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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

Small Firms Offered Program, But Is Anybody Really Listening?

Blue Cross of California made a push into one of the most resistant segments of the health insurance markets this year, that being small business. It released a new package in December aimed at attracting owners of companies with fewer than 50 employees, and last week announced a new plan to partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, aimed at educating small business owners on their insurance options, and probably a little bit at marketing for their own new program titled BeneFits. There are over 6 million people uninsured in California, and as experts often remind us, a large percentage of them have full-time jobs that simply do not offer any coverage. A program like BeneFits would seem to be exactly what California is waiting for, then. It offers businesses a wide variety of benefits packages to employees, starting at basic catastrophic coverage. To attract businesses, Blue Cross is lowering required employee contributions to as low as 25 percent or $50, reduced employee participation requirements to 60 percent and extended access to part-time employees working as few as 15 hours per week. Now the company just has to break into its target market, in this case 500,000 businesses in California without any health insurance. Blue Cross and the SBA will be offering informational seminars throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as well as creating a joint Web site and distributing educational flyers. In a news release, Blue Cross referenced a 2001 Small Employee Health Benefits Survey, which reported that 80 percent of small business employers surveyed believe that health insurance can entice good employees to join and stay with a company, and the 70 percent think it contributes to higher productivity. The problem that Blue Cross and the SBA may run into is one that Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Association, has already identified. The conclusion the group has reached, she said in a November conference on health insurance options hosted by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, is that small business owners can attend every seminar in the state and most of them still won’t choose to carry insurance, no matter how attractive the plans are. Toccoli went on to say that small business owners trust each other much more than they trust an insurance company. The owner of a small grocery store who has bought into a plan that her employees like and that she can live with is likely to persuade a fellow business owner, much more likely than an insurance agent. In other words, Blue Cross and the SBA can run as many seminars as they like, but they ought to be prepared to find that most of those 500,000 business owners are only listening to each other. Stepping Up Kaiser Permanente has been distributing its pedometers, which count every step a wearer makes, at trade shows and other events for the last several months. Each recipient is told that they ought to be making 10,000 steps every day in order to lead healthier lifestyles. Those who buy into the idea can now take their step-counting to the next level as Kaiser is now offering its 10,000 steps program to members and non-members of its health plan. To join, participants can go to www.kp.org/totalhealth and pay $23 or $30, the lower rate is for members. After eight months, participants can renew for $10. Once in the program, participants can buy a new, “high end” pedometer, and will start receiving tips to increase their daily activity, e-mails with ideas for healthy meals and ways to track progress online. The program is designed with prevention in mind. If members start to lead healthier lifestyles, it naturally follows that they’ll spend less time in their doctors’ offices. The 10,000 steps program was developed by Minneapolis-based HealthPartners, a nonprofit health care organization. In October, it signed a licensing agreement with Kaiser, which developed the online program for its members. Non-members can join as of December 28. Staff Reporter Jonathan D. Colburn can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or at jdcolburn@sfvbj.com.

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