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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Tipping Point Network | San Francisco, CA
California biomedical consultant:
High insurance rates deter expansion
Health plan rate raised three times in one year after illness
Laura Hunter has been a successful consultant to biomedical companies that make pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biotech innovations for 15 years. Over that time she bought her own insurance and got used to regular, modest rate increases.
But a few years ago the bills started getting much bigger. Then she got sick, and all bets were off. "In the last five years when I've actually started to use the plan, the price increases became exponential," she explains. A monthly premium that was about $100 in 1994 had risen to $750 by early 2009.
Then Hunter had a particularly bad year, with a diagnosis of colon cancer. "I've had three premium increases in the last year," she says. Now she pays $970 per month.
Hunter is fortunate, she says, because her cancer treatment involved only surgery and no further treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. But now that she has a couple of preexisting conditions and has reached her mid-40s, the options for shopping around for a better plan are limited. "If I lose this, who's going to insure me?" she asks. "If I was in a situation where I couldn't work for a period of time, the insurance would be a real worry."
"I've had three premium increases in the last year."
Unpredictable healthcare costs make expansion unlikely
The rising insurance bills force Hunter to increase her hourly rates with clients, which makes her less attractive to the big firms she works for. "It's less appealing for companies to outsource" when consultants' rates go up. It also keeps her from hiring anyone else when she has extra work. "I want to expand my business, but employees expect to get benefits and I can't afford that," Hunter says. Many of her colleagues rely on a spouse for insurance coverage.
"I definitely believe in healthcare for everyone."
Insurance premium increases should be capped
She'd like to see more regulation of insurers in the individual market, which are currently allowed to raise rates exponentially. "If I had three increases in one year, what's to stop them from continuing this until they push me out?" There should be a limit to the amount a premium can go up in a given period of time, Hunter argues. And insurance companies should be prohibited from charging different amounts to men and women. "In my plan, men pay anywhere from 10 to 25 percent less in the same age range," she complains. Hunter believes health insurance reform would give self-employed people like her more options to grow their businesses. It would also eliminate the unfairness of some Americans being able to afford getting the medical care they need and others not. "I definitely believe in healthcare for everyone."