Long work hours have been a staple of my career, first as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, and currently as an owner of a small business.  I’ve gladly put in the time, but the survival and growth of any organization eventually depends on building a strong team.  Today, small businesses and nonprofits alike face the same challenge.  Both are hampered by the high price of healthcare which makes it difficult to both start an organization and to attract and retain talent.

State Rep. Stephanie Thomas

Connecticut needs affordable health care options so that businesses and nonprofits, which are integral contributors to our state economy, can exist and thrive.

Entrepreneurs tend to be risk-takers by nature, but the lack of access to affordable healthcare can dampen the innovative spirit and this is especially true for people of color, women, and the young.  If I hadn’t been able to rely on my spouse’s good health coverage, I would never have been able to leave my full-time job to launch my own company.

I am one of the lucky ones because I was able to launch my business, but in the early days, offering health insurance was impossible.  This challenge is not unique to me.  Pre-pandemic, small businesses employed 700,000 people in the state of Connecticut, yet less than half of these workers were offered health insurance.

With many small businesses facing smaller margins in the months and perhaps years to come, they are even less likely to be able to offer good health care benefits – just when potential employees value that benefit the most.  This makes it even more likely that they will lose the talented employees they need in order to grow and compete.

While the inner workings of nonprofit organizations often fly under the radar, they too face the same hiring and retention issues.  The inability to offer a top-notch plan often makes the difference between an applicant saying yes or moving on to another offer.  Even worse, after investing years in training young talent, nonprofits often lose these team members simply because they need better access to affordable health insurance as they contemplate starting a family or age out of their parent’s insurance plan.  Those who stay on often joke that they would trust in their good luck to stay healthy – the very joke I made before my accident.

In 2020, however, working people had to put all jokes aside as the coronavirus ripped through our communities.  Overnight, affordable healthcare went from a nice benefit to have to a mandatory benefit needed from any employer.

Enter the public option.  In Connecticut, the state comptroller proposes a plan that would benefit small businesses and nonprofit organizations, among others, to join a plan built off of the state employee health plan.  Access to such a large exchange will help businesses and nonprofits get more bang for their buck, gaining the ability to offer lower deductibles and a better quality of plan for employees.

This is not a panacea, but it will help small businesses and nonprofits compete at a time when they most need help in reducing costs.  The cost of health insurance is the second-largest cost outside of labor for most of these organizations.

With elections and inaugurations behind us, I hope we can all unite around this issue that impacts individuals, business owners, workers, the nonprofit sector, the young, and the elderly alike. Over 75% of all voters agree that healthcare is too expensive.  Let’s finally unite to do something about it.

State Rep. Stephanie Thomas represents the 143rd House District which includes parts of Norwalk, Wilton and Westport.

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