Health care hurting in failing economy

Wednesday, October 8th 2008, 7:02 pm
By: News 9

By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma has weathered the current financial storm more comfortably than other states, but when it comes to small businesses, some are beginning to feel the impact of the slowdown.

Cherokee Painting is just one business feeling the stress of the market meltdown, and as a result, employees may end up paying a hefty price by losing of their health insurance.

John Kelley has worked for Cherokee Painting for four years. Part of his benefits includes health insurance, which is something many small businesses don't provide for their employees.

"This is just a big bonus for me," Kelley said. "It's making my life a whole lot easier."

Kelly, the father of four, said his health insurance could soon be in jeopardy.

"It's really a scary thing right now," Kelley said.

Melanie Breeden is the owner of Cherokee Painting. In just five years, she's grown her company to 23 employees, but business is now down 14 percent from last year.

"Everyone would love to have a beautiful paint job, but budget crises are the way they are," Breeden said. "People are losing their retirement plan, losing money on stocks, then you have to take a really hard look and see if you need that paint job this year."

With business down and expenses up, Breeden is concerned she may have to stop providing medical insurance.

"That's a lot of money a month we're paying for insurance premiums," Breeden said.

Currently, 661 Oklahoma residents are without health insurance, ranking the state among the highest in the nation.

"It's a very serious situation and obviously we're concerned about how the credit crunch or how our general economy can impact a small business' ability to buy insurance," state Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said.

Kelley remains hopeful for an economic pick-up.

"I couldn't imagine going without it," Kelley said. "I would have to, I would have to consider changing careers."

Melanie Breeden said she's even considering going to a four-day work week and cutting overtime so she doesn't have to stop the health insurance.