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Small businesses get skinny on health coverage
John Grow
FERGUSON

With just over two weeks to go before HealthSource RI begins enrolling people in new health insurance programs for real, Mayor Scott Avedisian brought in the big guns to deliver the facts to Warwick yesterday morning.

And HSRI Director Christine Ferguson and crew did not disappoint.

ObamaCare must be a hot topic in Warwick. Speaking at 8:30 a.m., to an audience of primarily small business owners, she explained that for the first time they would be getting a better deal on employee health insurance than the big guys.

"About 50 percent of small businesses and 98 percent of big employers in Rhode Island offer health insurance benefits now – that makes us number two in the country for employer-based insurance," Ferguson said. "But before, it was the bigger companies with the most people who had better choices. You get a break this time. Businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees can sign up for these plans. Larger businesses can't get in right now. I get calls from them all the time, and they'd like to be able to."

Some real tax advantages come with HSRI insurance plans for small businesses with 25 employees or less. Tax laws now allow them to take a credit if they have a plan for their workers. If they enroll in one of Rhode Island's plans for 2014, if qualified they can earn a tax credit on top of the present one for up to 50 percent of their contribution to their employees’ insurance, said Ferguson.

One of the most surprising aspects is how this new insurance is priced. Rates are based strictly on the age of the insured and what kind of coverage they want. Whether you're male or female, you'll pay the same rate. And there are no rate increases because of pre-existing health problems, either. It doesn't even have smoker and non-smoker rates.

For individuals, a government subsidy is available to help pay monthly premiums. People earning under 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are now eligible for Medicaid. But people making up to 400 percent, about $46,000 a year if you're single, or about $94,000 for a family of four, can get some help with their monthly health insurance bill.

HRSI has a website for businesses and individuals interested in finding out exactly what this new insurance will cover, what it will cost and how they can get it. It's healthsourceri.com. They have a large staff of trained operators available to answer questions, and after Oct. 1, support people will be available seven days a week, Ferguson explained.

"You can call us at 222-5192. Or, if want to talk face-to-face, we have a new call center that's just about ready to open on Royal Little Drive, in Providence. That will be there for people to walk in and talk to someone in person," she said. "This is a really complicated subject, but we've had people working for the last two years to make it very easy for individuals or businesses to find out about it and get coverage."

Businesses can choose a single plan for all their employees, or pick a full choice plan that lets each worker select the coverage that's best for them. The business owner decides how much of each employee’s premium he or she wants to contribute, and that's it. All they do after that is write one check to HSRI each month. HSRI takes care of everything else.

"We will answer everyone's questions online, by phone or in person. But I always tell business people to sit down and talk to their tax consultant to see what works best for them," Ferguson said. "In business we all have to look at the bottom line."


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