“Pro-Business” Isn’t Always What You Think. Take Health Reform, For Example.

July 8, 2008

People who think they know “what business wants” may need to think again – especially when it comes to social issues like health reform. Case in point: A recent study of New York small business owners shows that more than half believe small businesses have an obligation to provide health coverage. What’s more, 51% think they should be required to provide it.

But do they distrust government solutions, preferring to let “the market” solve everything? Apparently not: 72% support the option of joining state-run insurance pools, and a stunning 85% think government should act as a “watchdog” over health insurance companies.

Why? Partly because they know our broken health system stifles innovation. And partly because they know that many American businesses struggle with runaway health costs, or with workers who can’t get treatment for their medical problems. That means they can’t compete on a level playing field, domestically or internationally. And without a level playing field, the free market can’t operate.

Roll over, Newt Gingrich, and tell Ayn Rand the news: Sometimes capitalism can be improved when government and free enterprise work as partners. These entrepreneurs understand that.

Small Business Majority cosponsored the New York survey, whose findings are consistent with an earlier survey the group conducted in California. The California study’s key findings included the following:

  1. 80% of those who expressed an opinion felt that employers should pay something to provide healthcare …
  2. 75% ranked the availability of affordable healthcare as extremely or very important.
  3. 57% regard health care financing as a shared responsibility among individuals, employers and government …
  4. 55% were in favor of paying into a statewide pool that would enable their employees to obtain coverage at favorable rates…

“There is a range of political opinion among small business owners,” John Arensmeyer told me. Arensmeyer, the Founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, added: “They tend to be an independent-minded group. But they’re in favor of what works. They see health care as both a moral obligation on their part, and as a problem to be solved.”

The entrepreneurs polled in this study represent the second-most trusted institution in the United States, according to a Gallup poll. Small business is more trusted than organized religion, police, or even doctors. (Congress is at the very bottom – below even HMOs. Man, that’s gotta hurt …)

Arensmeyer explained why innovation’s being stifled by our broken health system. “Somewhere there’s an engineer at a computer firm with a better idea about something,” he said. “She can’t go out and start her new company, though, because she and the people she’d like to recruit all need their health coverage. How can we compete in a global economy this way? It’s crazy.”

Arensmeyer says SBM supports principles of health reform, rather than getting locked into specific models. “”We believe in shared responsibility,” he said. “Everybody needs to be a part of the system for it to work. But it needs to be affordable.”

I mentioned my past concerns with what I felt was an over-reliance on individual mandates in the Clinton/Edwards plans, which could have resulted in onerous burdens for lower-middle-class working families. “In order for a system of shared responsibility to work,” Arensmeyer answered, “it’s got to be affordable for individuals. We think the (now defunct) California bill did as good a job at that as we’ve seen anywhere.”

“The Clinton and Edwards plans didn’t reach the point of specificity,” he added. “The devil’s in the details.” That’s a position I can support, having had the same concerns early on about Massachusetts health reform. (Massachusetts eventually had to concede that 20% of uninsured residents would remain without coverage under their plan.)

Says Arensmeyer, “The Massachusetts experiences reinforces those basic principles: affordability and universality.”

Old paradigms of “left” and “right” are breaking down in social policy. The public’s becoming aware that the “business world” is comprised of different groups with differing and often competing interests.

People picture different things when they hear “small business,” because the entrepreneurial world is diverse. But these encouraging surveys suggest that a wide range of small-business owners, from small-town Main Streets to the Silicon Valley, want comprehensive health reform – with government playing a key role.


One Response to ““Pro-Business” Isn’t Always What You Think. Take Health Reform, For Example.”

  1. Lauren Serven Says:

    I am interested on your thoughts about HR676. Even if we can achieve such a thing, much energy and resources will be needed to keep administrative efficiency high. Are there management types out there who would be interested in running a not for profit enterprise? A system is only as good as the people running it.

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