This week, people across America will turn their eyes to the Supreme Court as it takes up the health law challenge that seeks to roll back the new rules enacted in health insurance reform. Here in Maine, we have a unique perspective on this given what we’ve been through in the last year.
As small business owners, health care is a perennial challenge for my husband and me. We own and operate a log truck. The most expensive way to buy insurance is on the individual market. Our policy has a $15,000 deductible.
I have a strong family history of both breast and colon cancers. For several years I have forgone screenings for both because it was a luxury we couldn’t afford. Under the Affordable Care Act mammograms and colonoscopies must be covered 100 percent by my insurance company.
Small business owners like me have seen what happens when you roll back the laws and take away insurance protections. Maine did that just last year with the passage of LD 1333 (now called Public Law 90), an insurance company-backed bill that rolled back consumer protection rules for health insurance.
Since the passage of the deregulation law, small businesses and other small group and individual market purchasers are being treated to rate hikes as much as 50 to 60 percent, thanks to LD 1333 which allows insurance companies to charge higher premiums based on age, geographic location and occupation.
I live in Aroostook County, am over 50, and my husband is in an occupation that will be considered high risk. LD 1333 has the potential to price us out of insurance entirely but for the Affordable Care Act which creates insurance exchanges that allow small businesses and individuals the opportunity to band together, pooling risk and building bargaining power to get a better deal from the insurance companies, just like big businesses have always done.
We’ve seen what happens when you put control of health care back in the hands of the insurance industry and give it the freedom to write its own rules. It’s not pretty. That’s why we need to keep moving forward on health reform nationally, and why we need the Supreme Court to do the right thing for small businesses and uphold the law.
The Affordable Care Act is already beginning to help small businesses across the country, and it’s still just getting started. Already, hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been able to benefit from a new tax credit that makes it more affordable to provide health coverage to employees. States have the opportunity and the resources to strengthen their reviews of insurance rate hikes and to modify or deny hikes that are deemed unreasonable.
Small business owners who have been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions can get on a new pre-existing condition insurance plan, and in 2014 those pre-existing condition denials will be banned altogether. Why would anyone in their right mind want to take all that away — and push us back into the same broken system that has been a monkey on the back of small businesses for decades? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Recent news reports have brought to light that the Florida small business owner who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the case against the health care law had to shut down her auto repair shop and file for bankruptcy last year with thousands of dollars in medical bills. If that’s not an argument for moving forward with health care reform, I don’t know what is.
There are a number of powerful forces lined up against health care reform. Insurance companies want to maintain their record profits, and so they gave millions of dollars to Super PACs and to buy the support of groups like the NFIB and the national Chamber of Commerce in order to twist the issue and make it seem like small businesses are on their side.
That’s why it’s important for small business owners to speak out, right now. We need to talk about our unaffordable premiums. We need politicians to know that insurance deregulation is a threat to the core of our local economies.
We need to keep pushing forward on health care reform. This is no time to roll back the law and put the insurance companies back in the driver’s seat. We just tried that in Maine and we’re paying dearly for it.
Shelly Mountain is a member of the Maine Small Business Coalition. She lives in Mapleton.