groundwork for such change. It is critical that we don’t allow a vocal, well-heeled minority with failed policies to reduce reform to merely “rearranging the chairs” on the undeniably sinking ship of American health care.
I urge Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree to support a public health insurance option. Moreover, I urge them to support a strong government role in controlling the cost and the quality of care. These three must be accomplished together. We cannot wait any longer for the economic and cultural stimulus they will provide.
David A. White is the owner of MDI Imported Car Service in Bar Harbor.