Small Business Health Insurance – An Employer’s Guide to Getting Small Business Health Insurance

Saving on your small business health insurance can be a challenge. But there are ways to overcome the financial obstacles and get the coverage necessary for your business. There are two major benefits of employer-based coverage. First these plans, although expensive, usually carry the best all around protection for you and your employees. Second, providing benefits plays a key role in attracting and retaining quality employees.

Why is coverage for small businesses so much more than for large corporations?

Health insurance for small businesses cost so much because of the high quality coverage concentrated among a small group of people. Every individual within the group represents a different level of financial risk to an insurance company, and this risk is added up and spread out among the group. Large corporations pay considerably less because the risk is spread to such a large group, where small business owners can see unreasonably high increases in premiums due to one or two members. Small businesses also have to insure their employees under state mandates, which can require the policies to cover some specific health conditions and treatments. Large corporations’ policies are under federal law, usually self-insured, and with fewer mandated benefits. The Erisa Act of 1974 officially exempted self-funded insurance policies from state mandates, lessening the financial burdens of larger firms.

Isn’t the Health Care Reform Bill going to fix this?

This remains to be seen. There will be benefits for small business owners in the form of insurance exchanges, pools, tax credits, subsidies etc. But you can’t rely on a bill that is still in the works, and you can’t wait for a bill where the policies set forth won’t take effect until about 2013. Additionally, the bill will help you with costs, but still won’t prevent those costs from continually rising. You, as a business owner, will need to be fully aware of what you can do to maintain your bottom line.

What can I do?

First you need to understand the plan options out there. So here they are.

PPO

A preferred provider option (PPO) is a plan where your insurance provider uses a network of doctors and specialists. Whoever provides your care will file the claim with your insurance provider, and you pay the co-pay.

Who am I allowed to visit?

Your provider will cover any visit to a doctor or specialist within their network. Any care you seek outside the network will not be covered. Unlike an HMO, you don’t have to get your chosen doctor registered or approved by your PPO provider. To find out which doctors are in your network, simply ask your doctor’s office or visit your insurance company’s website.

Where Can I Get it?

Most providers offer it as an option in your plan. Your employees will have the option to get it when they sign their employment paperwork. They generally decide on their elections during the open enrollment period, because altering the plan after this time period won’t be easy.

And Finally, What Does It Cover?

Any basic office visit, within the network that is, will be covered under the PPO insurance. There will be the standard co-pay, and dependent upon your particular plan, other types of care may be covered. The reimbursement for emergency room visits generally range from sixty to seventy percent of the total costs. And if it is necessary for you to be hospitalized, there could be a change in the reimbursement. Visits to specialists will be covered, but you will need a referral from your doctor, and the specialist must be within the network.

A PPO is an expensive, yet flexible option for your small business health insurance. It provides great coverage though, and you should inquire with your provider to find out how you can reduce the costs.

HMO (Health Maintenance Organization)

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are the most popular small business health insurance plans. Under an HMO plan you will have to register your primary care physician, as well as any referred specialists and physicians. Plan participants are free to choose specialists and medical groups as long as they are covered under the plan. And because HMOs are geographically driven, the options may be limited outside of a specific area.

Health maintenance organizations help to contain employer’s costs by using a wide variety of prevention methods like wellness programs, nurse hotlines, physicals, and baby-care to name a few. Placing a heavy emphasis on prevention cuts costs by stopping unnecessary visits and medical procedures.

When someone does fall ill, however, the insurance provider manages care by working with health care providers to figure out what procedures are necessary. Usually a patient will be required to have pre-certification for surgical procedures that aren’t considered essential, or that may be harmful.

HMOs are less expensive than PPOs, and this preventative approach to health care theoretically does keep costs down. The downside, however, is that employees may not pursue help when it is needed for fear of denial. That aside, it is a popular and affordable plan for your small business health insurance.

POS (Point of Service)

A Point of Service plan is a managed care insurance similar to both an HMO and a PPO. POS plans require members to pick a primary health care provider. In order to get reimbursed for out-of-network visits, you will need to have a referral from the primary provider. If you don’t, however, your reimbursement for the visit could be substantially less. Out-of-network visits will also require you to handle the paperwork, meaning submit the claim to the insurance provider.

POSs provide more freedom and flexibility than HMOs. But this increased freedom results in higher premiums. Also, this type of plan can put a strain on employee finances when non-network visits start to pile up. Assess your needs and weigh all your options before making a decision.

EPO

An Exclusive Provider Organization Plan is another network-based managed care plan. Members of this plan must choose from a health care provider within the network, but exceptions can be made due to medical emergencies. Like HMOs, EPOs focus on preventative care and healthy living. And price wise, they fall between HMOs and PPOs.

