The Montclair Times

Insurance Plan From Uncle Sam?

Activists call for federal health care coverage

The Montclair Times — Thursday, June 4, 2009

BY DAN PROCHILO
OF THE MONTCLAIR TIMES

In support of a proposed national health insurance plan, which would provide "stiff competition" to private insurance companies, advocacy groups held a press conference on Church Street this past Saturday.

It occurred two days after President Barack Obama called on activists to pressure Congress to pass sweeping healthcare reform, according to news reports. Legislators aim to draft reform bills by August.

Obama has spelled out what he believes should be the major goals of reworking the nation's healthcare system, including extending coverage to the 50 million uninsured people nationwide, but he has not been specific about how to achieve that goal and other aims.

If it goes unchecked, then the massive sum the United States spends on healthcare, which totaled $2.2 trillion in 2007, "will limit other investments and priorities that are needed to grow our economy," according to the White House.

The premiums of a national public healthcare plan would be substantially lower than the premiums of private plans paid out by individuals and entrepreneurs, according to liberal activists from BlueWaveNJ, New Jersey Citizen Action, and the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, who sponsored the presentation in Montclair. A public program would not only relieve some financial stress on small-business owners, but also put pressure on private insurers to decrease rates, supporters said.

Kelly Conklin, owner of the Bloomfield architectural woodworking firm Foley-Waite Associates, said some of his employees opt out of his company^ health-insurance program since they can't afford it.

As a result, when their children or family members get sick, those workers run to a hospital emergency room and "I lose them for a day," said Conklin, a member of the New Jersey Main Street Alliance. Out of his 13 employees, four workers have opted not to buy health insurance through his firm, Conklin told The Times.

They are among 1.6 million New Jerseyans who are without health insurance, according to the activists who organized Saturday's event.

Meanwhile, that uninsured population contributes to the financial crises facing many New Jersey hospitals, which are sinking into the red in part thanks to charity care, for which they are only partly reimbursed by the state.

Conklin, who started his business on North Willow Street in Montclair in 1978, said his company pays $4,700 per month for his insured employees' coverage.

"Every year we change plans to keep it at that rate," said the business proprietor, who testified in late April before the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee about healthcare issues.

"Every year we have to shop around. It is an enormous diversion of resources and time."

Last month, Conklin learned his company's monthly bill would be rising by $1,200, to $6,000 per month. The news prompted him to switch carriers.

Conklin said that insurance companies "are scared to death of the public option" since it would demonstrate how private insurers throw away a significant amount of money "on advertising, promotion, public relations" and other endeavors rather than spending on health care and their own clients.

Insurance companies are also wary of losing their accounts with small-business owners if Washington unveils its own insurance program, which Conklin said would cost small-scale companies an estimated 40 percent less than what they are now paying.

That rate would be on a par with what major corporations, which have more bargaining power with insurance companies, pay in the private market

"They pick our pockets! Conklin said of private insurance providers. "They would be that profit center."

Saturday's press conference was held near the corner of Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue, outside Terra Tea Salon. The shop's co-owner, Carla Gilruth, and her spouse pay for their own healthcare coverag.

Their three children are covered under New Jersey Family Care, a state insurance program, while she and her husband, who bartends at a restaurant in Cedar Grove that does not offer insurance to its workers, are paying $600 a month for coverage through a business association.

"We would pay double if w were doing it on our own, Gilruth said. Even with the association's assistance, "we would not be able to pay for a family of five."

On top of the high cost of coverage, Gilruth said her family has dealt with "one insurance horror after another."

She once went for a followup doctor visit after having a stroke, and her insurance company refused to pay the bill since her policy had only been in effect for four or five months, not the required six months for coverage to actually kick in.

Gilruth said it would be a shame if many would-be entrepreneurs held back on opening their own businesses since they needed health insurance, and could not pay for it themselves.

"I hate to think that so many people with great ideas for businesses won't let go of what they are doing because of healthcare," she said.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News