WisBusiness: Some business owners support universal health plan

By Brian E. Clark

The state’s major business lobby groups may be opposed to the $15 billion universal health care proposal unveiled by Senate Democrats Monday. The plan would be paid for by higher payroll taxes, which they strongly oppose.

But the co-owner of a small, award-winning Wisconsin brewery says they are out of touch with many entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop bakery, restaurant and auto shop owners she knows who want to provide insurance for their employees – but can barely afford it.

Deb Carey, who runs the New Glarus Brewery with her husband Daniel, said she is “sick and tired of being raped” by insurance companies that are raising rates by more than 15 percent a year and would support the Senate plan because she believes it would save her money.

“Yes, payroll taxes would go up,” said Carey, who has 30 employees. “But I look at the bottom line and my overall costs would decline. Look, I paid $150,000 in insurance premiums last year.”

Her comments were in stark contrast to those of Bill Smith, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). He said the plan would hurt small firms, many of which cannot now afford health insurance. He said the NFIB has 12,000 members in Wisconsin and most have fewer than 10 employees.

Carey, who said she is a member of the NFIB, said she plans to call Smith to discuss health care “crisis”. And she suggested he needed to get out of Madison more often to talk to small business people.

“His comments certainly do not reflect the sentiments of business owners and Chamber of Commerce members I know and work with here,” she said.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which represents many large companies in the state, also opposes the Senate plan.

Smith called the universal health care plan a “job killer” and said the payroll tax would be “completely unaffordable.” With rising costs, he predicted it would have to be eventually supplemented with other tax dollars.

“This proposal would have a devastating effect on small businesses,” he said. “It would inhibit job growth and hold down wages.

“It also would extract money that could be used to invest in the owners’ business or employees. Worse, it would be assessed without regard to profitability.”

Smith said he was not surprised that some business owners support the plan, however.

In addition to Carey of the New Glarus Brewery, Mike Rayome, human resources director for Graphic Packaging in Wausau, spoke in favor of it. He said the proposal would save his company $4.4 million a year on health coverage for its 800 employees in Wisconsin.

“There are always going to be some winners and some losers, at least initially,” said Smith. “But all in all, my group sees very little, if anything to support in the plan.”

Carey, who said she and her husband had once been without health care insurance and paid off medical debts at $20 a week, argued that small employers care deeply about their employees and want them to have coverage.

“We care if a worker gets hurt or has a baby,” she said. “We now their kids names and what is going on in their lives. The people I know are desperate for insurance. And I also know people who have been dumped by their insurance companies and lost their businesses because of illnesses.

“Something has to be done in this country,” she said. “I would hope the state could do a better job of bargaining for insurance than small businesses can because we’ve seen rate hikes as high as 28 percent. That is just crazy.”

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