BANGOR, Maine — Women in business in some ways are harder hit than their male counterparts by the nation’s broken health care system, paying more for their own health insurance coverage as they struggle to compete in a tough business climate.
For social worker Melinda Merrill-Maguire, it has meant continuing to work full time for a local social services agency and only part time in the private practice she owns with her domestic partner, Charissa. Her full-time job provides the couple and their 3-year-old son with affordable, comprehensive health care benefits — a necessity that would have been out of reach if they had to purchase coverage on their own.
Those valuable “golden handcuffs” keep her tied to her agency job, she said Friday, and limit her ability to develop her own business. Buying a family insurance policy comparable to the coverage she has now would cost more than $2,000 a month, she said.
Merrill-Maguire was one of a handful of area businesswomen attending a small gathering Friday in support of contentious national health care reform legislation pending in Congress. The event was sponsored by Organizing for America Maine, an offshoot of the Democratic National Committee, and Change That Works, an advocacy group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.
Shelby Wright of Organizing for America Maine said at the meeting that women at age 25 pay about 45 percent more for comprehensive health coverage than their male counterparts. By age 40, the difference is higher, almost 50 percent, she said, so the decision to purchase health care coverage is even more difficult for women than it is for men.
Health care reform legislation aims to expand affordable coverage to millions of Americans now uninsured and underinsured. Though a bill recently was endorsed by the U.S. House of Representatives and a similar measure is pending before the Senate, pro-reform activists and advocates are not letting up the pressure on lawmakers.
“We are closer than we’ve ever been to getting [health reform],” Hampden resident Erin Herbig of Change That Works said at Friday’s event. “It is essential that Maine people let their elected representatives know how they feel.”
Others, however, oppose the effort. Laura Cushing, of Bangor, whose Blue Cat 5 Productions business offers large-scale event planning and management, says the health care reform bill is too complex.
“I think we’d be more successful if we broke it down piece by piece,” Cushing said.
Cushing, who was not part of Friday’s gathering, described herself as a political conservative. She said the proposed reform tries to satisfy the interests of too many groups — such as insurance companies and hospitals — while failing to address important issues such as cost control, physician reimbursement and malpractice reform.
The pro-reform group acknowledges that the legislation pending in Congress is imperfect. But they argue that keeping things the way they are is unacceptable.
Suzanne Kelly, co-owner of the House Revivers contracting firm in Bangor, said she and her husband no longer are able to offer insurance to their employees. Their own coverage is provided through high-deductible plans for which they each pay $500 a month.
“You may as well not even have insurance,” she said.
Kelly said that although the bills pending in Congress are not perfect, they are an important step in the right direction.
“We can’t have all this work go for nothing,” Kelly said.
Cushing of Blue Cat 5 Productions feels most lawmakers are out of touch with the realities of the health care crisis. With no employees other than herself, she pays $500 a month for coverage that comes with a $2,500 deductible.
“Maybe the people in Washington should have to live with the health care we have for a year, and then go back and try again to change the system,” she said.