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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MDI Imported Car Service | Bar Harbor, ME
Maine car repair shop:
Going uninsured after insurance rates double
Owner has to drop coverage for both himself and his workers
David White loves discovering how things work. He's been fortunate to have his own business specializing in servicing imported cars for the past 17 years. MDI Imported Car Service in Bar Harbor, Maine, provides a living for White and his two mechanics.
Within a few years of opening the shop White chose to add health benefits and pay the complete cost for himself, his employees, and their families. "I was proud to pay the entire cost of 'platinum' health coverage," he says. "I considered it the right thing to do."
But starting around 2000, the price tag began to rise steeply, eating into the company's operating budget. Over one two-year period, the cost doubled. "The insurer must not have wanted our business anymore," he speculates. "Why else would they double the price when we weren't even using it?"
He changed insurance companies in search of lower rates, but the new insurer's premiums also quickly soared out of reach.
"The insurer must not have wanted our business anymore. Why else would they double the price when we weren't even using it?"
A good business year ruined by insurance rate hike
In 2002 the shop had a great year; gross receipts increased 12 percent. At the same time, the insurance premium rose 50 percent. "That was a great year. We all worked hard and we all deserved a raise," White recalls. Instead, because of the cost of health insurance, he had to start passing along some of the cost of the premium to his workers, raise rates to customers and lay off one employee for six months.
"That woke me up to healthcare," says White. "This was hurting everyone. Everyone coming through my front door would be paying more, and everyone working hard for me would be getting less."
After a few more years of haggling with insurance companies, he finally had to drop coverage altogether in late 2007. Going without is nerve-wracking. "It's like a sword over my head all the time. I just hope my people or I don't get sick." He feels bad leaving his employees with no coverage, and being unable to offer a health plan to new hires.
"It's a sword over my head all the time. I just hope my people or I don't get sick."
Healthcare price and quality need to be reformed
Given his own experience, White feels strongly about providing affordable health insurance to everyone in America. The way insurers can knock a small business out of the healthcare market "strikes me as a threat to our common good," he says. "I see healthcare as infrastructure," he says, "something that should be available to every individual just like paved roads or clean water."
Alog with making insurance more affordable, White also wants reform to address the quality of healthcare services. "We have the most expensive medical costs on earth: we can and should have the highest standard of care," argues White. "I refuse to throw more money at healthcare before we cover everyone with great benefits, and before our quality of medical care rises to among the best in the world."