Small Business Insurance

The state of Texas does have help for small business owners looking to get health care coverage for their employees. The majority of the uninsured work, but the employers offer now benefits. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports cost is the big reason.

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Jonathon Lanz left a corporate job with complete health care coverage to start his own IT consulting business. At first he didn't have health care coverage for himself or for his handful of employees.

"I was trying to get the Cadillac of insurance and not being able to afford it."

It took some time, but Lanz realized compromising was better then having no health insurance at all.

"So I really had to really go through a mind set change, a mental process, to realize I don't have to have the $5 co-pay to go see the doctor, that the $30 is OK. I can manage $30. I can not manage an 80 or 100 dollar doctor visit plus the tests."

Lanz says health insurance is an item businesses have to budget for like they do rent and electricity. Those involved in the Cover the Uninsured Week are hoping more small businesses will follow Lanz' lead.

The Texas Department of Insurance regulates insurance companies. Special Projects Director Dianne Longley says 70 percent of small businesses, those with two to 50 full time employees, do not offer health insurance. Longley says TDI is working on a pilot project for Houston to help out with the cost of offering health insurance.

"Right now the average cost is $300 per employee per month. Our goal is to get a benefit plan that is about $150 a month with the employer paying about 100 of that and then the employee paying the other $50. If we can reach that goal, and we think we can, then we would expect that we could maybe get as many as 200,000 people in Houston enrolled in one of these benefit plans in the first year."

Longley says alternative health plans do exist for small businesses to take advantage of, but she says a lot of times the key is finding a good agent. The TDI website is a starting point and a link can be found at KUHF dot org.

Medical costs keep climbing. A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that in Texas, premiums increased about 44 percent during the past five years. It also found that more employees are turning down health insurance from their employers. In Texas, more than 86 percent of workers accepted employer-based health insurance in 1998. That dropped to 82 percent in 2003. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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