Sarah Piepenberg: For small businesses like mine, there are NO private insurance options

Sarah Piepenberg

The lack of paid leave is a huge problem for me as a small business owner. I have five employees. When one of my employees broke both her arms two years ago, I had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for medical leave. This year, I have an employee who needs a hip replacement, and we expect that she will be out for 10 weeks. I want to be able to cover her, but doing so would be a huge financial hit to our business and our family. The last time we covered medical leave out of pocket, we fell behind on our commercial lease and home mortgage.

Our current case-by-case out-of-pocket practice could sink our business. Over and over, I have been told by legislators that we don’t need a paid family leave insurance program, that I as a small business, I should do this voluntarily.

So I looked on the private market to see what insurance I could get there. I spent more than five hours researching, and I came up dry. For business owners, this is a game of who you go to and who you trust. The smaller the business, the more expensive it is and the less power you have to negotiate rates. Plans differ drastically, making them really difficult to compare.

The plans I reviewed all had one horrendous commonality: minimum hospital stay requirements. When my employee broke her arms, her stay in the hospital was just two days, so that leave would not have been covered. The average stay in the hospital for a hip replacement is just 1-3 days. Therefore, this leave would also not be covered under any of the private temporary disability plans available to my small business.

I took hours away from my business to speak to multiple companies and agents. I can tell you one thing for certain: For small businesses like mine, there are NO private insurance options on the market that will actually cover my employees in their time of need. The private temporary disability plans out there fall short in many important ways. They are expensive, ranging from $200-300 per month for a business our size. They are peppered with harmful carve-outs and would fail to cover the situations we’ve already encountered. They contain waiting periods, minimum hospital stays, exclusions for cancer, and variance in plan offerings and pricing depending on which agent you talk to.

Small businesses need a transparent and reliable coverage option, and we need Congress to help to get there. A high-quality family and medical leave insurance plan will help my small business keep its valued employees and continue to grow and serve our community.

Sarah Piepenburg is the co-owner of Vinaigrette, a family-owned and operated food store in Minnesota.

Check out more Small Business for Paid Leave resources at smallbusinessforpaidleave.org.