As we continue to slowly climb out of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, I am constantly taking stock of what Congress must do put us back on the path to prosperity.
In 2008, we were losing more than 750,000 jobs a month, borrowing hundreds of billions for two wars, and borrowing even more to make up for the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
But since President Barack Obama took office, we have taken major steps forward in putting the economy on the road to recovery. And while the economy is still struggling to get on its feet, what seems to have gotten lost in the headlines is how the recently passed health-reform legislation will help our economy down the road.
Back in 2008, just about everyone -- including businesses of all sizes -- was clamoring for meaningful health reform. The reason was simple: health-care costs were stifling American prosperity.
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We answered their call, and I believe health reform will help American businesses and workers in three primary ways: ensuring small businesses can afford health care for their employees, making certain workers can take home a greater share of their wages, and promoting entrepreneurship.
You'll never hear a politician argue about the value of small businesses -- they are the backbone of our economy. But insurance companies can charge them extremely high rates because they are insuring a smaller number of people, and if even one employee gets sick, everyone faces a higher cost.
So small businesses are left with two bad choices -- either pay insurance companies exorbitant rates or provide little or no health insurance to their employees.
This is a decision that is crippling small-business owners' ability to be competitive and it's the American workers who will ultimately suffer. Health reform started to change this grim reality.
First, many small businesses will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for health insurance. Second, for those small businesses that still can't afford health insurance, beginning in 2014 their employees will be able to buy health insurance in the state or regional exchanges, many of whom will receive financial assistance to help defray the costs of insurance.
But the health reform law won't just help small businesses -- it's designed to help every American worker by ensuring that they'll get to take home more of their paycheck. Because of the rise of health-care costs, employers have had to reduce wage increases in order to maintain the same level of benefits for their employees.
One thing the health reform law stresses is preventive care -- which can save costs down the road and will be a mandatory free benefit. Further, new regulations will require insurance companies to use more of consumer dollars toward actual health-care services.
The law was also crafted to help promote entrepreneurship. A recent article in U.S. News and World Report indicated that as many as 25 percent of American workers decide against starting their own businesses because they will lose the benefits they get through their employer, will be forced to pay unaffordable premiums or denied coverage altogether. Between the tax credits and increased competition through insurance exchanges, entrepreneurs will be better able to afford health coverage. Finally, the reform law will require insurance companies to take all consumers regardless of pre-existing conditions.
I know that this law is far from perfect, and I know that we are going to have to continue to improve it over the next several years, but it's still a major step forward. This legislation will undoubtedly help our workers and our businesses, both large and small, afford health coverage. Politicians of all stripes should recognize the opportunity the health reform law presents to propel our country forward into a renewed era of prosperity.
McDermott is an 11-term Democrat representing the Seattle area in the House of Representatives.