Small Business Coverage: A Report from the Trenches

John Sinibaldi, a well-respected health insurance agent in St. Petersburg, Fla., has become prominent in Florida’s broker community because he counsels and services a large book of small business clients and studiously tracks the macro trends that impact coverage for this population. And he’s active in the state’s regulatory and legislative activities.

The other day I dropped him Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s post that reported on International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ survey showing that most employers still want to be involved with health care. John responded with a long description of what the small employers he works with are up against. It’s an illuminating, damning piece. I asked him whether I could post it, and he graciously agreed.

John notes that only 36 percent of Florida’s small businesses — employers with two to 50
employees – now offer coverage. This is significant because 95 percent of
Florida businesses are small. Nationally, about one-third of all employees work for firms with fewer than 100 employees.

The increasing pressure on small business may explain why, as I
pointed out the other day, even the arch-conservative National
Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) recently co-sponsored a
reprise of the Harry & Louise health care reform ads
. This time
it advocated for, rather than against, universal health care. Previously,
they were part of the coalition that killed the Clinton reform effort.

Finally, Mr. Sinibaldi’s message should drive home a key point, echoed by Shannon Brownlee and Zeke Emanuel in the Washington Post over the weekend and Bob Laszewski’s post yesterday.
To be successful, the expansive health care reform discussions that
typically dominate in Washington MUST go beyond the Massachusetts and
California reform efforts. Approaches
that can address waste and cost are just as important as those relating
to universal coverage. Otherwise the resulting solutions will continue
to be out of reach to a sizable portion of the American people,
and the underlying driver of the crisis, out-of-control cost, will
remain untouched.

Often the discussions on sites like this are dominated by people who understand health care’s problems deeply but abstractly. For John and his employers, buying health care is a stark, concrete problem that boils down to cutting care arrangements that are affordable for the employers and employees. As he describes it, it’s an increasingly impossible task.