How Obamacare Saved a Small Business Owner From Financial Ruin

After the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the larger debate, as the enrollment deadline of March 31 looms, is whether or not the reforms in President Obama's health care law are indicative of whether or not the government can play a positive role in the healthcare sector. Pete Dutro, a small business owner, single father and cancer survivor in New York City, says that while the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, it's a good thing for him and his family.

"This is a huge step forward for me. I actually don't have to have Damocles' sword hanging over my head. I have a daughter, and I want to be around for her. So this is a huge step in the right direction," Dutro said. "It's not perfect, but it's a huge improvement."

Dutro owns a tattoo shop, and says while his business is incorporated as an s-corp, he runs it like a co-op. Employees are paid fairly and all meet regularly to discuss how revenue can be better shared with other workers through additional employee benefits, like a company health insurance plan. Just before Dutro was diagnosed with cancer, he was in a motorcycle accident and didn't have health insurance. When the cancer diagnosis came, Dutro was laid out for eight months in between surgeries and treatments.

The treatment process for Dutro's cancer involved numerous scans and tests that amounted to about $5,000 per procedure, and each visit to Bellevue Hospital required sometimes three separate treatments. In between radiation treatment, surgeries and diagnostic tests, Dutro was looking at roughly a half million dollars in healthcare costs. At the hospital's finance office, Dutro barely qualified for emergency Medicaid coverage.

"I was kind of lucky where I was in a cycle that my business was losing money, so I qualified for the emergency Medicaid," Dutro said. "But I really felt like they were saying, 'Fuck you for living. Fuck you for even trying to do anything.'"

The first time Pete Dutro ever had a health insurance plan in his life was after January 1, 2014. When Dutro tried buying a private health insurance plan before Obamacare, the cheapest option he could find was $4,564 a month. Now, under the New York Health Exchange, Dutro pays a little over $1,000 a month. His health insurance is a platinum plan, so it not only covers all of his diagnostics and tests, but his daughter now has health coverage, too. Dutro used to be a kick boxer, and had to buy insurance for his matches. A high level competitor, Dutro broke his nose in several matches and had to pay for it.

"I'm not just some random person who had no clue about the importance of this. This is something I wanted but couldn't afford," Dutro said. "I wasn't one of those people in his mid-twenties and early thirties who couldn't be bothered by this. It was always just a little bit too much."

Dutro concedes that Obamacare is "a boon for corporations" as it forces citizens to buy private health insurance plans. Obamacare subsidizes the private health insurance industry to the tune of $100 billion per year. But he maintains that it's a step above the status quo, and calls those who want to see it repealed and dismantled "life-haters."

"When you think about it, there's a lottery of life. You don't get to choose who you're born to, you don't get to choose where you're born. The fact is, there are people in this country who are born into poor families, and some people think they chose to be born into poverty. Those people are misanthropic. They actually hate the life around them, if you look at the policies they promote," Dutro said.

"They just cut WIC. They don't want women, infants and children to have food stamps. Are you kidding? And they're trying to take the moral high ground of Jesus Christ, which, what I remember from my grandfathers, was take care of the poor, it wasn't cut taxes for the richest people so all the money flows up," Dutro contined. "This is, to me, completely antithetical to this Christian image they try to portray."

Dutro believes we should keep pushing for a single-payer system, where the government pays for health care costs without a need for private health insurers. But he also believes the fundamental questions that should be asked about Obamacare aren't whether it should be maintained or repealed, but why Americans need to depend on programs like the Affordable Care Act, and whether or not businesses will make investments in their employees' health.

"Why are so many eligible for Obamacare and other subsidies? Because these employers, they don't pay their workers a living wage," Dutro said. "As a business owner, I know that what's essential to my business is paying my employees well. If I invest in my employees, that's more revenue down the line."

Carl Gibson is co-founder of US Uncut, a creative direct-action movement that mobilized thousands against corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in over 100 cities during the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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