Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the venerable leader of the powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, gave small business owners their chance at the mic. Apparently, they had a lot to say at the Harkin-hosted “Increasing Healthcare Costs Facing Small Business” forum. As you might imagine, all the usual debaters for low-cost insurance advocacy were there. Those lobbying for the — dare I write it, Republicans — “Public Option” — were also on the soap box.
Since small businesses have been among the most vulnerable victims of this long, cold economic downturn, health insurance (by virtue of its current cost-model that favors group rates) has gotten really expensive for these folks. The less people you have on payroll, the more you pay for coverage. The more people you have on payroll, the less you pay for coverage, but the more you pay in salaries and overhead. Roll the dice. Either way, small business owners are taking it on the chin.
“Get it off our backs,” small Iowa newspaper editor and publisher Art Cullen, told Senators, “If that means a public option, fine. If that means an insurance exchange of some sort, fine. But give us a way to get out from underneath this albatross. It’s become expected that small businesses will provide insurance, even if they can’t afford it. And we cannot afford it.” I gotta hand it to the Congressman. The audience was appropriate. Since everyone has a stake in affordable healthcare, ears were burning everywhere. But we’re still waiting for something — anything — to change the bleak outlook.
In spite of all the back-and-forth between hecklers and proponents of more affordable healthcare (and I’ll admit, after Wal-Mart kind of took over the small business niche’ years ago) a plethora of insurance plans are still around, alive, well and thriving. Small Businesss can get it done. Care at less cost can happen. It just takes some entrepreneurial spirit to change the debate. Unfortunately, Congress has never been known for their independent streak.