The differences between an EPO and the other two organization plans are small, but important. While certain HMO and PPO plans offer reimbursement for out-of-network usage, an EPO does not allow its members to file a claim for doctor visits out its network. EPO plans are more restrictive in this respect, but are also able to negotiate lower fees by guaranteeing health care providers that it’s members will use in-network doctors. These plans are also negotiated on a fee-for-services basis, whereas HMOs are on a per-person basis.

HSA (Health Savings Account)

An HSA is a tax-advantaged account used to pay existing and future medical expenses. HSAs are used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans (HDHP), which will make some with pre-existing conditions ineligible. Also, HSAs must be funded with cash. Communicating the terms of this account to your employees is important, as a large number of HSAs are underfunded or improperly funded. The health savings accounts were signed into the law by George Bush in 2003, and have become an affordable alternative to a group health plan.

When inquiring about an HSA, there will be a few things you will want to clarify. While HSAs generally cover routine medical expenses and copays, some can provide dental and vision care as well. And since HSAs can be combined with certain compatible plans, it is important to understand how money from the account will be allocated. And finally, you will want to know about cashing out your HSA balance. The amount is taxable and could be subject to a ten percent excise tax.

HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement)

An HRA is exactly what it sounds like. The employer reimburses the employee for health care. As an employer, you will usually have the option to contribute to a reimbursement fund, or to pay fees as they are incurred. These reimbursements can be deducted from your taxes, and are tax-free for your employees, saving you both money.

Some providers empower employers by giving them more options. HRAs, unlike HSAs, don’t have to be funded with cash money, placing a book keeping entry on your balance sheet is enough. You can usually control aspects of your arrangement such as reimbursement limits, whether you or your employee pays first, and if the previous year’s funds roll over.

HRAs are becoming a more popular option because of the control it has given small businesses. Combined with a high deductible health plan (HDHP), an HRA could be the most cost-effective solution to your small business health insurance problems. It’s always best to compare these plans to PPOs, HMOs, and EPOs to know what works best.

Fee for Service (FFS) or Traditional Indemnity

A fee for service plan is the most flexible small business health insurance option. You choose your doctor, and your hospital. You can see a specialist without a referral. This flexibility, however, comes with more out-of-pocket expenses and higher insurance premiums.

The typical FFS plan has a deductible ranging anywhere from five to fifteen hundred dollars. After this amount is reached, the provider will pick up eighty percent of your medical bills, and require you to pay the remaining twenty percent. Because of the rising costs of health care, and the potential for a small number of doctor’s visits to cost thousands, these plans can become incredibly expensive.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

A flexible spending account is a savings account to be used for medical expenses, and is funded by pre-tax dollars. Using pre-tax dollars means that your employees will actually show that they have less income, and will therefore have less taxes withheld. As an employer, you set the limit on contributions to the account per year. In addition to the employee contribution, you can also credit the account, or fund it completely from your general assets.

An FSA, especially if combined with an HDHP, can significantly reduce the costs of small business health insurance.

You should be forewarned, money from FSA accounts cannot be rolled over. They are, however, available to use for two years and two and half months after the benefit year. A terminated employee won’t be able to use leftover funds, unless there is a positive remaining balance and COBRA is elected.

Small business health insurance providers have made significant improvements in their services to simplify the administration of your plan. With HRAs, FSAs, and HSAs, your employees can use debit cards for medical transactions. Be sure to research this thoroughly. You will want to be sure your debit card plan is IRS compliant, and that you can use a large number of pharmacies. You should also pick a plan that can verify eligibility on the spot. Talk with your agent about linking transit, parking fees, and prescriptions to the same card. When picking the debit card options, please be sure to clarify the details of the substantion process. This is IMPORTANT! With other plans, the provider may assign someone to manage your plan. Or you may have to hire someone. Still, you should be able to login to your account and print insurance cards, important papers etc.

The next thing you can do is thoroughly assess your needs. Being that every member of your small business plays a key role in its success, it is vital that their needs are met. And understanding these needs is crucial to finding the right plan. Find out about chronic illnesses, and additional information related to past health issues. Know what your employees think about health insurance, and get them involved in the process.

Hiring an agent or a broker

Finding and understanding small business health insurance can be a daunting task. While some choose to go it alone, others need some professional assistance. You need to understand the difference between an agent and a broker, and how you can get the most from either of them.

A broker

Brokers function independently and usually work for several different companies. Since they have a variety of resources, they can usually provide more options and a better overall view of the marketplace. Brokers will assist you by evaluating the costs and designs of plans from your local major carriers. The cost isn’t everything, you want to get the coverage that you need.

