Firms support health care ... in theory 

Peninsula business owners broadly approve of universal health coverage, but balk at helping to pay for it, according to a survey commissioned by San Mateo County leaders.

The results of the survey, which were made public Thursday at a meeting of the San Mateo County Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Expansion, revealed a deep resistance among small businesses to fund the county’s vision of low-cost coverage for the working poor.

"Overall, they all feel like covering everyone is good. The trick is paying for it," said Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research, the company contracted to conduct phone surveys with 140 business owners not offering insurance to their employees.

The vast majority — 94 percent — of proprietors surveyed reported being very concerned about the costs of health care. Most also said they would like to offer insurance for their employees and pay for it themselves.

About 37 percent of employers believe workers who make less than $40,000 a year can afford to buy their own insurance.

The survey also provided insight into the finance options the county is considering to fund its goal of providing low-cost coverage to workers making less than $40,000 a year. Among the options are a sales tax, a payroll tax, a business license fee and a county fund into which employers would be required to contribute.

Only 5 percent of employers surveyed said they would be very willing to pay into a county fund. A full 20 percent said they were very unwilling to contribute and another 16 percent were somewhat unwilling, according to the survey. More than half, however, would at least somewhat support a business license fee.

Most said they felt it was unfair to force employers to fund universal coverage.

Linda Asbury, president and CEO of the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce, said she wasn’t surprised that business owners preferred voluntary contributions.

"I think there will be a huge opposition to a mandate because you’re affecting someone’s bottom line," Asbury said.

San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said the county must embark on an educational campaign to show business owners the benefits of health insurance for their workers and to clear up misinformation about how the county’s plan might affect them.

"It’s important for us because they have to be a major player in order for this to go forward," he said.

Key survey findings

» The San Mateo Business community is very concerned about the cost of health care and generally supports universal coverage.

» Those not offering insurance feel that they are unable to afford the likely cost of covering employees.

» Mandating or requiring coverage will make some unhappy and could garner opposition.

» Exempting small businesses from any coverage requirement would be popular.

Would small businesses support the county’s proposed health care reform effort?

Strongly support.....26%

Somewhat oppose.....13%

Don’t know.....6%

Somewhat support.....30%

Strongly support.....26%

Source: EMC Research

tbarak@examiner.com

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