Small businesses struggling to find affordable health insurance for its employees are considering dropping their plans altogether, now that there’s a new alternative: the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange, which starts enrollment in two weeks.
Blankenship Equipment repair is a small, family-owned business that tries to take care of its employees.
"Always make it a priority that we have good benefits for our employees,” said Loretta Thompson, office manager for the company, “that we have health insurance, we have profit sharing.”
But with just 12 employees, Blankenship has seen its group health insurance rates go up every year. In the last four years, they've switched plans four times.
"I'm frustrated by the red tape. I'm frustrated by all the regulations,” said Thompson.
Thompson says the company is now considering an alternative: paying their employees to, own their own, enroll in the state's health benefit exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
"One of things we're looking at is not having a group policy at all, but somehow being able to fund our employees’ individual insurance policies,” Thompson said.
Recently, larger corporations like Walgreens, IBM and Trader Joe’s have been making headlines for making similar changes.
Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says it's too early to know how many businesses will push their employees to exchanges, but it could be a win-win for both sides, as long as employers continue to contribute funds for the premiums.
"Bang for your buck, you get an awful lot more now for your health insurance premium whether it’s from your small employer or you’re buying it yourself than you had in the past,” Kreidler said.
It can leave the burden of finding healthcare coverage on the individual. Ben Whitcomb, a service technician for Blankenship, says having insurance is a high priority for him. But he worries the process of finding insurance will be time consuming and complicated.
“It’s a hassle,” he said. "I guess if that's the way it's got to be, then I have nothing to say about it.”
In 2015, a federal mandate will require companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance for its full time staff. Small businesses will not have that requirement.