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Program to offer health insurance for small businesses

Program to offer health insurance for small businesses

March 1st, 2018 by Philip Joens in Local News

The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce hopes a new health insurance plan offered to members will save small businesses money.

In conjunction with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Chamber Federation, the Jefferson City chamber began offering the plans recently and held a meeting Wednesday morning for a dozen small business owners interested in the new plan.

Known as multiple-employee welfare arrangements, the plans allow many companies to group their employees into the same plans. The groups hope the plans will allow businesses to save money on health care costs.

Shannon Brenneke, Wallstreet Group account executive, said companies enrolled in similar plans generally save about 25 percent on health care costs.

The statewide program through the Missouri Chamber Federation went live Nov. 1, 2017. Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce President Randy Allen said the local chamber began offering plans through this program to its own employees at the end of last year.

Allen said the Jefferson City chamber saved about 30 percent on health care costs by making the switch. Several members have already signed up, he said.

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also thinks the plans will save small businesses significant amounts on health care.

"This is growing beyond our expectations," Mehan said last week.

Melle Richardson, project coordinator for the Jefferson City-based Council for Drug Free Youth, said she attended the meeting because she wants to save money on her health insurance plan. Richardson gets health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The nonprofit's other employee currently receives health insurance through her husband.

"We're just trying to find solutions to get an inexpensive thing," Richardson said.

Before the Affordable Care Act took effect, Richardson paid $466 per month for a plan with a high deductible through the COBRA program, which allows people to continue health insurance after events like a job change or divorce. When Richardson switched to insurance on the ACA marketplace, her health insurance premium decreased to $107 per month. Since then, it's increased to $256 per month for a plan with a $7,500-per-year deductible.

Richardson said she liked what she saw Wednesday but wants to know more about pricing.

Plans offered by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield under the partnership will be available to members of the Jefferson City and Missouri chambers with two to 50 employees.

Brenneke described the plans as similar to plans typically offered before the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014. Employees working more than 30 hours per week are eligible because of an Affordable Care Act provision that makes health care available to full-time employees working 30 hours or more per week. Employees working remotely for companies that are members of the Jefferson City chamber also are eligible.

Several plans are available for businesses that want to enroll, Brenneke said.

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In December, Congress passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation's tax code that also repealed the individual mandate requiring most Americans to buy health insurance. Premiums are expected to rise 10 percent because of the repeal, according to USA Today.

When it was passed, supporters of the Affordable Care Act thought it would get easier for small business owners and entrepreneurs to start businesses because they could buy affordable health insurance through avenues other than their employers.

Brenneke said the ACA made it easier for many entrepreneurs to get coverage but also made health insurance more expensive for small businesses overall.

Allen said premiums simply rose too fast under the ACA.

"It was easier; the problem was that the rates were going up too high," Allen said.

He has high hopes for the program because health care is a large cost for businesses.

"Health care is a challenge, and this is a way people can organize and make better rates," Allen said. "If you offer benefits as part of your employee package, health care is by far the biggest."