Jobs without benefits? Life in small business

Have you ever worked for a small business that didn't offer you health care?  Are you a small business owner who can't afford to offer healthcare to your employees? In the United States, employer-based health insurance is the primary source of health care coverage.  In other words, our health care system lays the majority of the burden on business owners to provide Americans with health care.  That is an enormous responsibility for business owners, but especially for those small businesses with 50 employees or less. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund found the number of small businesses offering health insurance has dropped: in 2003, 58% of employees of small companies had employer-sponsored health care. Now fewer than half do.

I should know: I own a small business with my husband. When we looked into the cost of buying health care through our business we were astounded at the rates the various insurance companies quoted. We are a small business, three people, and none of us can afford to buy health care on the private market due to pre-existing conditions like asthma, chronic headaches, and of course, being a woman.

We desperately need health insurance and also want to show our appreciation and respect to our employees by offering them health care that they can afford without impossible premiums and deductibles that deter them from using it when they need it.

Not only do we feel it is our responsibility to provide health care but our employees are like family to us. We want them to be able to take care of their health. In addition, if our workers can get to the doctor for preventive care and various illnesses, they will be more productive at work with fewer sick days, which is good for our overall bottom line.

If you have ever been employed by a large company of say 100 employees or more, you were more than likely offered health care benefits at mostly affordable prices.  In fact, 90% of workers in companies with 100 or more employees are offered and eligible for their employer’s health plans.

The stark difference between a large business and a small one is that small businesses are scraping to offer health insurance to employees or forced to leave their workers to find health care on the individual market. That is too expensive for many Texans, especially those with a chronic illness or pre-existing condition.

So what's a small business to do?  Well, in the past, there haven't been many options. It was, “Sorry, you're out of luck” to small business owners and employees, the backbone of the American economy.  How unacceptable and insulting is that?

The Affordable Care Act offers a solution to this problem for small businesses.  In January 2014, new provisions will help alleviate this financial burden and make health care a real option, one that's affordable for both employers and workers. Small business owners will be have the option to participate in an exchange specifically for small businesses that will enable them to offer a variety of affordable health plans to their employees.  Not only that, but the ACA allows for tax credits to ease any burden on the employer to reduce the costs on premiums for the small business owner and workers.

I am proud to say that when this exchange becomes available, my husband and I will be offering health care to our employees.  We want healthy workers who are productive and know that they are valued and we also need it for ourselves.  January 2014 cannot come soon enough!

By Courtney Watson, Children's Defense Fund - Texas