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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New Beginnings Enterprises | Kenner, LA
Louisiana construction company:
Business owner priced out of insurance market
Contractor and his wife go without health coverage
Fernando Arriola recognized the opportunity to help rebuild New Orleans in 2005 when he bought a friend's construction business. He gave up a full-time job with benefits as a sales manager, but looked forward to working for himself.
To save money, Arriola bought a health insurance plan for his wife and himself with a deductible of $5,000 and monthly premium of $900. When things got tight a couple of years later, he decided to drop the coverage temporarily.
Unfortunately, the insurance company turned him down when he tried to get back on the health plan. The Arriolas have been uninsured since then. "I just don't worry about it," says Fernando. "You have to move on...you could have a heart attack worrying about being uninsured."
The high cost of health insurance has made it impossible for him to offer coverage to the five people who work for him on a contract basis. "I looked into it and it was totally undoable," he explains. "It's a problem when you are competing for good people. They're looking for benefits and they're not going to leave a large company to come work for a company like mine."
"[Good people are] looking for benefits and they're not going to leave a large company to come work for a company like mine."
Easier to go to Guatemala for medical care
Arriola is a naturalized US citizen who was born in Guatemala. He and his wife visit family there about once a year, and find it easier to get significant medical care in Guatemala than in the US. In fact, he's considering getting arthroscopic knee surgery from his wife's cousin in Guatemala who is an orthopedic surgeon. It will cost $1,000-compared with $5,000 in the US.
He also takes blood pressure medication, which costs just $20 in Guatemala compared with $60 in the US.
Arriola believes the troubles with cost and access to coverage would improve with more competition among insurance companies. A health insurance exchange, as proposed in congressional healthcare reform bills, would offer small businesses more choice of health plans. "It's insane, paying that much money and not getting much for it," he says.
"We have a country on the leading edge of everything except healthcare coverage."
Universal coverage is a must
Arriola believes healthcare reform is essential, and it needs to extend coverage to every American. "We have a country on the leading edge of everything except healthcare coverage," he says.
The other important element of reform is containing costs. "It is completely unsustainable and will bankrupt our country," Arriola says of the fast-rising cost of medical care in the US.