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My Selfish Lens

A business owner's look at health care


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On Monday the New York Times published an article on the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“[T]he report said, premiums for older people would be much higher under the Senate bill than under current law. As an example, it said, for a typical 64-year-old with an annual income of $26,500, the net premium in 2026 for a midlevel silver plan, after subsidies, would average $6,500, compared with $1,700 under the Affordable Care Act. And the insurance would cover less of the consumer’s medical costs.

"Likewise, the report said, for a 64-year-old with an annual income of $56,800, the premium in 2026 would average $20,500 a year, or three times the amount expected under the Affordable Care Act.”

We all have our own selfish lens and I have mine. As an owner of the North Coast Journal, I’ve written before about the struggles to provide adequate medical insurance for our employees, what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) originally promised us as small business owners, and what it actually delivered.

For many of our 26 years in business, we paid 100 percent of the premiums for our employees for a higher deductible, medium-grade silver plan. The ACA promised direct subsidies to small businesses (fewer than 25 employees) for four years in the form of tax credits — basically taxes we didn’t have to pay. The ACA delivered. Each year we received up to $8,000 to help pay premiums for the following year.

I remember being concerned about what would happen in four years when those subsidies went away. Originally there was talk about a direct “government option” if we couldn’t afford premiums but that never materialized.

In 2015, the year the subsidies went away, was also the year that our premium estimate went up a whopping 42 percent, which I reported to Congressman Jared Huffman’s office. It wasn’t a straight, across-the-board increase; some of it was due to employees getting older. It was an increase we could not afford and neither could our employees because the each of them paid for their families. One employee’s spouse was looking at an additional $500 a month because he was 62.

I don’t know how many other employers did this but we basically cancelled the company’s health insurance and at the same time increased wages, telling employees to go shopping. They did and 16 of our 18 employees qualified for California’s ACA subsidies, which are actually quite generous. Most received silver-plan coverage for much less money.

After seven years of complaining, this is what the Republicans come up with? They should be ashamed. And now the vote has been delayed until mid July. The only good that can come out of this is anger and some type of real action. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday said it’s time for Dems to run on single payer health care. Bernie Sanders will introduce a bill to expand Medicare for all Americans in the Senate this week and HR 676 has already been introduced. Health care should be a basic human and social right for all Americans in a country as rich as ours.

Returning to my selfish lens, why should health care be a burden to businesses at all? If we were free to hire and pay on merit alone, it would truly level the playing field for businesses to compete for good employees. As it stands now, the system does nothing but punish older workers who frankly cost employers more.

I’d like to hear from other small business owners, either for publication or privately. My email is [email protected].

Finally, it’s time for the Democrats to put up or shut up. If you can’t support a total expansion of Medicare, at least start dropping the age to qualify gradually. And increase — don't decrease — federal support to states subsidizing health care based on family income as fast as you can. If the Republicans are heading totally in the wrong direction, do the opposite.

And be prepared to answer this question when you return to your district for the next town hall meeting: “Why are we protecting the insurance industry and its profits?”

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