Business Press Health Correspondent
The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has rolled out a group purchasing program to make health care insurance more affordable to small businesses and their employees. The Chamber Health CO-OP program will offer major medical health plans complete with wellness components designed specifically for Chamber members with fewer than 50 employees. That’s 1,526 Fort Worth area businesses – about 75 percent of the Chamber’s membership, said Marilyn Gilbert, executive vice president of marketing for the Chamber.
“The Fort Worth Chamber works with hundreds of employers throughout Texas so we are better able to negotiate discounts with large carriers and other benefit providers,” Gilbert said. “The majority of our members are companies with fewer than 50 employees – 1,063 have fewer than 10, so we expect the co-op to be most popular among our members.”
“With this program, employees can pick and choose the benefits they want based on their individual needs, while at the same time containing employer and employee costs,” Gilbert said. “We have been approached about offering something like this before, but we have never before had a unique product to offer that our members could not get in the regular open market.” The co-op plan is designed to make it easier for small employers to self-insure, said Ron Fuhrman, benefit advisor for TrueNorth, the financial strategies company that formulated the program. Fuhrman presented details of the co-op plan Thursday at the Chamber’s annual health care summit, sponsored in part by the Business Press.
The Chamber is also finalizing a plan which will offer its larger members who already self insure on an individual basis, help in avoiding some of the costs associated with reinsurance to comply with all the mandates of the Affordable Health Care Act. Larger companies have another year to comply with all the mandates and requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and details of that program will follow over the next year, Fuhrman said. Both programs rely on a “stop-loss” insurance policy which kicks in after the cost of self-insured medical care reaches certain dollar limits.
Members of the co-op can expect to save 5 to 10 percent off their current insurance rates and 15 to 20 percent off next year’s rates, Fuhrman said. Gilbert said TrueNorth approached the chamber eight or nine months ago with alternative programs that meet all the ACA mandates. Even though small companies don’t have to provide employee insurance under the federal legislation, a lot of them have chosen to do so in efforts to attract and retain a strong workforce, Gilbert said. In the Chamber’s annual membership survey, 37.5 percent said their employee health benefits cost them 6 to 15 percent more this year than last. On either end of the spectrum, 22 percent reported increases of less than 5 percent and 16 percent said they spent more than 25 percent more this year. The new co-op is not related to the publically funded co-ops that are part of the federal marketplace, Gilbert said. For more information, go to www.fortworthcoop.com .