The Florida Legislature will open the 2014 session today without a commitment to address health care expansion. With Florida poised to grow and our businesses looking to hire, providing affordable, quality health care options for our employees is critical, enabling success for all businesses. We need our legislators to take action and find a Florida-specific solution to health care expansion.
More than 3 million Floridians age 19 to 64 do not have health insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nationwide almost 80 percent of the uninsured live in a household with at least one full or part-time worker but can’t afford employer-provided insurance.
For example, my small business provides health insurance, but many employees do not accept it because the premiums are too high for their budget. Even after I re-evaluated our benefits package and found more affordable plans, some of my employees will still take the risk of being uninsured if it means more money to keep food on their table or a roof over their family’s head. I know that countless other small businesses across the state face the same challenge.
The people who would benefit from health care expansion may be your child’s day care aide or your mechanic, the waitress at a local restaurant or an entrepreneur working to get a business off the ground. They are people who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid but do not make enough to qualify for tax credits that make traditional insurance affordable. Instead, they are one serious illness or injury away from losing their job and passing the medical expenses they cannot afford on to the government and your insurance premiums. They are your neighbors and co-workers. They are Floridians with jobs.
If these workers have health insurance, they are more likely to use preventative health care and will spend more time working and less time sick. They will be more productive employees, increasing their own bottom line, as well as the company’s.
Opponents of expanding affordable health care ignore our chance to create a Florida-specific solution to health care expansion that organizations like the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and others support.
The federal government has negotiated with several states to create health care expansion plans unique to their specific needs. The notion that Florida would not be able to get a waiver to put the full expansion population into quality private plans is simply incorrect.
I don’t deny there are costs associated to the act, but the benefits for employees, employers and our state far outweigh those costs. If we are to continue growing our economy, we have to address these health care issues head on.
The Legislature needs to consider the views of small-business owners like me when it comes to expanding affordable health care. Another year without action will continue to hurt all of us, not just the uninsured.
Finding a Florida-specific solution to covering our uninsured is the sound business decision for our Legislature to make.
Jamie Harden is the prosperity leader for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the president and CEO of Creative Sign Designs.