Ask the broker how he or she is getting paid for their services. They should readily divulge that information. Some brokers may charge you a flat free. Some receive a fee from an employer, while others receive a commission from the insurance provider. Any commissions could be reflected in your premiums, but not to the point that you should worry.

An agent

Agents typically provide services for one company. They have a closer relationship to the insurance company than a broker would, giving them more leverage to make alterations to your plan. In some cases they can offer a particular plan for less than a broker, and may have access to additional services like worker’s compensation. To find out what different providers have to offer, talk to more than one agent. It may be time-consuming, but it could bring you closer to the most cost-effective solution for your small business health insurance.

One of the common options presented by agents is the employee-elect option. This is an arrangement where employees pick the plan they prefer. Those who don’t need as much coverage won’t be forced to pay so much, and those who do need it can get it without increasing the financial burden of the company as a whole.

How to Save On Your Small Business Health Insurance Plan

What’s important to remember is that there really is no inexpensive solution to health care. Even if your initial premiums are reasonably low, they could rise significantly at your next renewal. So saving money on small business health insurance is about doing a combination of things simultaneously to get good rates, and to then maintain those rates.. And it will require a consistent effort from you, your employees, and your insurance provider.

First, you can save yourself money by reading the fine print. You need to know exactly what your plan does and DOESN’T cover. There are also state mandated coverages. For example, in states like Illinois, your insurance must cover mammograms. Also, understanding the ins and outs of your plan will give you and your employees a better idea of how to deal with your insurance.

Next, you should shave unnecessary benefits. After reading all about your plan, you will find coverage for things you may not need. Eliminating these benefits can significantly drop monthly small business health insurance premiums. For example, eliminating coverage for brand name medications can reduce costs by more than 25 percent.

Wellness program have worked wonders for small businesses. A wellness program is any program designed to promote healthy living within the organization. Weight loss competitions benefit every participant. Add a financial incentive for further motivation. Stock the work fridge with water, and leave literature about healthy living lying around. Search the internet for calorie counting charts. Raising awareness entice workers to make positive changes. Active, exercising, diet-conscious employees have stronger immune systems, more vitality, and more productive workplaces. They also don’t deal with as many health issues. Fewer doctor visits and hospitilizations will help maintain lower annual premiums, because it will prove to your insurance provider that your business is a low financial risk.

Increasing your co-pay and deductible can go a long way towards cutting costs. For instance, raising co-pays by just ten dollars has saved companies as much as thirteen percent on their premiums. A higher deductible will significantly reduce your monthly premium. To lessen the financial burden of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), combine them with an HSA. Combinations like these have saved both business owners and employees bundles of cash.

Check into getting a nurse hotline. A nurse hotline is a toll free, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week service. Employees can get medical advice from qualified, registered nurses. This method has deterred a large number of people from emergency visits, and it can also be used for preventative care as well. Insurers like Nationwide have them, or you may have to purchase from a third-party provider.

Increase the size of your group to reduce your monthly small business health insurance premiums. In a survey by America’s Health Insurance Plans, small businesses who employed ten people or less paid forty three more dollars on average than businesses with twenty six to fifty employees. Check around with other businesses owners, or fellow members of business organizations. Some states also have small business groups and pools for this purpose. Check with your state Chamber of Commerce and Department of Insurance.

Beware of heavily discounted plans. First, there are numerous scammers trying to get your money. They promise low rates, and usually cover little to nothing at all. The internet is notorious for swindlers trying to hustle you out of a buck. If you are going with a company you aren’t familiar with, please do your research. On another note, even reputable companies present problems. In an attempt to gain market share, Blue Cross offered small businesses discounted rates in 2008. For 2009, some of these same businesses were set to see increases of as much as 47% in their premiums. As the costs of medical care increases, the costs are shifted from the insurer to the insured, and discount plans become overpriced plans quickly.

Shop around. As mentioned before, talking to different agents will expose you to the best that insurance providers have to offer. Ask other small business owners about their providers. You can use trusted online resources like Netquote and Ehealthinsurance to shop around instantly. These services also let you compare plans side by side, and allow you to purchase your plan online. Even after you get your initial plan, it’s good to annually reevaluate your coverage. This will keep you on the up-and-up about what the market is offering. Keeping costs down is an ongoing effort, especially with rates and plans changing all the time from company to company.

Share some of the costs with your employees. Raising employee contributions isn’t a popular option, but it may be one of the only ways to absorb costs and maintain small business health insurance coverage. Communicate with your employees about how to keep costs down, and remind them that their increase is your increase as well.

