As consumers surge to Healthcare.gov on the last day of open enrollment, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s #GeeksGetCovered initiative continues to focus on raising awareness, sharing stories, and encouraging healthcare enrollment among geeks, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
As part of the effort, I recently caught up with Seattle-based entrepreneur Galen Ward, who founded the real estate website Estately in 2006. While he was able to purchase individual health insurance at that time, he reflects: “If I'd had a preexisting condition that made health insurance unaffordable, I wouldn’t have Estately in the first place. There’s a myth that entrepreneurs are risk takers. We’re actually risk managers.” Galen has seen firsthand other entrepreneurs struggle with lack of coverage, and the negative impact it had on their ability to focus on their dream. Today, Galen is passionate about encouraging other entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act and to get covered.
Why do you consider yourself a “geek”?
I’m a numbers guy and I make numbers-backed decisions. Every day at Estately we geek out on real estate statistics and user experience data. I created the company to help people become real estate geeks.
What does having affordable healthcare mean to you?
Affordable healthcare for all means anyone who wants to can take the same risk I did and start their own company without risking their health and without risking bankruptcy because of a health issue. It means people can take time to work to build a skill - like learning to program - in order to get a better job and without worrying about access to health insurance. That’s phenomenal. That flexibility is what allows people to build a better life for themselves, and, once in a while, to build a groundbreaking new company or product.
How can the Affordable Care Act—or access to affordable, quality health insurance—enable entrepreneurs to pursue new opportunities?
When we made our first, second and third hires at Estately, health insurance was a huge wild card that we just couldn’t afford to offer.
I hated doing it, but we had to ask people to either find their own health insurance or take a risk - otherwise we couldn’t afford to hire them. It limited the people who were interested in working for us. Employers shouldn't be in that position, and workers should not have to be dependent on the availability of healthcare when deciding whether to take a job.
Now that we have the ACA this isn’t an issue for many startups, because they have options in the marketplaces. I genuinely believe the Affordable Care Act is one of the best things to happen to startups and small businesses in America in my lifetime.
What advice do you have for other geeks?
Many startups fail because of poor risk management. Health insurance is an easy way to manage risk.
On a personal level, starting a company is like getting on an emotional roller coaster. If you’re like me, you’ll spend a couple hours awake in the night during the most stressful times and the last thing you need is another thing running through your head and keeping you up.
Bigger picture, I believe affordable health care for all is more important to startups and our economy at large than people realize. It is important for people to be able to take risks, try a new job, or take a break to learn new skills without having to worry about health coverage.
Geeks: health insurance is something you should get. The process might not take spreadsheets and arcane calculations anymore, so you’ll have time to get your geek credibility elsewhere.