Top small-business concern: health care

Posted Oct. 26, 2009, at 10:38 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Small-business owners from the region gathered Saturday to discuss how rising insurance costs are hurting their businesses and to learn how proposed national health care programs would affect them.

“We want to draw a spotlight to small businesses in Maine,” said Phil Bailey, organizer of the event.

The No. 1 concern for Maine’s small-business owners is health care costs and how to provide coverage for all employees, he said. They also want to maintain high-quality benefits for those covered under any new plan approved by those in Washington, he added.

At the forum’s round table were state Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, a member of the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee; John Corrigan, Bucksport Regional Health Center’s executive director; and Ben Wootten, the Maine Small Business Forum’s president.

Goode started out the presentation by providing a detailed outline of the three major plans under consideration by Congress, one in the House and two in the Senate.

“Affordability is a major concern,” he said.

The final product, which in all likelihood will be a combination of the bills under consideration, he said, “could look like one of these bills or could look like none of these bills.”

Time is short, Bailey said, because Congress is expected to vote on a national health care bill around Thanksgiving.

Corrigan also said affordability is a huge issue. The Bucksport Regional Health Center has grown from eight employees in 1983 to 47 today and has been hit hard by employee insurance costs, he said.

Over the years, “we’ve moved from 100 percent coverage to 75 percent [coverage], which is equivalent to $4 an hour. It’s costing us,” he said. “Who would have thought it would get to this?”

Corrigan said his small business is not unlike others in Maine or the nation.

“A public health option that has the will of the people” is needed, he said. “If we don’t have it today, you’re going to have to live with what we’ve always had.”

Wootten, who also agrees a public health option is needed, said any new health care legislation has to be affordable for “both the employer and employee.”

A survey of 200 Maine small-business owners, conducted in May 2009, found that 58 percent do not have health insurance because they can’t afford it. Of the 42 percent who are providing health insurance for their employees, 81 percent say they’re having a hard time doing so.

The 24 small-business owners at the Bangor forum voiced concerns about high health care insurance costs and some told stories about not being able to afford insurance for themselves and their employees.

Forum attendees were asked to sign a letter asking U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to strive for “real health care reform.”

“To make affordable health coverage a reality, Congress must set reasonable limits on out-of-pocket expenses and provide sufficient tax credits for individuals and small business,” the Maine Small Business Forum letter states.

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