Guest Columnist

Health care system can be barrier to entrepreneurship

Molly Monk (left), assistant director of development with NewBoCo, meets with Director of Development Kaitlin Dyers at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. Monk appreciates the health care plan offered by her employer as she manages a chronic health condition. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Molly Monk (left), assistant director of development with NewBoCo, meets with Director of Development Kaitlin Dyers at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. Monk appreciates the health care plan offered by her employer as she manages a chronic health condition. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, reducing risk is always a topic of conversation.

A majority of start-ups fail (sometimes spectacularly) and we’re perpetually on quest to ensure that the start-ups we care about don’t experience the same fate. We talk about how we can “de-risk” start-ups through accelerator programs, prototyping labs, and local investor networks. We talk about state funding and mentorship programs. We talk about “failing fast” and rapid iteration.

But we don’t talk enough about reducing the risk of entrepreneurship itself.

Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, but because of the way our country works, only some people are able to take the risks necessary to grow their own business. In my work with NewBoCo, and as the former program manager of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, one of the major barriers I saw preventing people from becoming an entrepreneur was the lack of affordable health insurance.

In 2017, more than half of the American population received health insurance from their employer. While the Affordable Care Act made great strides in increasing access to health insurance, many people found that the premiums and deductibles were too high for them to afford.

For many would-be entrepreneurs with children, preexisting medical conditions or concerning family medical histories, going without insurance in order to fully commit to growing their startup is a risk too great to take. Starting a business simply isn’t worth drowning in medical debt for years to come.

Universal and affordable health insurance needs to be viewed as a critical part of economic development. Tying peoples’ health and well-being to their current employer is wildly detrimental to innovation. If the only people who can take the risk of entrepreneurship are healthy young folks without families, we lose out on entire worlds of ideas. Having access to affordable health insurance regardless of one’s employment status will enable and encourage people to take the risk to start a business.

I want to be clear that this is not a policy proposal. I won’t pretend that I have a perfect solution for America’s health care crisis. But if the response to the moral argument that everyone deserves health care is an outcry over cost, we need to make monetary arguments for universal, affordable coverage.

The way our economy works is changing. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have the potential to disrupt all of Iowa’s key industries.

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In order for Iowa to remain competitive in this changing economy, we need to create more high-growth companies in our state. We need to empower Iowans from all backgrounds and experiences to build the companies of the future in our communities. Making health care universal and affordable in our state will allow people to take the risk to start a new business without endangering their health or that of their families.

It will do far more for job creation in our state than recruiting coastal companies to build data centers here ever will.

• Molly Monk of Cedar Rapids is assistant director of development at the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo).

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