On Nov. 4, 140 small-business owners from 25 states (12 from Maine) went to Washington to meet with their legislators to encourage passage of health care reform, specifically the complicated, confusing and far-from-perfect bill before them now. The key word in that sentence is “now.”
Small businesses cannot wait any longer for change. We are often described as the “backbone of America,” and testimony was heard all day that the back is breaking.
We pay 18 percent more than larger firms for the same or less coverage. Premiums have more than quadrupled with higher deductibles and co-pays in a period of time when profits are flat and often declining. Health care is one of our largest expenses, and many have ceased to cover their employees and even themselves.
Small-business owners are good citizens, contributing to our local communities in many ways. We voluntarily serve on boards and committees, donate time, money and goods to local fundraisers, and provide unique and personalized choices of merchandise and services. We work hard to be good neighbors.
Health care costs threaten to put many of us out of business, weakening the economy and our communities. People who might contribute to the “creative economy” by starting a small business stay in jobs where they are unhappy for fear of losing health insurance.
Unlike large corporations, it is more important to most of us to stay in business than to make huge profits. Profits and growth are certainly reasonable expectations, but should not be at the expense of basic needs.
Anthem actually has the audacity to sue the state of Maine for a guaranteed profit margin. This alone is reason enough to support a public option, where health, not profits, would be the goal.
I have always understood my obligation to help those who cannot help themselves and to support infrastructure, but when my premiums and taxes increase to pay for others to get better care than I can afford for myself, and to bail out corporations that have been fiscally irresponsible who then go on to pay exorbitant bonuses to their CEOs, I feel betrayed. I do not want to opt out of the system; I want to opt in on a level playing field. I want guaranteed health care, so that I can stay healthy enough to work with my own resources, not the breaking backs of others, for a healthy profit margin in my own business. Healthy people make for a healthy economy.
On a broader note, I wondered how effective my voice could be in Washington, one among so many, and how I could possibly say anything that hadn’t been said before, and much more eloquently. But listening to everyone’s compelling stories convinced me that involving myself in some part of the process does matter. I left Washington feeling more empowered and not quite so intimidated by the political process. I did not feel that we changed anyone’s mind, but was impressed that they listened. To then learn later that Rep. Mike Michaud did support the bill, despite the reservations he expressed to us, was icing on the cake.
As to the other important words in the first sentence, this bill is all those things — confusing, complicated and imperfect. But just as one voice begins a dialogue, one action starts a process. This bill will start a positive change in the right direction, and we must keep working to move toward what is the moral, compassionate and ethical thing to do — provide health care for everyone. Most of the dollars are already in the system, disproportionately so, and the cost of doing nothing is much greater.
Cathy Anderson of Dedham is the owner of The Briar Patch in Bangor.