Small business owners and entrepreneurs throughout the US are facing impossible choices because of the skyrocketing costs of health insurance premiums, and, in many cases, the lack of access to coverage. Here are some of their stories.
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Chris and Kristi Petersen: Clear Lake, IA
Iowa family farmers:
Dropped by insurer after filing claim
Self-employed farmer shut out of insurance market
Chris Petersen was still recovering from a minor hernia repair procedure when he got the letter in the mail. His insurance company was canceling his policy, and Petersen was on the hook for the $10,000 surgery bill.
As a lifelong self-employed hog and hay farmer, he didn't have the security of an employer's group health plan. In fact, Petersen had just switched insurance companies for his individual coverage, on the advice of his insurance broker, when his doctor suggested the surgery. He soon came to regret the change when the new insurer found an excuse to rescind Petersen's policy as soon as he filed a claim.
Petersen was furious, particularly because the insurer had approved the surgery in advance. But it only got worse a year later when his wife Kristi went to the doctor to get a lifelong heart murmur checked on. Again, once the claim came in Kristi's coverage was rescinded-the company said she had a preexisting condition.
"It's a nightmare," Chris Petersen says of their insurance troubles. "We've been purged from private healthcare." Chris has type 2 diabetes that he's been controlling with diet and medication. Between that and Kristi's heart murmur, they can't get health coverage on the individual market.
They now purchase coverage with a high deductible from the Iowa high-risk pool, which is a last-resort health plan maintained by the state. Their monthly premium is $1,300. "It still costs a lot of money to go to the doctor," Petersen says, because of the deductible.
"We've been purged from private healthcare."
Trouble with individual insurance common among farmers
Chris is active with the Iowa Farmers Union and advocates for family farmers. He sees plenty of other self-employed people in agriculture struggling with medical bills and increasingly restrictive health plans. Farmers have modest incomes to begin with, he says, and are at the whim of market forces beyond their control. Meanwhile, farming is a physically demanding and sometimes hazardous occupation, so going without health coverage is risky.
"They can spend trillions bailing out Wall Street but they tell us there's not enough money for healthcare. That's unacceptable."
Healthcare should be seen as a right
Hardworking individuals shouldn't be left to fend for themselves in such a predatory marketplace, Petersen argues. "My wife and I are firm believers that healthcare is a right in this country, not an option," he says. "Everybody should have access to healthcare."
Healthcare reform needs to happen soon to help people in the farming economy keep their businesses and households going. "I'm adamant that there be a public pool, and if a public pool doesn't happen then Medicare should be lowered to 55 to cover more people," he argues. The country spends much more on other priorities such as defense and the financial system, he points out. "This country can spend trillions on wars, they can spend trillions bailing out Wall Street and they tell us there's not enough money for healthcare," Petersen complains. "Come on guys, you find it for everything else."