Small businesses across the country are struggling as they work to fully reopen and bring back employees. Along with labor shortages, supply chain issues, hot inflation, and government disincentives still lingering from the COVID-19 lockdowns, the cost of health coverage continues to weigh on their bottom lines and competitiveness.
Unfortunately, the solutions being advocated and advanced by Washington are totally misaligned with what small businesses need. Leading health care bills gaining traction in Congress are pushing for more government intervention and control. In contrast, small business owners want the opposite, according to a new Morning Consult survey conducted by our organization.
Not surprisingly, according to the survey, small business owners want what’s best for their employees, which is a key reason they provide health coverage. When asked to identify the biggest benefit of offering health insurance, helping employees stay healthy and productive tops the list (58%), followed by efforts to support recruitment and retainment.
Furthermore, small business owners believe that government does not know best when it comes to health care: 72% of small business owners agree that employers and employees, not the government, should decide which health plan to offer workers.
The survey finds that small businesses are struggling to offer employees the options they want and can afford. More than half (55%) of small business owners cite the high costs of health insurance as a barrier to participation and offering coverage, and 39% say regular increases in costs are a major burden. The availability of small businesses-friendly plans and “low buying power for small businesses” are also cited as big barriers by business owners.
Only 17% agree that employer health care solutions available to them have kept up with the changing times.
If you think these challenges are the same ones we’ve heard many times over and over the course of many years, you would be correct. These are the problems that interventionist-type policies, like the “Affordable Care Act” (ACA), were supposed to fix – “more affordable care” and more “insurance options.” What happened? We got more government, which has resulted in higher health care costs and still limited choices for small businesses.
And President Joe Biden wants to double down by strengthening the ACA through more government intervention, which he claims would (you guessed it) give Americans “more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate.”
As our economy recovers and ramps up for what should be an exciting economic revival, it is clear that small businesses continue to struggle with a health care landscape that only exacerbates their existing challenges. It doesn’t have to be this way. More government is not the answer. Simple, targeted solutions would help small businesses “build back better” and navigate this hopeful yet challenging period of time.
More than three-quarters of small business owners favor tax credits and financial incentives for both businesses and individuals to help purchase coverage. According to the survey, they want more transparency across the health care system - 87% favor greater transparency from hospitals about costs so that patients can plan ahead and aren’t bankrupted by surprise bills. Moreover, small business owners were least supportive of allowing the federal government to determine the price of prescription drugs or which prescription drugs are covered in Medicare when polled on all potential policies for lawmakers to address health care costs.
Again, small business owners want transparency, minimal government intervention, and financial incentives to support their efforts to provide health coverage options for employees. Choice in health coverage – not one-size-fits-all coverage - is widely favored by 87% of Democrat small business owners and 84% of Republican small business owners to help them meet growing employee needs.
Small business owners and their employees were forced to massively shift their thinking and operations during the pandemic. It’s time for Congress and the federal government to do the same by moving away from the interventionist approach on health care. Instead of mandates, small businesses need incentives and innovation. Instead of behind-the-scenes price negotiations, small businesses need transparency. If Congress wants to get health care reform right, they need to listen to our nation’s small business owners.
• Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.