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Cassie Hoag, past president, NAWBO OC

Click here to read full bio.
Women and health care reform
I broke my arm last month and have been through an odyssey of tests and treatments. With the experience so fresh, health care reform has been top of mind. I’m keenly aware that Congress is under intensifying pressure to deliver a bill and that consumers are polarized over key (and sometimes tangential) talking points. In the midst of the confusion, it’s indisputable to many that our current system is failing, and failing women in particular. More than 76 percent of women believe our health care system should be reformed or radically changed, according to a poll conducted this past spring by the National Women’s Law Center.

It's no wonder: In study after study, we’ve learned that women are more likely than men to forgo needed doctor visits, tests, treatments, prescriptions and follow-ups, even though they have a higher awareness and understanding of the need. Today, 60 percent of women are unable to pay their medical bills. As we know intuitively, fewer women than men have full-time jobs (52 percent versus 73 percent) where decent private insurance is accessible. And those who work part time or are tending to children at home are out of luck: They are paying excessively for individual policies, funding care out-of-pocket or forgoing care entirely with no ability to pay.

Even when women are insured, they’re victims of “gender rating,” where women, as well as businesses with a majority female work force, are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage. This is because women are more likely to use health care than men are: They need coverage for a full range of reproductive services and are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis or asthma). The “new normal” of insurance – stripped down plans with escalating co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket charges – is particularly hard on and harmful to women. Preventive and “well care” is seemingly out the proverbial window.

As the federal government struggles with the question of health care reform, I hope that the gender inequalities that have forced women into a sort of medical underclass are front and center. For those interested, there’s some enlightening and useful information available from organizations like the National Partnership for Women and Families, Moms Rising and the aforementioned National Women’s Law Center. These groups, and others like them, are pushing hard for fairness and parity and a true representation of women's experiences, in whatever form new legislation takes.

It’s biologically irrefutable: Women’s health impacts their jobs, their families and society at large. We need Congress to recognize this as it considers both new subsidies and cost-saving opportunities. Perhaps this should be at the core of reform, understanding that the process will be complex, multi-tiered and gradual. Although said often through the national debate of the last 11 months, helping women stay healthy will help us all.


Sweet, elusive summertime
Is it just me, or is summertime somehow slipping away? It’s a rhetorical question of course, and as a grownup, I don’t expect to be spending 10 weeks enjoying my freedom in the splendor of warm weather, long nights and the companionship of my equally untethered peers.

But what happened to that perceptible slowdown in business from mid-July to the end of August? You know what I mean: a subtle, temporary easing of the pace. A time to get caught up on important action items – those simmering on the proverbial back burner for too long; a time to socialize with business associates and friends around the barbecue (making the former into the latter); a time to take in a ballgame with key clients; a time to regroup and plan for the coming fourth-quarter rush. Has summertime gone away entirely, or am I just getting older, more burdened or more distracted – and somehow unable to notice it?  

I speculate that the answer is complex. People are still taking vacations, after all, and most around this time. Why doesn’t that invoke my (OK, somewhat romanticized) version of a working professional’s summer? We can blame most of it on the Internet and connectivity. Long gone are the days when you worked till midnight before heading off to wherever with the family – and no one at the office heard from you for a couple weeks. Technology creep – from the pager to the cell phone to the laptop to the PDA to Wi-Fi and the ubiquitous USB connection device – has morphed staying in touch from a luxury to a requirement. (We should have paid attention to the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”) Now, vacationing colleagues check-in far more than we want them to. Their needs inevitably put more demands on those manning the fort. (Of course, I’m as guilty on this front as anyone.)

The Internet also has many blessings, so I’m going to spread the blame around a bit: The slowed economy necessitates reduced, canceled or “staycations” for many. Although some folks are out of the office, they’re literally climbing the walls at home, and essentially telecommuting (or job-searching) full-time. Year-round schools and the demands of high school sports keep even the most nimble families grounded, and increased lifespans have us tending to multigenerational obligations, sometimes in lieu of a trip to the Grand Canyon.

I’m not ready to surrender though; it’s not just nostalgia. There are still ways – however fleeting – to invoke the sweet comforts of summer. When we light the outdoor fire under a full moon, or grab two hours at the beach and wiggle our toes in the sand, or invest in a bestseller and steal away to the hammock, or invite the neighborhood kids over to delight in their laughter and grace – now that’s summertime.

It takes far more deliberation than it used to, but it’s still there. And even though Apple hasn’t made an app for it yet, my wish for all is that we keep finding ways to enjoy, dare I say revel, in these long days and temperate nights. Happy summer!   

Of news feeds and good news
Thank God for Internet news feeds and alerts. If we do a good job at setting up our filters, we can keep track of the news and events most meaningful to our lives – without having to weed through the massive amount of information now literally at our fingertips. Because it’s important to my business and to my role as president of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) here in O.C., I try to keep my “news feed finger” on the pulse of small business legislation.

So, yesterday one of those “better take a look” stories landed on my desktop. Amid a political smorgasbord of high-profile and volatile issues, Washington somehow made time to address two potentially game-changing Senate bills for startups and small businesses. Essentially, Sens. Landrieu and Snowe, leading the bipartisan Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, are working to revive and update two sweeping SBA initiatives: one having to do with availability of counseling and resources, and the other with economic incentives to stimulate innovation and technology transfer.

May sound boring, but it’s not. Consider this: As part of the Entrepreneurial Development Act of 2009, the SBA’s counseling programs will be reauthorized to provide small businesses with the tools they need to succeed, teaching them how to write and execute business plans, manage cash flow or put together successful loan packages. The committee points out that for every dollar invested in counseling, $2.86 is returned to the Treasury in the form of increased tax dollars. And SBA counseling programs are estimated to create or save more than 200,000 jobs a year. Now, this seems worthwhile. And tangible. This reauthorization will specifically jumpstart the Small Business Development Center program (SBDC), SCORE, the Women's Business Center program (WBC) and its grant process, the National Women's Business Council and other programs. It also establishes an online networking, information and education resource platform for small businesses. Wow! Music to my NAWBO (and client) “ears.”
 
