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As a small business owner, I’m grateful that Virginia finally expanded Medicaid. This development is personal to me because one of my best employees might still be alive today if he could have enrolled in Medicaid several years ago when the commonwealth first had the chance to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act.
Now that more people will be eligible for Medicaid in Virginia, more low-income workers will be able to enroll. This is critical to small businesses like mine because so many small firms don’t have the resources to offer health benefits.
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I started Better Display Cases in Stafford after spending 20 years in the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, I’m unable to offer health insurance benefits to my three full-time employees because of its high costs. I don’t believe I could continue to operate if I added health coverage to the costs of running my business. That does not mean, however, that I don’t do all I can to take care of the people who work for me.
One of my employees, whom I had hoped would one day be able to run the business in my absence, had high blood pressure. He couldn’t afford health insurance, and he made too much money to qualify for Medicaid under Virginia’s then-rules, so he often went without essential medication and trips to the doctor. I tried to help him financially when I could, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. He died last June from a heart attack.
Of course, no one will ever know for sure if more consistent use of his medications would have made a difference or not, but I think there’s a good chance it would have, and he’d still be with us today. Sadly, stories of hard-working adults who can’t access health coverage are all-too common.
Tragically, Medicaid expansion comes too late for my former employee, but it could still save the lives of many other Virginians. In fact, Medicaid expansion in the commonwealth is estimated to extend coverage to an additional 400,000 people, many of whom are low-wage working adults.
Since so many more employed adults will qualify for Medicaid, small businesses that cannot afford to offer their employees health insurance will find it easier to compete for workers with big businesses and other large organizations that can afford to offer comprehensive health benefits. It will also help more low-income entrepreneurs access health coverage as they’re getting their businesses up and running. So, it will support the creation of new small businesses, which is the engine for future economic growth and job creation.
Medicaid expansion will not only help more working adults access crucial health services, it will also boost Virginia’s economy by bringing an infusion of more than $2 billion per year of federal money into the commonwealth, resulting in an estimated 18,000 new jobs.
Additionally, by expanding Medicaid, Virginia will help slow the growth of small business owners’ premium costs. When someone without medical insurance seeks care he or she can’t afford, the government or a charity may pick up some of the cost, but the rest goes unpaid. To cover these losses, insurers charge higher rates when the insured receive care, and these increases get shifted to higher premiums. Expansion means fewer individuals receive uncompensated care, so fewer costs will be passed on to small businesses.
Small business is the backbone of our economy, and Medicaid expansion will help our workforce access critical health coverage while lowering health care costs for small firms. It will also help small businesses to worry less about health care so we can concentrate on what we do best: growing our businesses and creating jobs.
Mo Johnson is the owner of Better Display Cases in Stafford, Va., and he is also part of Small Business Majority’s network of 58,000 entrepreneurs.
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