I'm in the people business. As the founder and chief executive Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc., I understand that at the heart of my business are people: children, parents, grandparents, employees, landlords, shareholders, suppliers, the list goes on.
We opened our first store in 1997 at the St. Louis Galleria. Today there are more than 400 stores worldwide and more than 110 million of our stuffed animal friends have been sold around the globe. But in the more than 15 years since we first opened our doors in St. Louis, I have watched our nation go through some extraordinary times. I've seen the highs and lows of a turbulent economy. I've seen the markets dip down and unemployment tick up. Throughout it all, I've seen people across Missouri working harder than ever but still struggling to get by.
I've seen moms and dads working double shifts to make ends meet, stretching every paycheck just to pay the bills. I've seen families pinching every penny but still unable to afford health insurance. It’s for these reasons that I support strengthening Medicaid and expanding health coverage to hard-working families. There are many good business reasons to do this. It will save our state money by bringing more of our tax dollars home to provide preventative care to the working class. It will save employers money by preventing our own health care costs from skyrocketing. And it will create thousands of new health care jobs throughout the state.
I have always believed that everyone should have the opportunity to have quality health care coverage. With that as our mission at Build-A-Bear Workshop, through the last few years we have worked with our provider to continually enhance our insurance coverage when other companies were looking to cut back. We extended coverage to part-time associates, rolled out a Wellness Program, enhanced outreach to patients with chronic illnesses and implemented several of the Affordable Care Act provisions before they took effect, such as no lifetime limits and coverage for preventive care for lab services, mammograms and well-woman exams. And, after all of these enhancements, our premiums have actually decreased. But we didn’t make these changes just for the business reasons. We did it because it was the right thing to do for our people, our associates.
I support Medicaid expansion because I'm in the people business. I'm in the children and parents and workers and families business. And they're all counting on us. It's time to take action.
Maxine Clark is the founder and chief executive of Build-A-Bear Workshop.