Health insurance remains as expensive, confusing and out-of-reach for most small businesses as ever. If your business already has a health insurance plan, you probably know that costs keep rising. And if you don’t, all of the talk about health insurance reform so far has probably only made your business even more befuddled. And now this: A new survey by eHealthInsurance.com shows that less than 20% of business owners believe they’d find better benefits if they shopped for health insurance this year.
But hidden in the health insurance fog are some valuable benefits and cost-saving opportunities – plus potential pitfalls you should know about. Basically, small business owners who haven’t boned up on the latest changes could miss out on important chances to save money. Recent changes now in effect can help you get better benefits for little or no additional cost, including free preventive care screenings. There are also big-dollar tax breaks that can benefit some businesses with existing plans (see Claim your Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credit).
And here’s something else you should know: Insurers in many states are looking to attract more small businesses and have started offering lower rates to new customers, which means your business may be able to save money by switching carriers this year. Here are five key to getting the most from your small business health insurance right now:
- Take advantage of recent changes: In addition to new small business tax breaks, health reform has mandated new benefits in plans now being offered that include preventive care screenings at no cost, and no lifetime limits on your health coverage. But watch out: If your business bought health insurance before reform passed in March 2010, your plan is probably “grandfathered” under the old rules and won’t provide the new benefits. While the new benefits won’t lower your premiums, they don¹t seem to have increased prices for small group plans either. And free screenings might head offer bigger health problems later, saving your business money in the long-run. Plus, small business owners no longer have to worry about one employee’s illness maxing out the coverage on the entire plan.
- Customize benefits to costs: Ask employees what benefits they really need and want, and construct a health plans that gives them only the benefits they are willing to help pay for. (Always keep in mind, however, that it¹s illegal to ask employees to provide specific information about their health history or what kinds of benefits they use most.) But, you can find out if they¹re interested in chiropractic care or dental insurance – benefits they could pay for on their own. You might also create an anonymous survey to find out what benefits they value most, or if they¹d prefer higher monthly premiums with low deductibles, or vice-versa.
- Share the costs: Consider the possibility of having employees contribute to monthly premiums, especially if they want broader benefits. According to the eHealthInsurance survey, many small employers are still unaware that they can have employees share the cost of monthly premiums.
- Investigate new health coverage options: More and more small business owners are exploring plans that include Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flex Spending Accounts (FSAs). Such plans often come with higher deductibles, however, which many employees fear. Under many new plan designs, it is now easier for employers to contribute to an employee’s HSA account and eliminate that fear of a high-deductible, while still saving money.
- Shop for different insurers: It’s tempting for time-pressed small business owners to shop once for a plan and move on. And some business owners stay with a long-time insurance provider on the mistaken assumption that their favorite doctor or hospital only accepts the plan they have. But it’s a good idea to re-shop for coverage every two or three years to be sure you¹re still getting the best deal. Big companies switch all the time to save money, and you should too.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.