Small businesses across Missouri are fed up with the price of health insurance, so they’re coming together under a new health plan offered by the state’s Chamber of Commerce.
After members pleaded with the organization to do something about their health care woes, the chamber decided to explore the option of starting a type of plan that would allow its members to join together to form a pool, like a large employer, with the hope of reducing costs.
Some brokers say the interest from small businesses has been significant.
Already more than 150 small businesses have joined, representing more than 1,500 employees, said Brendan Cossette, chief operating officer for Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
The coverage is through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and is available to employers with two to 50 employees and members of the chamber. The caveat is it’s only available in the areas where Anthem operates. Generally speaking, the coverage is not available in the Kansas City area and northwest Missouri, Cossette said.
The type of arrangement is called a Multiple Employer Welfare agreement. It’s when unaffiliated employers band together for the sole purpose of providing benefits to employees as one unit, according to the Missouri Department of Insurance.
The benefit for small employers is the ability for scale to leverage lower costs. Together, the employers are able to spread out the cost of health care over more individuals.
And the plan is exempt from major tenets of the Affordable Care Act, Cossette confirmed.
The plan is medically underwritten — a departure from ACA requirements — which means participants’ rate would be partially based on an employee’s health, so it could potentially be less expensive for an employer with a young, healthy employee base.
Amid continued frustration over prices and fewer plan options for small employers, some are encouraging other employers to consider the new option.
“There are a lot of new opportunities and options in the marketplace, the MEWA (Multiple Employer Welfare Agreement) being one of them, and an employer really owes it to their employees — from a financial perspective — to explore it,” said Lynda Baris, executive vice president at J.W. Terrill, a local employee benefits firm.
Employers have until February to enroll in the plan. Benefit options include preferred provider organizations and health savings accounts.
The launch of this plan comes at a time when the Trump administration has released a proposed rule that would change how association health plans are regulated. Association health plans are similar to multiple employer agreements.
An association plan allows companies with a common tie to band together to offer health insurance to multiple employers. Association plans were subject to ACA requirements, according to a report from Health Affairs.
Under the proposed rule, the associations would be exempt from some of those consumer protections under the ACA. “Associations could also design their products in a way that makes them unattractive to and thus discourages those with health needs from enrolling,” according to Health Affairs.