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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Naylor Hardware | Oakland, MD
Maryland hardware stores:
Limiting health coverage worries owner
Hardware stores a fixture in their communities for a century
For more than a century, Naylor's Hardware has been providing the basics of life for the residents of rural western Maryland and West Virginia. The Appalachian region in which its four hardware stores operate is populated by hardworking people, many of whom get by on relatively little.
Company President Jan Naylor is the fourth generation to run the business, and she feels strongly about providing a good living and security for her employees. That's why it's been so difficult to have to cut back on health insurance coverage over the past ten years as premiums have risen by double digits every year. "It's the right thing to do," Naylor says about providing coverage. "The people who work in Appalachia are not wealthy and they need some kind of health coverage and they can't afford it."
In 1997, she notes, the stores could pay 90 percent of the premium, which came to about $50 per employee every two weeks. The price has gone up so much since then that she's had to drop the company's share to 70 percent, which now comes to $152. So many employees dropped the plan in 2008 (participants went from 68 to 49) that she asked her agent to provide a second, bare-bones plan, which covers little before the $2,000 deductible kicks in, but costs employees just $28 a month. "This will keep them from going bankrupt if they have a big medical expense, at least," she says.
"The people who work in Appalachia are not wealthy and they need some kind of health coverage and they can't afford it."
Better benefits lure away a longtime store manager
Naylor has tracked how much health insurance has cost the company as a percentage of payroll over the years. In 1997 it was 7.9 percent. Insurance costs peaked at 15.7 percent in 2006, and came back down to 9.35 percent in 2008 after tweaking coverage.
But Naylor worries about holding onto good workers as benefits erode. She had one store manager who'd worked for Naylor Hardware for 28 years. He left two years ago to be a guard at a new prison built nearby because he would get better benefits for his wife and two teenage girls. "I lost a very good person who could do this job really well," Naylor says. The man comes into the hardware store once a week to visit his longtime coworkers and shares his regret that he can no longer afford to do the job he loves.
"We have the brain power and money to come up with a plan that's affordable for the country and we've made a decision not to do it."
America can do better, store owner believes
Naylor has become actively involved in health reform efforts in Maryland because she's so frustrated by what's happened to her employees, and believes America can do better. "The US may be the richest nation in the world, but we aren't number one in the healthcare provided to our citizens," Naylor says.
She'd like to see universal coverage and insurance market reforms that allow Americans to be able to rely on their health plans without worrying about holes in their coverage. "We have the brain power and money to come up with a plan that's affordable for the country and we've made a decision not to do it," Naylor complains. "It just drives me crazy."