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Interested Parties

Self-employed voters look for security

Ashley Milne-Tyte Sep 26, 2008
Interested Parties

Self-employed voters look for security

Ashley Milne-Tyte Sep 26, 2008


Tess Vigeland: A Kaiser Family Foundation survey out this week found the total cost to insure a family’s health care averages $12,680 a year.

Of course if you’re self-employed, that probably sounds like a bargain. In this installment of our election series, “Interested Parties,” Ashley Milne-Tyte reports on what they want from their next president.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: When you’re your own boss, you pay every bill yourself. Many of the self-employed say the bill that really holds them back is health care.

Keith Franks owns an auto repair shop outside Pittsburgh. His only staff is his bookkeeper and wife Carolyn. They have two teenagers. Ten years ago, Franks paid $540 a month for a family health insurance policy. By this year, it cost $1,500. This spring, it shot up to $2,400 a month.

Keith Franks: When we received this latest increase it was numbing. I can’t possibly work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to pay for it. But you certainly want to have it. You want to have your family covered.

Keith and Carolyn are in their early fifties and Carolyn has a chronic condition. The couple found a cheaper plan, but it’s still $1,900 a month. It has a higher deductible and co-pay, so Carolyn thinks twice before going to the doctor.

They have other concerns, too. Keith says if health insurance didn’t eat up more than a third of his income, he’d make plenty of improvements.

Franks: Well, some of my dream projects… obviously at this point I’m getting older. I would like to back off on working so many hours and expand a little bit, larger repair shop and add some employees.

The candidates are talking about making health insurance more affordable and available, but lately Keith’s been thinking universal health care may be the way to go.

Franks: You know everybody talks about they want government less involved, but on an issue this large, I have to believe that might be a better system.

Joe Mande also says it’s time for government to step in. Mande’s lifestyle is a far cry from the Franks’. He’s a 25-year-old stand-up comedian in New York City with no one to support but himself.

Joe Mande: I’m chopping up the peppers and then I go into the bathroom to pee and as I’m walking back, I’m like, “Ooh, that feels kind of weird.”

Mande does buy health insurance. He says he’s so clumsy, he needs it.

Mande: Like one time… I was chopping onions one time and I sliced my finger. Another time it was raining and I slid down the stairs of the subway and cut my hand on broken glass…

He says comedy is tough enough to break into without paying hundreds a month for health insurance.

Mande: If you want to pursue something that’s not in a giant company or some sort of cubicle thing, you get punished. You have to figure out your own health insurance. I mean, that shouldn’t be the case. You should be able to do what you want.

Patty Crowe of Arlington, Virginia, says you can. She runs her own publishing business. Her husband is a self-employed carpenter. Crowe doesn’t see herself as a victim.

Patty Crowe: Someone might say, “Oh my gosh, you’ve had, you know, $100,000 in medical expenses in the last ten years or so. How can you consider yourself fortunate?” Well, I do, because we’ve managed to cope.

The Crowes only buy catastrophic health insurance. Patty says they try to eat well, take vitamins and avoid the doctor. But when their eldest son was 15, he developed a brain tumor. The Crowes had to pay a $10,000 deductible before the insurance kicked in. Other expenses weren’t covered. Two years later, the tumor returned and they had to start the whole process again. Several years later, they’re still paying off medical bills. Still, Crowe says she doesn’t want a government-run health care system.

Crowe: I believe that the more areas such as health care and any other areas regulated by the federal government, I think it opens the door to a tremendous amount of error and misjudgments because it’s so far down to the man on the street. And I also believe it removes the individual citizen from responsibility in a way.

But Crowe resents what she says is greed and corruption at pharmaceutical companies. She’d welcome some government intervention to lower the cost of drugs and the unseemly profits she says they generate.

Her biggest concern is social security. As a self-employed couple, she and her husband contribute twice as much as company employees do. Crowe says the government’s so in debt, she’s afraid they won’t get a penny back.

But she’s not losing sleep like Keith Franks is. He’s so worried about his overall financial security, he’s begun to question whether being his own boss still makes sense.

Franks: I go to bed wondering how we will pay for health care, where will it be next year? I never thought at 50, let alone 80, I’d be this concerned about how do I pay for my health care.

Recently, he ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. A nurse told him his 65-hour work week wasn’t helping. After ten days away from the shop, Franks was anxious to re-open and start making money again.

Patty Crowe says she and her husband have no doubts about their employment status…

Milne-Tyte: Is it worth it?

Crowe: For us, absolutely. We love being self-employed. Being your own boss and creating your own products that you believe in and presenting them to the world… it’s wonderful.

The only question, she says, is when — or whether — they’ll be able to retire.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

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