By Rieva Lesonsky
Like many of you, I wasn’t always a small-business owner. Before I started my business, my partners and I were employees. We never really had to think about health insurance—it was just provided for us. In the last five years or so, we started noticing that the cost of our premiums were creeping up. First, we had to start chipping in for our insurance (which had always been fully paid by our employer). Then, the amount we chipped in started to rise every year. Finally, the amount of our co-pays and prescription costs began to rise, too.
We griped about the fact that every year, we had to pay a bit more. But even though all four of us had heard anecdotally about how tough it is for entrepreneurs to get insurance, we weren’t really prepared for the shock we got when we quit our jobs to go out on our own.
Thankfully, we were able to continue our insurance coverage under COBRA—for which we are truly grateful. But we weren’t so grateful for the fact that our monthly COBRA premiums were nearly 10 times what we were paying as employees. Talk about an eye-opener!
“Well, we’ll just look for insurance on our own. There’s got to be something cheaper than COBRA,” we said confidently. A month of research later, suddenly those COBRA costs weren’t looking so bad.
So we stuck it out with COBRA, and when President Obama put health-care reform high on his agenda, we pinned our hopes on change.
Of course, change doesn’t happen that fast, and before we knew it, our COBRA coverage was about to expire. We started researching in earnest. Two of my detail-oriented partners made calls, went online, created spreadsheets and did calculations.
This research took a lot of time, effort and angst. The amount of options and fine print was mind-numbing, and we were scared we were going to overlook some key loophole that would void all our coverage if something really went wrong.
At one point, we considered going with a policy that cost very little, but had a $10,000 deductible per person annually. At another point, some of our spouses offered to go without insurance. (We wouldn’t let them.) Like most startups, we are watching every penny. Could we risk taking a bare-bones policy and gamble that none of us or our families would get sick or hurt this year?
In the end, we chose to go with the same insurer we had as employees. (Thanks to our incredibly patient, calm and responsive insurance agent Gary Arch, at BMR Insurance, for walking us through it all and answering our million questions.)
But this isn’t a happy ending. We’re paying more than with COBRA, and getting less. And we’re already worried about next year when we’ll have to go through the same rigmarole all over again.
I have heard over and over that many people who would otherwise consider entrepreneurship decide not to start businesses because the hurdle of getting insurance is too high. Now I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t care what side of the political fence you’re on, but I think all entrepreneurs (and would-be entrepreneurs) can agree that without some kind of change—and soon—the burden of health-care costs is going to crush the spirit of entrepreneurship. And that’s not healthy for anyone.