Midcoast Small Business Owners Speak Out On Failed Health Care Policy
Business Owners Share Personal Experiences with Rate Hike Law
When the health insurance premiums for Lisa McSwain's small construction company increased by 27% this year, she knew she would have to make a tough decision.
"We've managed to hold on and to provide coverage to our six employees for 18 years, but this rate hike might be the final blow. We might have to drop coverage," said McSwain, speaking at a Boothbay press conference in Whales Park held by local business owners who are members of the Maine Small Business Coalition.
McSwain's rates went up because of the passage of a new law last year allowing health insurance companies to charge higher rates of small businesses, especially those in rural areas or with older employees.
More than 1,200 members of the Maine Small Business Coalition signed petitions, wrote letters and lobbied in Augusta against the law, but the bill was eventually pushed through on a narrow, mostly party-line vote with the support of Anthem and other large insurers.
Since the law's passage, more than 90% of small business owners have seen rate increases.
For Jeff Teel, who owns The Greenleaf Inn and The Admirals Quarters Inn in Boothbay Harbor, his almost 30% increase has been difficult to bear.
"We're proud to be small business owners and proud to contribute to the economic success of our community and of this state, but if insurance rates keep going up so much so quickly, we're going to have to continue to make difficult choices in an already tough economy," said Teel.
According to Alex Jackimovicz, owner of Jackimovicz Electric and one of the many local small business owners who can't afford health insurance at all, the election in November will be critical for the future of small businesses in the Midcoast.
"We have a clear choice in the election for Senate District 20," said Jackimovicz. "On the one hand we have Senator Chris Johnson, who opposes the rate hike bill and says he will stand up to the insurance companies and vote to repeal it. On the other hand, we have Les Fossel, who voted for the bill as a Representative and has refused to answer small business owners when they ask him why. It's pretty obvious who is on the side of people like me."
Kelsy Hartley, owner and president of Kelsy Marine Services in Boothbay, asked Rep. Fossel about her company's 25% rate increase and his support for the rate hike bill at a town hall forum in September. He refused to answer the question.
"Like most businesses, our company had a tough time during the recession, but we made it through and things were looking better," said Hartley. "But this year, we were hit by a 25% increase in our insurance premiums. That hits right at our bottom line. For a small business, it can be devastating. We need to elect people who are going to stand up for small business owners, not the big insurance companies."