WEST PLAINS, Mo. — Travis Morrison has the hands of a man who has worked hard his whole life. And while the cement mixing plant he runs has been around for 22 years, things have never been this bad.

Residential construction jobs and government-funded projects that rely on concrete have dried up. The post-boom recession has left his business with fewer jobs than ever.

As a result, the Stewart-Morrison Redi-Mix Company, which usually employs around 30 to 40 people, cut its staff down to about 10 last fall.

Morrison’s company, like other small businesses across the country, is trying to stay above water during the current economic crisis. However, one of his biggest expenses is health care.

Twenty years ago Morrison started a group health care plan. ‘It was a
personal goal of mine,’ he told the World.

Unfortunately, most small businesses have a hard time providing health care.

‘First, the cost is prohibitive,’ Morrison said. Small businesses like his have a smaller pool of resources to pull from, smaller profit margins.

‘Second, in many industries providing health care makes you uncompetitive,’ he said. Companies bid for jobs. Those who don’t provide health care can under-bid those who do.

Morrison has an additional burden to bear.

In an impoverished area where good jobs are a hard thing to come by, Morrison has made a special effort to hire people in their mid-40s and 50s, people with families. ‘They are more stable and invested. They’re experienced,’ he said.

While a stable, invested, experienced workforce is good for business, it can also drive up health coverage costs. ‘Not only has the group plan increased 30 to 40 percent a year the past few years,’ Morrison said, ‘but we pay an additional penalty because of the average age of the people in our group plan.’

‘Even though our utilization is low,’ he continued, ‘we have disproportionately high premiums. Our costs aren’t based on use.’

Morrison also sits on the board of the Ozark Medical Center, a local community-based hospital which is also one of the largest employers in the region. So he’s seen first hand — from the inside — how difficult it is for community-based hospitals to provide care because of cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

For example, former Missouri governor Matt Blunt refused to use $25 million in state funds and cut over 100,000 Missourians off of Medicaid and Medicare, Morrison said. ‘If he had used the $25 million, we would have received $75 million in matching federal funds. It’s bad for people and it’s bad for business.’

Federal matching funds for Medicaid and Medicare would have a ‘multiplier effect,’ he said: while money would initially go to the less fortunate, it would eventually ‘turn-over five to seven times’ in the overall economy.

‘Just from a business standpoint, cutting Medicaid and Medicare is stupid,’ said Morrison. ‘This is also about improving the general economic situation.’

Morrison is a strong supporter of including a public health care option in health reform legislation now being drafted. He sees the public option as an ‘intermediate plan … a significant step forward.’

‘We need to let people get used to the public option before we try to go all the way,’ he said.

‘Very few people believe that nothing should be done,’ he added, ‘even the very conservative.’

As a small business owner, Morrison is exactly the type of coalition partner Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) needs. HCAN, a nationwide grassroots coalition, is fighting for real health care reform this year. Small business owners are a key part of the broad-based coalition that will reshape our country’s health care system.

‘While I’m not scared of government,’ Morrison added, ‘this is gonna be a tough political hill to climb. Republicans will cry socialism, but the reality is a public option will put financial pressure on private plans, forcing them to lower costs and provide better service.’

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