The Honoree – Health Care Product of the Year Small-Business Plans Blue Cross of California Between 2000 and 2001, 196,422 people took jobs with firms with less than 20 employees. The state has the sixth largest proportion of uninsured residents in the country. Brian Sassi, general manager of the small business division for Blue Cross of California, said between 40 and 50 percent of businesses with less than 50 employees do not offer any kind of health coverage. The problem, said Sassi is that many small business owners, familiar only with individual coverage, assume that they’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars every month to cover each employee. Early this year, Blue Cross decided to redouble its efforts to further penetrate the small group market and develop plans to cover the uninsured. To start with, the company expanded its eligibility guidelines to include part-time employees who work a minimum of 15 hours a week. Before, employees had to work a minimum of 20 hours before being eligible. The company is also offering a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan, the first small group health plan in California to provide generic only drug coverage with a $35 co-pay. Starting this month Blue Cross’ newest health plan package offers a choice of five different health plans, with varying benefits and costs, to small businesses and their employees. Employees have the option of purchasing a plan that offers catastrophic coverage for hospital stays, and buying up. Depending on price ranges, an employee can purchase the most basic plans, or buy into an HMO. Companies can cover employees under 30 for less than $60, Sassi said. Additionally, the BeneFits plan allows employers to cover less than 50 percent of the total premium costs, an option previously unavailable to employers. All of the company’s attempts at innovation will be in vain, Sassi said, if brokers aren’t able to sell the new package to a skeptical crowd of small business owners. Sassi said that while most brokers spend their time talking to companies that already have insurance, BeneFits targets those that offer none, thus necessitating 28 broker education seminars across the state. Sassi said Blue Cross hopes to see how effective legions of agents bearing BeneFits literature are in selling coverage after the first few months of 2005. Blue Cross was also the first Valley company to launch high deductible plans compatible with Health Savings Accounts, currently the reigning health care headline champions. Sassi, like most experts is quick to point out that while the plans are a good fit for the financially solvent portion of the population, they’re not for everybody.