The sad truth is that, no matter how many cost-cutting methods you apply, your insurance premiums are expected to continually rise. In addition to this, you can’t prevent every health problem with exercise and higher co-pays.

Dos and Don’ts When Completing Individual Health Insurance Application

If you do not have access to a group employer plan then the other option you have is to apply for individual health insurance plan. Individual health insurance application require more information from you then group health insurance plans that you might have had through job. The reason for that is that individual, and that applies to family health plans, are medically underwritten. That means that a person called medical underwriter will go over your medical application and decide if you are a good risk for the insurance company. The main reason for medical underwriting is to keep over all cost for every one low. The more insurance company has to pay out in claims the more they have to charge every one for health insurance to keep the average cost down.

If you have already had a chance to take a look at individual application then you probably know that it can be long. How much of the application you have to fill out depends on your previous medical history. If you are in perfect health then there is not much that you can write on your application other then some basic information. If you are some one who has been to the doctors for lab work, test or takes prescription medication then you would have to include that on your application. Most individual application require you to provide information of your doctor or the last doctor you have been to. If you are not sure of the name of the doctor you can always include the hospital name, clinic name or doctors practice name. When it comes for the dates of your last doctor office visit or any other dates. If you do not remember exact dates, just put down your best estimate.

The most important thing to keep in mind when filling out individual or family application, especially if you do have some medical issues, is to understand this. Until there is a permanent change to health care system and health insurance is not medically underwritten. Insurance company will consider every condition that you have and every medication that you take. The reason for that is that in most states in the US health insurance companies require to cover everything once you are approved. That means that all of your medical conditions and prescription drugs have to be cover by law once you have been approved for coverage. That is if you are approved. I hate to use this analogy because we a talking about human lives, but the simple way to explain health insurance is to compare it to car insurance. For example lets say you get in the minor car accident and you do not have car insurance. Your car is still drivable and it looks like you will need a new bumper and some paint. The next day you go out and purchase car insurance to cover your accident. Well we know it does not work like that. If you could just go out and get car insurance only after you had an accident then no one would pay for car insurance. Why pay if you can just get it after you had an accident. No one would pay for car insurance and car insurance companies would not exist. Then you would be fully responsible for all the damages out of your own pocket. I know I would rather pay that $100 a month just in case something does happen.

Most people do not recognize that health insurance works in the same way. Health insurance companies are not going to approve some one who requires immediate medical assistance. That includes pending follow up visits to the doctor, recent surgery (after a surgery a lot of complications can arise), prescription drugs and anything that is known upfront that could potentially be covered expense. Insurance companies use a “actuarial tables” to underwrite individual applications. If based on what you have put down on the application could potentially cost insurance company money, chances are your application will not be approved.

If health insurance companies automatically approved all the application then it would be the same scenario as with car insurance example, that no one would pay for health insurance. I know I would not, why pay for insurance if I can get it when I get sick. If no one would pay for insurance then there would no insurance companies to cover us for unforeseen large medical expenses. I am certainly not prepared to pay $400,000 or higher for medical emergency.

Getting approved for health insurance could take some preparation. If you are currently taking prescription drugs, find out how to can slowly get off them. I am not a doctor and certainly would never tell anyone to not take drugs that were subscribed by their doctor. I think sometimes great health starts with us, with small daily choice we make. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. When completing application sometimes being too honest can cost you also. That does not mean lying. Going to chiropractor and writing on the application that you have had back pains and you will need to see a specialist. On top of that is that you have not has any health insurance previous is just way to suspicious. It looks like you are trying to get health insurance to get medical care for something that you do not want to pay yourself. Do not make it worse then it is and always phrase everything in the positive. Instead of you writing that you are having back pain, taking Advil and going to chiropractor. Phrase it that you went to chiropractor for maintenance just to realigning your back. I see a lot of people get declined for coverage even though they are in perfect health just because how and what they wrote on the application.

Real people will be looking at your application if you are making it worse then it is or you are volunteering too much information then it is only your fault if you get declined. Your answers should be, everything is fine, just a check up, results were normal. Also before you know that you might be looking for health insurance do not go see your doctor until you do have coverage. If you go to the doctor and they find something “wrong” with you then bye, bye health insurance. Now you are stuck. When at the doctors office, again, be careful what you tell your doctor because it will end up in your medical records. When self diagnosing your self do not volunteer that information to your doctor, it is your doctors job to find if there is an issue. If you have been declined for health insurance there are options available to you so is having or not having health insurance. Having any health insurance plan is infinitely better then not having anything at all. It is a know fact that you will get a better treatment if the hospital knows that you have some way to pay for your medical care and that they are not just working for free taking care of you. The one and the most important thing that you can do is to take care of your health. Eat your broccoli.

