Ottawa surveying firms to gauge health care moves

February 21, 2010
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OTTAWA COUNTY — A coalition that includes the Ottawa County Health Department is planning to survey small businesses about whether they would support low-cost health care coverage for their workers.

Marcia Knol, OCHD health analyst, said a task force has been considering ways to provide coverage for low-income residents. The task force is planning to use a $12,000 grant obtained from last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to cover the survey costs.

She said the survey would focus on businesses with fewer than 50 employees. It would assess the current status of health care coverage in their work forces as well as their interest in a county-provided coverage program for uninsured workers.

The program is one of several county health plan models that the task force has studied for about a year, Knol said. County health plans typically combine federal, state and local funding sources to provide coverage for childless adults ages 18 to 64 with incomes at a fraction of the federal poverty guidelines who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Ottawa and Allegan counties are two of only a few Michigan counties that don’t currently provide a county health plan that reaches at least part of that population.

Knol said mixed signals have come from Lansing, with some apparent interest in expanding plans to the remaining counties but the financial commitment being cut from the current state budget. She said she is hopeful that the funding mechanisms will become more available under the 2011 state budget now under debate in the Capitol.

In the meantime, Knol said the grant is being used to study two issues:  the uninsured patient load at Ottawa County’s three hospitals and a possible plan for low-income small business employees.

Knol estimated that such a program might cost $45 to $50 per month for both the employer and the employee.

“That county health plan funding we were hoping would supply the balance to cover these people,” she added. “If that’s even affordable for them. … Maybe $50 is just not there for the employee or the employer. We really kind of need to know that before we begin looking more at that model. Even if the state funding source dries up, maybe it’s important enough to our community, important enough to other employers, larger employers, hospitals or whoever, to try and find a community pot of money.”

The task force includes Holland, North Ottawa Community and Zeeland hospitals, chambers of commerce in Grand Haven, Holland and Zeeland, community foundations in Grand Haven and Holland and business leaders, as well as the OCHD.

Knol said the task force planned to choose last week a company to conduct the survey.

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