A healthy local economy hinges on the viability of small businesses, and small businesses won’t survive without healthy, productive employees.
That’s a big reason why finding affordable, right-sized health coverage is a must for small businesses — and for the economy at large. There’s a health plan to fit the needs of every small business, though finding it typically requires expert help, says Chuck Cooke, director of sales and operations for small businesses at Medical Mutual of Ohio.
“The health insurance market is extremely complex right now,’’ Cooke says. “There are so many different factors that play into what’s best for small business.”
He knows some business owners will do their own shopping for health coverage. Too often, they’ll land on the lowest cost without fully considering what the plan offers, such as the network of hospitals and doctors.
“They’ll find that a doctor or hospital system they’ve been using for years is not part of the network,’’ Cooke says. That can mean giving up preferred doctors or paying higher out-of-network costs to see them.
A plan that falls short of employees’ needs might give them a reason to leave or give prospects a reason to look elsewhere. Experts say adequate health coverage helps attract and retain talent that’s increasingly hard to find as local and national labor markets tighten.
Fortunately, small business owners have plenty of options as they look for the right match, Cooke says. For more traditional coverage there are fully insured plans, under which companies pay set premiums to an insurer that takes on the risk of covering health costs. These plans comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so medical underwriting is limited. Premiums vary based only on an employee’s age, location and tobacco use. Also, there are no annual or lifetime dollar limits on most of the benefits received.
Then there are self-funded plans, under which businesses put aside money to pay employees’ health costs. Plan options can involve more medical underwriting, potentially resulting in lower cost for a small business. These plans also are not subject to some ACA-mandated taxes, fees and benefits.
An extremely popular option statewide enables small businesses to pool their risk and contributions. These multi-employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) are offered by the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), with Medical Mutual administering claims and other services. With the MEWA, companies have 18 plan coverage options from which to choose.
In less than two years, nearly 4,000 businesses have joined the COSE Health and Wellness Trust, as it’s known.
“Basically, it’s a collection of small businesses joining together to get the buying power of one large group,’’ says health insurance broker Joel Belding of Akron, who has directed many clients to the COSE plan.
Belding is among insurance brokers who shop the market every year for small businesses. He and Cooke say it’s difficult to know where health insurance for small businesses is headed. Sweeping health reform under ACA is now undergoing change sought by the Republican administration and Congress.
“As a company, we’re preparing the best way we can and coming up with a variety of plans,” Cooke says. “We want to find a good home for our customers.’’