Buying Individual Health Insurance: 3 Essential Tips From a Health Insurance Specialist

When you’re buying individual health insurance, you’ll probably get overwhelmed by the prices and options of health plans online. Health insurance is now one of the more expensive items in the budgets of many people, but it can also be one of the best decisions you make if you have some know-how selecting the right health plan for you and your family. Here I will give you the 3 Essential Tips that I advise my clients to use when purchasing individual health coverage.

Tip 1: Do not take health insurance advice from someone that is totally unqualified to give you this advice!!

I cannot stress this enough. It amazes me how many sensible people take advice about what health insurance to choose from people who are totally unqualified to give you this critical advice. For example, when I see health insurance messes, (which I see virtually every day) and I ask where they got their health plan information, I inevitably hear things like: “My brother-in- law told me to choose this health plan, he used to work at the hospital.” or “I read an article that says this is the best plan available.” And so on. Everyone’s got an opinion about what health plan you should choose. Just because they are your relative, or involved in some area of health care totally unrelated to insurance, does not mean they know the answers to your individual needs and questions! Work with an insurance specialist BEFORE the problems come up! You have no idea how many clients I have worked with come to me after they chose a health plan online and then have an insurance coverage issue and expect me to fix it, I want to tell them: you should have come to me for help before! Most insurance specialists get paid through insurance carriers, so their services are free to you. USE THEM!!

Tip 2: Determine your actual needs.

The three things to keep in mind when determining your needs are: budget, patterns of doctor and hospital visits, and prescription drug usage. Ask yourself these questions: How frequently do you visit your doctor? Do you go for checkups only or do you go for sick visits? How many times have you been in the hospital in the past 2 years? Do you take regular prescriptions? What are they? Generic or Brands? This is another area where most of my clients neglect. It is not possible to have maximum coverage in all of these areas in any affordable way, maximum coverage for the doctor and hospital plus prescriptions leaves a dent in the budget. However, most health insurance plans offer more than one version of the same plan. For example, say you have “health plan A” that offers maximum coverage for the doctor, maximum coverage for the hospital, and maximum coverage for your prescription drugs. But “health plan A” costs the same as your mortgage. The good news is “Health Plan A” most likely also has customizable options, meaning if after analyzing your needs, you discover that you rarely visit a hospital, you could change “health plan A’ s” hospital coverage to moderate or even minimal which will bring down the premium a great deal. If these options are confusing to you, again, a health insurance specialist will be able to help you. They are already aware of “health plan A’ s” customizable features and can match your needs to the appropriate version of “health plan A”. A health insurance specialist also has access to versions of health plans that aren’t available as options to the average consumer buying health insurance online.

Tip 3: Resist the urge to over-insure!!

After you’ve analyzed your needs, resist the urge to over-insure! One of the most common health insurance messes I see is over-insurance. People think that if they have maximum coverage for doctors, hospitals, and prescriptions, they have “good” insurance. The truth is, most people who will be approved for individual health insurance won’t need all this coverage. Two things I advise my clients to be aware of: Health Care Reform and Stop-Loss. First, Health Care Reform allows for preventive care services to be covered at 100%. For example, if you only get checkups, why enroll in the plan with 100% doctor’s visit coverage? Enroll in the plan with a lower premium and pay a $10 copay for your sick visit. The difference in premium with this small detail is $100′s of dollars! Furthermore, some of these “maximum coverage” health insurance plans exclude things like pregnancy. The last thing you want to do is pay a small fortune for “good” health insurance only to discover it won’t cover something you need it for! Second, most health insurance plans have a stop-loss built into them which basically states that when your out-of-pocket costs reach a certain amount, the plan will cover you at 100% for all services. And you don’t need the “maximum coverage” plan for this benefit. Your health insurance specialist can even customize this stop-loss amount!

Then, select your plan after following My 3 Essential Tips:

1. Do not take health insurance advice from someone unqualified to offer this advice. Seek a health insurance specialist, they have studied and are licensed to offer this advice and they’re free to you. USE THEM!!

2. Consider your actual needs. Ask yourself questions so you know what your specific health plan needs are, that way you can make sure you select a plan that meets them. After all, if you don’t know what you actually need in a plan, how will you know if you’ve come across the right fit?

3. Resist the urge to over-insure! Health Care Reform has changed how many plans work and you may be able to receive ample or superlative coverage without over-insuring. And most importantly, without the hefty premiums!

There you have it, online health insurance shoppers! I hope this was helpful!