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Unlocking a barrier to entrepreneurship

I've been traveling all across the country over the last two years and have met countless risk-takers with brilliant business ideas and big dreams. Sadly, many of them don't venture out in pursuit of those dreams because they're concerned about becoming another faceless name on America's uninsured rolls. That's because their employer owns their health-insurance policy, and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to get affordable coverage if they leave their current job.

That lack of freedom is one reason the next generation of entrepreneurs is holding back. It's that fear of losing health insurance that's a deterrent to those wishing to change jobs, move to a new city or go after their entrepreneurial dream.

According to the Labor Department, Americans will have an average of 10 jobs before they are age 36. Never has it been clearer that we must have a healthcare marketplace that provides this mobile workforce with the options and the freedom to make good entrepreneurial decisions. Unfortunately, what we have today is an inflexible, inadaptable health insurance system that doesn't fit the needs of our ever-changing workforce.

For entrepreneurs, when they leave their place of employment, the clock begins to tick as they leave the security of knowing they have health insurance. They have a short timeframe to find a new healthcare plan that meets their needs and the needs of their family. This lack of portability in the healthcare system poses real challenges for a future small business owner.

Many employers offer health insurance today as a way to recruit and retain top-quality talent in the workplace. Like so many employees who value those benefits, the employer places a value on how those benefits keep their employees--potential entrepreneurs--in that current job. But for the entrepreneur, all it does is create a situation in which they find that they're locked in their job if they wish to keep healthcare coverage.

Rather than force would-be entrepreneurs to keep their jobs, it's time to create a climate that fosters healthcare security without creating job lock. This is an important task, and as the policy debate about healthcare reform unfolds, providers, employers and elected officials must come together to craft policies to build a healthcare marketplace that truly achieves and fosters portability.

We need to start a dialogue about the needs of today's workforce, what we can do to make the private health insurance system more adaptable, and how we can better work with employers and employees to ensure that people continue to have confidence that the healthcare system will be there as they pursue their goals and dreams.

Entrepreneurs are the nation's economic backbone, and they have become that by being flexible, adaptable and thinking outside the box. It's essential to apply that kind of creative thinking to our health insurance system in order to continue to grow the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Todd Stottlemyer is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

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