This article originally appeared in Forbes.
America is a startup nation. Risk taking entrepreneurs have helped our country lead the world in innovation. New ventures create most of our jobs, grow our economy, and increasingly compete on a global scale.
We’re living through unprecedented redefinition and churn among big business today (734 of the companies on the F1000 list a decade ago no longer appear there, and half of the 500 largest companies in America will cease to exist a decade from now). The future of work for individuals is being redefined too, and that could unleash a torrent of new entrepreneurial activity.
But we can’t take any of this change and potential momentum for granted… it’s precarious, and fraught with failure. I’ve written in Forbes before that overall entrepreneurial activity in America actually peaked more than 30 years ago. I’ve also argued a million new jobs a year could be created by American startups with just a few smart public policy changes out of Washington, D.C. and state houses across the country.
One of the surest ways to stunt the growth of new startups and prevent entrepreneurs from making the leap is to force them to take unreasonable risk with their family’s healthcare and well-being. One of the top reasons people don’t leave their jobs at BigCo and chase new ideas on their own is the intolerable risk of losing healthcare coverage.
The GOP in the U. S. House of Representative recently took one of the swiftest swipes at killing America’s startups before they even start.
One in five customers on the ACA health exchanges are small business owners. Without access to those shared risk pools, many otherwise-would-be entrepreneurs remain tethered to their employers.
I have started, mentored, incubated and funded a great many startups, and none of them could have launched without a brave entrepreneur willing to take risks. I’ve also seen too many unable to make that jump because of uncertainty over health care.
But beyond dissolving what opponents labeled “Obamacare” (but what was built on the foundation of Republican ideas), this is bad for business… especially small and emerging businesses. Even accounting for a high failure rate for new ventures, we will be losing thousands if not hundreds of thousands of new ideas. They’ll be “job-locked” because they can’t afford to risk everything for an idea.
The vast majority of American startups will never raise outside capital and are funded by courageous entrepreneurs who max out their credit cards, borrow from their friends and family, and go without salaries to launch their business and create jobs. Should we also expect these founders and early employees to forgo any access to affordable healthcare, guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions or protections for their families?
A recent online survey of almost 15,000 small business owners found that a quarter of the respondents whose business is their primary employment said access to health insurance was a primary factor in helping them start their companies.
A Washington Post story in February suggested that ACA helped spur employment in companies that rely on a “flexible” workforce that didn’t have to rely on an employers’ health plan.
Listen, the ACA isn’t perfect, and it needs to be fixed. But the reason we elect representatives to serve us in Washington is to fix the things that are broken, to work together to make life for all Americans better. When that happens, businesses flourish and the economy grows. Not just for a few of us.
We are in an era with expanding automation. We have disruptive technologies that are destroying traditional workplaces and sending previously fully employed and well-covered people into a life of uncertainty. One of the best things we can do to create an environment that celebrates change, that encourages innovation and doesn’t punish workers is to make sure they have access to affordable health care so they can be retrained, or perhaps strike out on their own and start the next new disruptive industry.
Our future economy depends on it.