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Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies Working with States To Expand Healthcare Coverage for America's Small Businesses

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 General News J E 4
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 Innovative solutions fromBlue Cross and Blue Shield companies and state governments -- includingpremium subsidy programs in Arizona and Oklahoma -- are helping to expandcoverage for workers at small businesses and are central to addressing one ofthe key challenges facing the healthcare system, as highlighted at a CapitolHill briefing conducted this morning by the Blue Cross and Blue ShieldAssociation (BCBSA).

"Innovative solutions such as programs in Arizona and Oklahoma haveincreased access for thousands of workers in small firms who otherwise wouldnot be able to afford coverage," said Scott P. Serota, BCBSA president andCEO. "Small businesses and their workers are the backbone of our nation'seconomy and addressing their needs must be a top priority for healthcarereform."

BCBSA today released new data from a survey of 400 small employersparticipating in the Insure Oklahoma program. The survey found that 56percent of all Insure Oklahoma enrollees were previously uninsured. InsureOklahoma helped some firms offer coverage for the first time -- 37 percent ofthe program's employers were uninsured previously and 85 percent of theseemployers said the primary reason they couldn't offer coverage before wastheir employees couldn't afford it.

The program also helped employees that previously had access to employercoverage but could not afford it. In firms that offered coverage prior to theprogram, 36 percent of their enrollees had been uninsured before InsureOklahoma. The program, which has broad support from insurers, smallemployers, hospitals and doctors, has enabled 55 percent of small employerswith less than five employees to offer coverage for the first time.

The Insure Oklahoma program is an employer-sponsored insurance programthat provides premium assistance to small employers with low-wage workers. Ithas been highly successful in decreasing the uninsured in the small groupmarket and currently provides coverage to almost 10,000 employees. The surveyalso found that all workers -- not just those with state subsidies -- benefitwhen small firms offer coverage for the first time. Of employers that did notpreviously offer coverage, for every five Insure Oklahoma-subsidized employeesthere are seven employees that don't receive a state subsidy but are nowoffered employer coverage for the first time.

Bert Marshall, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, adivision of Health Care Service Corporation, gave an overview of the surveyfindings and noted, "Seventy-three percent of small employers said that InsureOklahoma helped them offer coverage by making it more affordable. The programhas grown significantly since its inception and 90 percent of employers creditInsure Oklahoma as one of the most, or the most, important factors in theirdecision to offer coverage."

Dr. Donald Russell, who owns Sooner Veterinary Hospital in Norman,Oklahoma, is a small business owner typical of employers helped by theprogram. "I've been in business for nearly 30 years and this is the firsttime I've been able to offer coverage to my employees," he said. "It's animportant issue to me because I care about my employees' well-being. The costto employees was just too prohibitive before; with this program I can finallyoffer affordable coverage to my employees."

Another innovative solution to help small employers is a premium subsidyprogram available in Arizona. Chuck Bassett, vice president for governmentrelations and public policy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, gave anoverview of the program which helps make coverage more affordable foruninsured small employers.

"What started as an experiment has grown to become a successful programwith more than 4,700 people who now have health coverage today," said Bassett."Employers are looking for ways to help them offer affordable coverage fortheir emp
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