Keynote speaker for the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber event was Bradley County native Vicky Gregg, sister of Cleveland attorney and former school board member Bill Brown. Gregg, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, provided those at the luncheon with information on the national health care debate.
Also preceeding the awarding of the 14th Mel Bedwell Small Business Person of the Year presentation to Ritzhaupt, was a brief discussion by Cleveland/Bradley Business Incubator tenant Jeff Cocks, who discussed the success of the incubator on the Cleveland State Community College campus.
The Chamber also announced upcoming events during the remainder of Business Development Month.
There was a Chamber membership coffee this morning at Alliance Physical Therapy; There will be a Business Travel Showcase from 4:30 until 6 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at the Chamber’s Conference Center in Village Green Town Center with Comcast Spotlight the host; a free shred event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday, May 21, in the Chamber’s parking lot; and a new member orientation at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 24, at the Chamber offices.
Gregg, who grew up in Cleveland prior to entering the health care field, was introduced by Lois Egan of Hiwassee Insurance, chair of the Chamber’s Small Business Committee.
“It’s always fun to come back to Cleveland,” said Gregg, a former Cleveland High School graduate. “My father was a friend of Mel Bedwell,” she said of the namesake of the Small Business award that was to come later in Monday’s program.
Gregg emphasized that everyone is awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court on the nation’s health care debate “The question is, ‘Is it constitutional?’” she continued.
She said everyone should get really good advice according to their personal health care needs. “It’s a very intricate situation,” she said. “You need to keep your options open, but it is really a moving target.”
Gregg said the industry knew there was trouble ahead when Medicare and Medicaid first began. “Two years in, the cost exceeded the original expense by nine times.”
“It’s a rare situation when a person decides not to be covered (due to cost),” she said, indicating this scenario is increasing.
“Small businesses, as well as large corporations, are feeling the pinch,” Gregg said. She added that large companies are facing higher costs and lower benefits.
Gregg said it’s unfortunate there are promises that are unsustainable, and because of this the industry is unstable.
“You, as employers, understand that the law doesn’t control costs,” she continued. “An increased portion of your take-home pay is going to health care costs. The cost of health care, and a new car, are about the same.”
“The current law, as written, will probably push the cost up,” she said. “We’re paying more than our global competitors. We need to control (manage) health care, just as you manage your businesses every day.”
“Secondly, we need to accelerate basic changes to health care,” Gregg continued. “This is going to take a true community effort. We can jump-start this by engaging patients and doctors to make better decisions.” She added that there are different treatment regimens from one community to another.
“Expanded health care is not pretty,” she continued. “Someone has to pay the bill. The cost is driven by the people like you in this room,” she appealed to those attending the small business luncheon. “Issues have to be addressed and we have to have commitments like those that the late Mel Bedwell embraced.”
n Cocks emphasized that the business incubator has created 430 jobs since it first opened in 2000. “We have a wide variety of businesses and it has stayed self-funded and self-sufficient,” he continued.
The incubator tenant pointed out that the local program is regarded as a model program, across and state and nation. “It is one of the finest programs in the nation,” he said. “We’ve had such a successful history, others come to visit.”
“We have done well with an initial investment of $100,000,” he added.