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Originally published Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 8:02 PM

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Different avenues small employers choose for health coverage


Paul Goetz

Co-owner of Frost Doughnuts, Mill Creek

Many of Frost Doughnuts’ 20 workers are part time or high-school age, but the growing business is providing insurance for six employees.

Previously the company was rejected by a trust because some of its workers had pre-existing conditions. But under the Affordable Care Act, insurers can no longer screen out such people and Frost now is getting insurance through the Association of Washington Business’ Health Choice.

“I never dreamed in my life time that we’d see a time when insurance companies couldn’t turn you away,” Goetz said. “It’s so heavily ingrained, or it was, into the system.”

Under the company’s new plan from Premera Blue Cross, its premiums decreased to between $150 and $360 per employee per month, and Frost is picking up 75 percent of the costs. Its deductible has quadrupled to $2,000 since the business opened in 2009.

Steve Burkholder

For most of its 20 years, Screamer has provided health-insurance benefits to workers who qualify, which right now is three of its six employees.

The company, which sells ski hats online, is using a new trust this year called Evergreen Security Trust, because the trust it used before had folded.

It kept the same carrier, Regence BlueShield, and the same plan, but the rates increased about 10 percent to more than $800 per person per month.

At nearly $2,600 in total a month, “I’m paying more in health insurance than I’m paying in rent,” Burkholder said.

It makes the notion of bringing on any new employees daunting, given that they could cost $10,000 per year in health benefits alone.

“That’s a real serious discussion as to whether we can take that kind of a hit,” Burkholder said.

Anne-Marie Faiola

Bramble Berry, a soap-making supplier, provides health insurance to 43 of its 70 employees who work 30 hours a week or more.

Last year, the company was insured through a trust, but now it’s saving money by shopping directly from its carrier, Group Health Cooperative.

By going direct, it shaved a looming double-digit premium hike to 7.5 percent. But deductibles rose by 25 percent, and the network of doctors and clinics available is narrower outside of the trust.

Besides the higher costs and shrinking benefits, what really frustrated Faiola was the time she burned meeting with her broker and employees to weigh the trade-offs for the different plans.

“I don’t want to be dealing with health care and dealing with insurance,” Faiola said. “I’m an employer. I want to create jobs. This is not a good use of my time. That doesn’t help the economy.”

Fred Swanson

Based on health questionnaires employees completed, most insurance companies in past years wouldn’t cover Gay City Health Project, a nonprofit promoting LGBT health.

Only Group Health Cooperative offered coverage, which Swanson said worked for most employees.

But Group Health’s rates rose dramatically this year for the organization’s 11 employees, so the nonprofit turned to the Washington Healthplanfinder.

The individual insurance plans on Healthplanfinder exchange cost less than group coverage — even without the federal tax breaks available to low-income residents.

Gay City is reimbursing employees for their premium costs.

Swanson said employees found the exchange relatively easy to use, and a trained enrollment expert, or navigator, could help anyone who ran in to problems.

“It was great. People were able to choose what they wanted,” Swanson said. “It kept our costs in check.”

Vici Hall

General accounting manager of Summit Power Group, Seattle

To recruit the talent it needs, it’s imperative that Summit Power Group, an energy-projects developer, offers health insurance to its 38 employees and their families. For 2014 the employer was able to stay with its existing trust, called Business Health Trust. Its insurance carrier changed from Regence to Premera.

“The coverage we were able to offer was very similar,” Hall said. “It was pretty seamless.”

The best news was that its rates increased only by a modest 4 percent.

It’s still not cheap. Summit pays the entire premium for employees who select a more basic plan, which costs about $480 a month. The company pays 75 percent of a spouse’s premium and 50 percent for kids. Employees who want a plan with better benefits pay an additional $34 a month of their own money.

In total, insurance for Summit employees and families costs nearly $400,000 annually, with $75,000 of that from employees.

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