Steve Ferree Balances Business and the Need for Health Reform
April 12, 2012—Steve Ferree is vice-chair of Oregon’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). The national organization was the only group to join 26 states in opposing President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act during arguments heard before the U.S. Supreme Court two weeks ago.
But as the owner of Gladstone-based Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a small business, and as vice-chair of the state health insurance exchange’s consumer advisory committee, he understands both sides of the coin when it comes to arguments about reforming healthcare.
“This is a really polarizing issue,” he said.
Although the national NFIB opposed the Affordable Care Act, Oregon’s NFIB chapter never took a formal position. “That was a national position,” Ferree said.
The NFIB opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), arguing that its mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance by 2014 violates the Constitution’s commerce clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce “with foreign Nations, and among the several States.” The NFIB also held that the ACA would raise not lower, healthcare costs.
Ferree said he leans towards agreeing with the NFIB’s position. “I’m not sure the federal government should be dictating what people should be buying,” he said. “That’s a bad road for us to go down, [because] what’s next? I’m not a big fan of government control."
At the same, he sees how an individual mandate to purchase health insurance “could help” make healthcare more affordable to individuals and small businesses. “It can be something positive for not only individuals, but small businesses,” Ferree said.
Oregon’s NFIB chapter supported the creation of a state health insurance exchange, which is expected to offer a one-stop shopping place for individuals and small businesses in January 2014.
When discussions first began around starting an exchange, Ferree said Oregon’s NFIB chapter became proactive and involved. “If we’re going forward, let us be part of the conversation,” he remembers thinking. “This has to be a collaborative effort. The answer to all this is in the middle.”
He thinks Oregon’s exchange will be most successful if it’s run like a business, and the “exchange becomes another vehicle, or another tool, in which to be able to purchase healthcare insurance.” By having 700,000 uninsured Oregonians in the same pool, insurance costs will be lower, he said.
Even if the Affordable Care Act is overturned, it’s possible for Oregon to have an insurance exchange, he said. But the state would lose a significant amount of federal funds to provide tax credits and need another source of revenue.
“Whether that happens, who knows,” he said, adding that until the Supreme Court releases its decision on the Affordable Care Act, “nobody knows what will happen.”
But, he said, it’s imperative to deal with healthcare costs faced by small businesses such as his. “As a business owner, healthcare has been a big frustration to us,” Ferree said. “It’s a costly benefit for us. The renewal process is a pain.”
Ferree intends to continue offering several health insurance options to his 30 employees and their dependents, realizing that narrows their options. “When you have 30 employees, you have 30 families with all different needs. We’re really minimizing what kind of coverage our folks are going to have. With the exchange and the way it’s progressing, we’re [going to be] able to allow those employees have more options.”
That, he said, makes good business sense.
“We’re able to help our employees have good healthcare coverage…and make choices for their healthcare,” he said, which makes his business competitive and a desirable place to work.
Once people become part of the exchange and can choose their own health plans, “they can understand the cost piece, and become part of [the conversation].”