An innovative program to help small businesses purchase health insurance for employees began Wednesday with the launch of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s new WiseChoice Healthcare Alliance.
The idea was made possible by bipartisan support for legislation pushed for years by then-state Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, and then-Del. Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg, and finally took effect in 2022. The idea is to create a large pool from many smaller groups to save the same kinds of costs that the state’s big employers see, said Barry DuVal, the chamber’s president.
“We want to increase access to health care for more Virginians,” DuVal said.
The alliance will offer coverage to businesses with two to 50 employees, participating local chamber of commerce members, Virginia Farm Bureau members or trade associations the state chamber expects to sign on.
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“Small businesses across the Commonwealth are struggling with the most important proposition, and that’s health benefits for their employees,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Wednesday when he announced the new coverage at the state House’s annual day in the General Assembly.
“And what could be more important than the words ‘you’re hired’? Then when we can add to them, ‘you’re hired. And it comes with health benefits,” he said.
Coverage is offered through a partnership with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, which will connect a statewide network of providers and manage claims and customer service.
DuVal said the coverage would be equal to or better than the coverage available under the Affordable Care Act, while creating a large pool of insured people should bring lower costs.
That’s the experience, DuVal said, which has established similar programs in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio.
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Those savings are possible in large part because the alliance allows for greater expansion or risk, and some is due to savings in administrative costs, said Kenn Penn, the chamber’s executive director, who led the six-month push to build the alliance. .
The insurance will work like workers’ compensation, which pays claims when people are injured or killed on the job. The overall experience of everyone in the statewide pool will determine the base rate, and the amount any employer pays will be adjusted based on each firm’s circumstances, including the health, age and general condition of employees, the number of people enrolled, and where the firm is located. located and benefits offered.
The alliance raised the $4 million capital base required by state law of health insurers.
“So that when people file a claim, they can be sure they’re actually going to get paid,” Penn said.
The State Insurance Bureau formally approved the alliance’s operating plans and financing earlier this month, paving the way for it to market with local insurance brokers.
It took six months to get there, Penn said.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved,” he said.
The Alliance is managed by trustees who represent the interests of the participating members.
Employers will have to pay at least 50% of the employee rate for individual benefits in the lowest-cost plan offered by the alliance. And like most other small business plans, at least 75% of eligible employees must be covered under the plan, excluding valid waivers and a minimum of two employees.
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia President Monica Schmude said partnerships with chambers like Anthem’s can “redefine health, reimagine the health system and strengthen our communities.”
Firms in the alliance will also be able to purchase separate dental, vision, life and disability insurance from Anthem at a discounted rate.
Governor Glenn Young delivers the State of the Union address on Wednesday, January 10, 2024.
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