Alliance Initiative A Real Health Care Solution

June 13, 2002
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Consecutive annual increases in health care premiums have been appalling, and have for five years been the top concern cited by business owners in Grand Rapids Business Journal surveys. Reports in many statewide professional association newsletters have questioned how many business owners were able to absorb the increases of this year, and how many may cut benefits.

As is often cited by health care professionals, the reasons for the increase is as varied as the industry itself. A rather large piece, however, is found in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement — or lack thereof in terms of real costs — and “charity” cases. The “benefactors” however, turn out to be those who are insured, as those losses are spread across the billing system. Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn has in the past rhetorically asked whether anyone still believes the U.S. does not have a system of socialized medicine.

The Alliance, a regional health care planning agency which helps direct Michigan Department of Public Health decisions on local matters, has engineered a program and partnerships targeted to the aspect of those without health insurance.

The Alliance plan would use existing federal and state Medicaid money for Kent County and leverage it with public and private grants. We would not at all be surprised to find Steelcase and others contributing to such a partnership.

With $9 million in seed money, the Kent County Health Plan would then provide money for county residents who have no health insurance. The second stage of the plan is very good news for small business owners who would be “phased in.” Small business owners who enroll would pay just $40 per month in premiums (plus any co-pays required).

A similar plan in Muskegon County, though smaller is scope, currently helps insure approximately 700 people working at 300 small businesses. Employers participating in the plan have typically never offered health insurance to employees, and several reportedly still find it difficult to enroll.

The news from Alliance is further bolstered by the work of the Kent County Task Force on Health Care for People of Color. Every major health care company, along with the Alliance, has created a way to determine barriers to health care access for minorities, and resolves those barriers. A troubling list of statistics for Asians, Hispanics and blacks shows “startlingly different” health risks and even mortality than that of whites.

Both programs are set to work hand-and-glove to assure residents of Kent County get medical exams and/or early diagnosis before more grave and costly health issues become the concern currently revealed.

These programs, their partners and initiative shown by the Alliance are the first signs of better news as business owners prepare for the next round of increases. Surely these programs will help hospitals stem the tide of ever escalating burdens to employers, many of whom have been uncertain they could even continue to be the benefactors of good health.

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