Testimony of Jeffrey C. Scheininger
President, Flexline/U.S. Brass & Copper Corporation
Before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee
New Jersey State Legislature, Trenton, New Jersey
Mr. Chair, Ms. Vice Chair, and members of this Committee: I’m here today to discuss why it is important to our state’s small businesses that we address the nurse faculty shortage, so we can avert a nursing shortage that will damage our state’s health care system.
It may not be entirely clear why a nursing faculty shortage is a threat to the small businesses of New Jersey. Allow me to elaborate.
My name is Jeff Scheininger, and I am president of Flexline/U.S. Brass & Copper Corporation. Flexline is a small manufacturer of industrial hose products located in Linden. I am your typical small business owner: I employ about 20 employees, and as you know 35 percent of New Jersey’s workers are employed by firms of this size. Like most small business owners, I am very concerned about our health care system. I am concerned because I care about the health and well-being of my employees and their families, and I am concerned because I am the one who pays for their health insurance—an expenditure that consumes an enormous and growing chunk of my company’s profits.
My health insurance expenditures, for my employees and their dependents, have grown to almost 30 percent of pre-tax profits. Every year, I anxiously await notification from my health insurance carriers as to what this year’s rate increase will be. I must tell you that this annual ritual has become one of my least favorite and in fact, most dreaded events. I am regularly stunned at the size of the increase, and more often than not, begin the process of finding new carriers, changing co-pays, and rearranging the benefits package. It is difficult to pay the health insurance premiums for my employees and their families and still afford to give raises, or retirement benefits, or anything else for that matter.
The escalating cost of health insurance is a huge issue for small businesses. I make sure that my employees and their families are covered, but it is increasingly difficult. I couldn’t raise the price of my products from 1997 to 2004 because of competition from China, but during that time, my firm’s health insurance costs doubled.
Smaller companies are, by definition, more personal, so I tend to get involved with navigating the health care system in ways that leaders of larger companies may not. I see the impact of quality care on my employees and their families, and I devote a good deal of time to helping my employees navigate the twists and turns of health insurance policies and ensuring that our plan pays for what it is obligated to cover. I want to make sure they are getting what I am paying for and so do the thousands of other business owners in this state, who go to great lengths to provide their employees with quality health care coverage.
And quite frankly, my employees will not get quality care, at any price, no matter what form universal coverage takes, if the serious nursing shortage that is coming down the road undermines the quality of patient care that nurses provide and that constitutes the bedrock of the health care delivery system. Nurses who are overworked and stretched thin are unable to provide patients with quality care. That translates into longer hospital stays, more sick time, and even more substantial health care costs, and therefore: ever rising insurance premiums. Family members who must perform nursing type duties while their loved ones are in the hospital are not on the job performing the duties that they are paid to do. Inadequate health care translates into sicker employees who are less productive when they are on the job, and more likely to take days off to care for themselves or their family members. Believe me, sick, absent, worried employees are not good employees.
The 32 percent of our state’s total population that constitutes the small business community, the employees, the owners, our vendors and our customers alike have a significant stake in health care reform. That is why I have volunteered for the past five years to chair the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Health Care Reform Initiative. This initiative supports comprehensive health policy proposals at the state level that increase coverage, make our employees healthier and encourage productivity improvements that lower health care costs. Our committee supports efforts to computerize health records, we actively support corporate health and wellness programs, and specific tort reforms aimed at increasing the amount of monies spent on health care and not on litigation.
I strongly believe that we must move quickly to curb, and reverse, the looming nursing shortage. I stand before you today as someone who is proud to be part of the Chamber. I can say that I understand, and business understands that the nurse faculty shortage is not someone else’s problem; it’s our problem. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation knows this, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce knows this, and New Jersey businesses know it. I am proud to be part of the solution.