Laura McDowell White: Health-care reform saved my small auto shop

According to national news reports, Mary Brown, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the health reform law and owner of a small auto shop in Florida, has had to close her business and file for bankruptcy due to thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills.

My husband and I own a small auto shop too, at the other end of the country in Renton, Wash. Our business is alive and kicking – thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

For as long as I can remember, fixing cars in my own small business has been my dream. My dad served 40 years in the military and knew a little about everything. I grew up fixing cars with him, starting when I was little holding a flashlight while he worked. His lessons stuck with me: you always do what you can to help.

My husband and I met while studying to be auto mechanics. For the last 15 years, we’ve lived our dream – owning our own shop not far from where I grew up.

We’re your typical Mom-and-Pop operation – the two of us and one auto technician we employ. I know our customers by name. They all know my dog. We’ve raised two beautiful children while doing what we love.

When we started our business, buying expensive health insurance seemed completely out of reach. With so many start-up costs, there were many things we did without.

But, getting older I’ve started worrying more about my health. A few years ago, we decided we needed to get insurance. Obtaining policies for Jay and my employee went smoothly, but I was rejected for a pre-existing condition I’ve had since birth – a genetic condition called psoriasis.

When I got that rejection letter, the thought that kept going through my head was that we’d have to close our business and find jobs with health insurance. It was a devastating thought. We’re living our dream. It’s everything I’d ever hoped for.

Then I found out about the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan. It’s part of health care reform – a plan where people who’ve been rejected by insurance companies can get coverage until the ban on pre-existing condition denials takes effect.

I signed up. I’ve since learned that my psoriasis has led to other conditions that need treatment. I’m getting the care I need, and Jay and I are still doing what we love.

That’s why I’m outraged that Republican Attorneys General, including my state’s AG, Rob McKenna, are taking a partisan lawsuit that threatens to take my dreams away to the U.S. Supreme Court.

They’re joined in this lawsuit by the NFIB, which purports to be the “Voice of Small Business.” Not small businesses like mine.

I actually used to be an NFIB member, until I read their literature and realized they’re more interested in playing politics than giving real small businesses a voice.

I’ve never considered myself a very political person. Growing up in a big family (11 kids), you learn to consider all sides. I have siblings who are Republicans, Democrats, even Independents. I love them all. My sister, a Republican, has been skeptical of health reform, but even she admits that it’s working for people like me.

I’m sure some people might say I’m at fault for my own situation. Even though I would have been rejected whenever I applied due to my pre-existing condition, I still feel some responsibility for not applying for health coverage when I was younger.

But isn’t personal responsibility part of the point of health care reform? The new law is built on the idea of sharing responsibility to fix a broken system.

It’s the insurance companies’ responsibility to stop denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that coverage is affordable with premium assistance on a sliding scale and tax credits for small businesses.

And, if we get access to coverage that’s affordable, isn’t it all of our responsibility to be a part of the solution by purchasing insurance?

If any one of us – insurance companies, the government, or individuals – fails on our end of the bargain, reform breaks down.

So, for the NFIB, my Attorney General Rob McKenna, and the other AGs on this lawsuit, I have a message. I believe that I – and millions of other Americans who are benefiting from health care reform – deserve for you to look us in the eye and explain why you want to take our health care away.

Maybe, just maybe, when you hear our stories, you might consider changing your mind.

Laura McDowell Waite and her husband Jay own Jay’s Professional Automotive in Renton, Wash., and are members of the Main Street Alliance of Washington, a coalition of over 2,000 small business owners in Washington State and founding affiliate of the national Main Street Alliance network.


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