Also shaking the cobwebs off of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs, this portion of the act more than triples the funding available for SBIR grants and increases that for SBTT. It also reopens the door to venture-backed startups – which often incubate the disruptive technologies and business models that ultimately stimulate industries and employ thousands – and have been effectively shut out from these programs since 2001. This is very meaningful to us here in Orange County, where many of our promising medical device and other life-science companies have been thwarted by limited access to capital.

Of course, the Senate will continue to vet these bills before bringing them to vote, and the House will do the same on its version, which I understand is quite similar. We’ll see what comes out of the legislative process. I’m hopeful that the final bills will indeed put ARRA (the Obama administration’s economic stimulus initiative) to work for promising small businesses. Whatever the outcome, I’ll know almost instantaneously with the click of a mouse.

And as a hands-full citizen, juggling career, family and volunteer work, I’m supremely grateful for the likes of the WSJ Small Business Journal, Google Alerts and even the federal government’s surprisingly accessible and increasingly user-friendly Internet portals. They all make me smarter and better informed. They all serve my business, my clients and my community.


Is the media fueling the recession?
As a transplanted East Coaster, I’ve long chuckled over the Los Angeles media’s coverage of weather. The mere prospect of rain always incites some version of “Storm Watch,” warning all of us to take cover from the coming natural disaster – which more often than not manifests in a light shower versus a downpour. Of course, outside of the desert Southwest, rain is a non-event. In Southern California, however, its mere scarcity over-stimulates bored news producers.

Is that what’s happening with the media and the recession? Are producers over-playing bad news because it’s so uncommon? Lots of people think so. And they’re quick to draw the conclusion that all of the drama around the reading of monthly unemployment statistics, for example, is actually exacerbating the situation. Fuel on the fire, so to speak. I’ve even heard some attribute the recession to the media. They reason that we’d all be out there spending, just like we did before the financial crisis, in the absence of the media’s insistence on doom and gloom.

It’s a real stretch to blame toxic assets on TV, newspapers and the Internet. Some are on the other side of this argument, wondering why it took the media so long to recognize the enormity of the situation. But we all had our heads in the sand, and until reality set in, the stuff of economists didn’t typically get our juices flowing. Leave the financial reporting to Bloomberg News …

We find ourselves now overnight experts on market behavior. Securitized mortgages, bailouts, deficits and derivatives are part of our everyday lexicon. My teenager knows what the GNP was last quarter. When AIG is more sensational than Octomom, the financial reporter is no longer the nerd in the newsroom. Is our abrupt education in the ways of global economies borne of genuine interest, concern, fear or sensationalism? How much of this emotion is media-driven, and how should we respond to the relentless recession-babble?   

When we’re on Storm Watch, I usually smirk, and then throw an umbrella in my car. Maybe that’s how we should respond to Market Meltdown. Wonder over the drama of it all, and then take some action. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy financial security, then think about how you might reallocate your assets to stimulate jobs. If you’re behind on your mortgage, research some of the remedies that banks are starting to entertain. If you’re job hunting, contact one more person who might point you toward new employment. Do something to channel all that hyperbole into something meaningful. The media’s there to tell a story. Like all stories, put this one in perspective, and use the hype as a catalyst for action.           


Is the media fueling the recession?
As a transplanted East Coaster, I’ve long chuckled over the Los Angeles media’s coverage of weather. The mere prospect of rain always incites some version of “Storm Watch,” warning all of us to take cover from the coming natural disaster – which more often than not manifests in a light shower versus a downpour. Of course, outside of the desert Southwest, rain is a non-event. In Southern California, however, its mere scarcity over-stimulates bored news producers.

Is that what’s happening with the media and the recession? Are producers over-playing bad news because it’s so uncommon? Lots of people think so. And they’re quick to draw the conclusion that all of the drama around the reading of monthly unemployment statistics, for example, is actually exacerbating the situation. Fuel on the fire, so to speak. I’ve even heard some attribute the recession to the media. They reason that we’d all be out there spending, just like we did before the financial crisis, in the absence of the media’s insistence on doom and gloom.

It’s a real stretch to blame toxic assets on TV, newspapers and the Internet. Some are on the other side of this argument, wondering why it took the media so long to recognize the enormity of the situation. But we all had our heads in the sand, and until reality set in, the stuff of economists didn’t typically get our juices flowing. Leave the financial reporting to Bloomberg News …

We find ourselves now overnight experts on market behavior. Securitized mortgages, bailouts, deficits and derivatives are part of our everyday lexicon. My teenager knows what the GNP was last quarter. When AIG is more sensational than Octomom, the financial reporter is no longer the nerd in the newsroom. Is our abrupt education in the ways of global economies borne of genuine interest, concern, fear or sensationalism? How much of this emotion is media-driven, and how should we respond to the relentless recession-babble?   

When we’re on Storm Watch, I usually smirk, and then throw an umbrella in my car. Maybe that’s how we should respond to Market Meltdown. Wonder over the drama of it all, and then take some action. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy financial security, then think about how you might reallocate your assets to stimulate jobs. If you’re behind on your mortgage, research some of the remedies that banks are starting to entertain. If you’re job hunting, contact one more person who might point you toward new employment. Do something to channel all that hyperbole into something meaningful. The media’s there to tell a story. Like all stories, put this one in perspective, and use the hype as a catalyst for action.           


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