Kent Health Plan Helps Small Businesses

June 4, 2002
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The area business community is certainly hard-pressed to close the books on this year with much optimism, especially considering local projections of another health care insurance rate hike "exceeding 15 percent."

In the early months of 2001, as insurance costs escalated for the fourth consecutive year, members of the Michigan Retailers Association, small business groups and business leaders howled at what has amounted to a state-wide average increase of more than 26.6 percent. And while everyone knows, "something must be done" about the escalating costs, the Kent County Board of Commissioners and the Alliance for Health have put together the funding and process for a county-wide insurance program for the unemployed (a growing number as the recession unveiled itself), the working uninsured, and by next July, small businesses. The program is another good model of partnerships to affect a growing community issue. Business owners are likely to begin passing along more of the costs of health care insurance to employees, offering more limited benefits or may find they cannot afford the extreme cost increases. With that in mind, the county, insurance and Alliance leaders who gave hundreds of volunteer hours to establish the program are commended.

The Kent Health Plan coverage especially emphasizes wellness and prevention programs: check ups and treatment for minor frailties, the lack of which can become major, costly health issues. Lest anyone believe that business and government can affect the health and welfare of individuals, however, remember that such has been attempted for more than a decade with relatively minor success. Such inability to affect individual life "styles" is especially costly in the State of Michigan, which flunks all national health rankings, from obesity and smoking to consumption of alcoholic beverages.

More than one million Michigan residents are without health insurance, leaving $823 million in unpaid medical bills. National studies would indicate that the plan might be a Band-Aid preventing further deterioration of the statistics — but few doubt it is necessary. Analysts of the health care industry believe that programs and current prescriptions for the problem are good only to buy time and prolong an inevitable change for all manner of health care delivery.

Small business owners are encouraged to take advantage of the program, one of only 12 in the state. Most employers know that a basic coverage is better than nothing…, which is where we may all end up.      

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