May 19, 2005
Sometimes a decision that seems trivial can keep your life on its intended course.
About eight years ago, Elizabeth Mariotti signed up for a health insurance plan at Malee’s Thai Bistro in downtown Scottsdale, where she waited tables while attending Arizona State University. Reluctant at first, she also considered ASU’s cheaper plan that provided students with little more than general checkups.
"I wasn’t going to go with it because I never get sick," said Mariotti, 28, of Tempe. "It was a really fortunate decision."
Soon after choosing the independent restaurant’s coverage at the urging of her mother, Mariotti was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Good thing she listened to her mother. The health plan presently pays for nearly $1,800 in medications each month, keeping Mariotti out of a wheelchair and off of government assistance for disability. Had she pursued insurance after the MS diagnosis, she would have had trouble finding coverage.
Likewise, this financial cushion allowed her to finish a bachelor’s degree in art history, and she’s about to earn a master’s degree in special education.
And she’s still waiting tables at the restaurant.
Mariotti’s story is a testament to the rewards of a small business taking care of its staff. Deirdre Pain, owner of Malee’s, began offering health insurance to employees 17 years ago. Although the economic strains from Sept. 11, 2001, forced her to stop covering 100 percent of premiums, she still picks up a majority of the cost.
However, the unwritten benefits are priceless for Pain’s employees. Health coverage makes them feel valued and increases loyalty — several employees have been there for years.
"I wouldn’t live without it and I wouldn’t let my staff live without it," Pain said.
Cheryl Hawker, president of Scottsdale-based Pacific Reserve Inc./Western Health Services, said it’s unusual for a restaurant like Malee’s to offer coverage at this level. Small businesses already face high business insurance premiums that often prevent or severely limit health benefits for employees.
In a time when even corporate chains don’t provide wage earners with adequate health plans, Pain sees her restaurant’s coverage as a necessity, not a sacrifice.
"What’s good for the company is healthy people," Pain said. "It’s time we as a community and as a country step up and do something about health care."