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San Diego
Monday, May 20, 2024

Despite High Cost, Small Business Says It Supports Universal Health Care

In a recent poll, more than half of small-business owners in California said they are in favor of contributing to a statewide pool that would offer affordable health care insurance for their employees.

Eighty percent of those surveyed also believe that businesses should provide their employees with health care, according to the survey released Aug. 24 by Small Business for Affordable Healthcare, a coalition of the Small Business Majority, a progressive nonprofit organization based in Sausalito.

The San Diego North Chamber of Commerce conducted its own survey to gauge how the local business community felt about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s health care reform proposal in preparation for his Aug. 31 visit.

Of the 112 people surveyed, 38 percent agreed that every resident in California should have health insurance and nearly 60 percent agreed to increase Medi-Cal reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, according to a statement from Gary Powers, chief executive officer of the chamber.

Under the governor’s plan, employers who have “10 or more employees would be required to spend 4 percent of Social Security wages on health care expenditures for employees or pay an equal amount to fund a statewide purchasing pool,” according to the California Hospital Association.

“It (the chamber survey) also showed that the majority of businesses should share the responsibility,” said Kamal Muilenburg, executive director of the San Diego Business Healthcare Connection. “We support the notion of health care’s shared responsibility.”

The nonprofit organization provides no-cost assistance for county businesses seeking health care.

Other major health care reform proposals in California include Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s (D-Santa Monica) tax-based, single payer system (SB 840) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Don Perata’s (D-Oakland) statewide purchasing pool (AB 8).

Millions Uninsured

In California, it is estimated that 6.5 million residents are uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In San Diego County, the BHC estimates that 400,000 residents are uninsured and that four out of five workers are uninsured or are family members of uninsured workers.

Although results were not broken down by demographics, John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, said that there was not a huge difference in terms of region or industry. Small Business for Affordable Healthcare was launched in August; the survey was its first project.

“It confirmed my hunch,” he said. “I was less surprised than most other people. A lot of small businesses want to be a part of the solution and are flexible.”

About 500 small businesses across the state were randomly surveyed by phone and e-mail; many were in support of a 1 cent sales tax solution, while favor for a single-payer system was split, with the majority of business owners who don’t provide health care voting for the single-payer system, according to survey results.

Arensmeyer did note that higher support for reform came from the consulting industry, while there was generally less support from the retail industry.

“Sole practitioners and freelancers are stuck in the individual market,” he said. “It’s huge for people who want to start businesses but are afraid to leave established businesses.”

Bargaining for health care at the small-business level is costly, causing many small-business owners to skimp on health insurance plans for their employees.

Teaming Up

In 2002, the Business Improvement District Council launched City Care Benefits, a health care plan that offers group rates for small-business owners in San Diego through one provider, originally Sharp HealthCare. Currently, 700 employer groups , each with at least two employees , subscribe to PacifiCare under the City Care Benefits umbrella, according to Diana Spyridonidis, chief executive officer of the BID Council.

“We did a survey of small businesses in the mid-90s and the biggest single issue was health care,” she said. “It’s been successful. Small businesses are treated like large businesses.”

Regardless of any reform measures that are passed, Spyridonidis said that the BID Council will continue the City Care Benefits program.

“In San Diego, we’ve found the business community to be very energetic,” Muilenburg said. “There’s been a lot of discussion. Labor, business, health care, government. It’s all been at the table.”

There is also the possibility of a project being implemented on a regional basis rather than statewide, she added.

“Sometimes gradual change is the way to accept change all over,” Muilenburg said.


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