Mesa Chamber CEO Sally Harrison

Mesa Chamber CEO Sally Harrison stands behind Gilbert Chamber CEO Kathy Tilque at the microphone during a press conference to explain the new health insurance plans for small businesses in the East Valley.

Eric Reber opened his large-format printing studio near McQueen and Guadalupe roads in Gilbert seven years ago.

The Mesa resident has grown SpeedPro from two to four employees but the thing that has remained elusive is his ability to offer health benefits to his workers.

“It’s absolutely definitely an issue that we can’t do that or offer it low enough for people,” said Reber, who is on his wife’s insurance plan through Gilbert Public Schools.

 “It’s difficult to find employees unless they had a spouse or are young enough to be on their parents’ plan. I’ve lost out on opportunities to hire people because of that fact.”

Reber isn’t the only small-business owner in this predicament.

Over 2.7 million small and medium businesses in the country do not offer health insurance due to cost, according to PeopleKeep, which develops employee health benefits software.

But things are looking up for East Valley businesses.

The East Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance announced last week it has launched a health insurance pool for small businesses. Seven Valley chambers make up the advocacy Alliance, which represents 5,000 local businesses with 200,000 employees in Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Scottsdale, Apache Junction Queen Creek and Cave Creek.

The health insurance affinity discount plan is in partnership with Lifestyle Health Plans, based out of Wichita, Kansas. 

“The partnership will help East Valley employers save money on health-care premiums and provide a robust wellness plan and quality care to their employees,” said John Hetrick, EVCCA chairman at the news conference in at the State Capitol. 

“Lifestyle Health Plans has a record of saving 5 to 15 percent through a chamber membership discount nationally,” he said. “In fact, we have members who have saved upwards of 35 percent in their premiums.”

Lifestyle Health Plans representative Joseph Herren said this offering is new to Arizona and exclusive for the Alliance and that plans will cover as few as a two-person, husband-and-wife group.

“What we are able to do is offer large-group benefits down to small employers,” Herren said.

He said there are 16 standard plan designs to meet the needs of employers such as a high-deductible, no-copay plan or a low-deductible with a co-pay for everything plan.

“Out of 16 plans there are lots of options for employers to choose from,” he said.

All the level-funded plans are compliant with the Affordable Care Act and include the 10 essential health services such as hospitalization, mental health and prescription drug coverage, according to Herren.

“Many sole proprietors have been struggling with rising health insurance costs,” said state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, who represents Legislative District 28. “The loss of private insurance or being forced onto the Exchange has rendered many small-business owners either uninsured or functionally uninsured.”

She sponsored the two Senate bills – SB 1217 and SB 1035 – signed by Gov. Doug Ducey that capitalize on a new federal rule allowing for business associations to pool their memberships to negotiate lower health insurance rates.

The two-term senator said the issue was brought to her by a constituent, who retired from a Fortune 500 company and was operating as an LLC.

She said the man lost his private insurance and had to buy from the Health Insurance Marketplace – an expensive plan with a high premium and high deductible that was only good in Arizona.

Now groups such as EVCCA, the Arizona Technology Council and the Arizona Small Business Association have the same purchasing power as a large company and buy more coverage for less money, Brophy McGee said.

Gilbert Chamber of Commerce has 813 members and more than half will likely take a good look at the plans, according to Kathy Tilque, Gilbert Chamber and CEO and one of the Alliance founders.

One of those Chamber members is Reber. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing exactly what we can do as far as savings,” he said. “This may be a great benefit I can supply my employees.”

(1) comment


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