Insurers Report That More Small Businesses Are Offering Health Benefits

One provision of the new health law appears to be making a big difference in workers’ ability to get health benefits, but another is having limited success, two newspapers report.

Los Angeles Times: More Small Businesses Are Offering Health Benefits To Workers
Major insurers around the country are reporting that a growing number of small businesses are signing up to give their workers health benefits, a sign of potential progress for the nation’s battered healthcare system. The increase, although not universal, has brought new security to thousands of workers, many of whom did not have insurance or were at risk of losing it. An important selling point has been a tax credit that the nation’s new healthcare law provides to companies with fewer than 25 employees and moderate-to-low pay scales to help offset the cost of providing benefits. The tax credit is one of the first few provisions to kick in; much of the law rolls out over the next few years. … In the six months after the law was signed in March, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the country’s largest insurer, added 75,000 new customers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees. The Minnesota company called the increase notable but declined to reveal further details. Coventry Health Care Inc., an insurer in Maryland that focuses on small businesses, signed contracts to cover 115,000 new workers in the first nine months of this year, an 8% jump (Levey, 12/27).

The Washington Post: Health Plans For High-Risk Patients Attracting Fewer, Costing More Than Expected
An early feature of the new health-care law that allows people who are already sick to get insurance to cover their medical costs isn’t attracting as many customers as expected. In the meantime, in at least a few states, claims for medical care covered by the “high-risk pools” are proving very costly, and it is an open question whether the $5 billion allotted by Congress to start up the plans will be sufficient. Federal health officials contend the new insurance plans, designed solely for people who already are sick, are merely experiencing growing pains. It will take time to spread the word that they exist and to adjust prices and benefits so that the plans are as attractive as possible, the officials say (Goldstein, 12/27).

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