Correction to This Article
The article about Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's meeting with small-business owners in Montgomery County misstated the name of the business owned by Judy EisenbergĂ–. Her shop is called Floral Scentsations.

In Gaithersburg, O'Malley Touts Plan for Small Firms

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008

Judy Eisenberg said she considered providing health-care coverage to the six employees at her Gaithersburg flower shop but found that the deductibles on the insurance she could offer them were more than they could pay.

So when Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) went to Gaithersburg yesterday to talk about the state's $15 million initiative to help small businesses offer insurance, she was intrigued.

Under the Health Insurance Partnership program, the state subsidizes the cost of providing insurance to employees who make less than $50,000 a year at businesses that have two to nine employees. Already, 60 companies have signed on to the statewide program, which was launched this fall.

"This program is aimed at a group of folks who want to do something for their employees but can't afford to,'' said Rex W. Cowdry, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission.

Yesterday, O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and John M. Colmers, secretary of Maryland's Health and Mental Hygiene Department, met with about a half-dozen small-business owners in Montgomery County, part of an effort to spread the word.

The goal is to get folks such as Gus Amaro, owner of Amcon Inc., a decorative concrete business in Gaithersburg, to sign up for the program. Amaro, who has been a business owner for more than 20 years, said he pays his employees well but has not been able to offer them health insurance.

"As a small business, we're always squeezed, and health insurance is something we can never afford," he said. At the same time, Amaro said, health insurance is becoming a growing concern for his six employees, in part because they are getting older.

"This program is great,'' he said. "I talked to my employees, and they're very excited about it."

Eisenberg, who owns Floral Sensations, is also considering the program. "This is a wonderful acknowledgment of a group of people who are falling through the cracks,'' she said.

Mara Gasana, who works at Business Community Synergies, a consulting firm that works with energy and resource extraction companies, said she did not worry about the lack of employer-provided insurance until she got the bill from her dentist.

She began thinking that she needed to find a new job, one that offered health coverage. Then her boss signed up for the state program.

Nearly half of Maryland's small businesses offer health insurance to employees, well above the national average. Even so, about 800,000 residents don't have health coverage. O'Malley said the state can do better.

"The extent that we can bring down the number of uninsured brings down the cost for everyone,'' he said.

"We look at this as an investment,'' Colmers said. "The result is happy and productive workers, and those who are currently covered will benefit when even more people are covered."

O'Malley's appearance was part of a day-long swing the governor made through Gaithersburg as part of his Capital for a Day program.

Earlier in the day, O'Malley fielded questions at Gaithersburg High School, lunched with biotech executives at Roy's Place and issued a proclamation moving Maryland's capital from Annapolis to Gaithersburg for the day.

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company