Insurance tops list of concerns facing many small businesses |

Insurance tops list of concerns facing many small businesses

Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – David Garrett was shocked when he received a renewal notification from his insurance company announcing that the rates he pays to provide health insurance for his 12 employees would be increasing 36 percent.”I was bewildered – how could somebody impose that type of an increase?” he said. “I could never do that to my customer base. This sure doesn’t help in an economic downturn.”Garrett, a co-owner of Ski Country Resorts and Sports in Breckenridge, provides health insurance through Humana. The insurance hike means his company will have to pay $290 a month for each employee – compared to $218. Employees will see an increase from $54 to $72. Coverage for employees with a spouse and one child will increase from $613 a month to $900, he said.”It’s quite a hike,” he said. “In most cases, that’s a mortgage payment.”Garrett began to shop around – and what he found did not make him any happier. First, there were only three other insurance carriers that would cover his employees. Then, there was the expense.”If my business was down in Denver, my insurance coverage would be 26 percent cheaper than in Summit County,” he said. “United Health is 51 percent cheaper.”Garrett said insurance companies have told him it’s more expensive to insure people in rural, mountain communities because the pool of potential customers isn’t as large as in metropolitan areas. Also, there are fewer hospital and health care facilities with whom insurance carriers can make agreements.”The problem we have in the mountains is that there are very few insurance companies that will take a look at our small companies,” Garrett said. “Most of them want you to have 50 or more employees.Garrett tried to find a loophole by basing the company in Denver, but employee enrollment forms would indicate they live and obtain health care in Summit County.He also looked at other insurance carriers but said the coverage wasn’t comparable to what is offered by Humana. He’s exploring other options now. Garrett has spoken with peers in the lodging industry, some of whom are giving their employees insurance allowances and letting them find their own coverage. He plans to stay with Humana for this year, but if rates continue to increase, he may have to reduce the percentage of company participation or discontinue offering insurance for his employees all together.A solution?Garret is typical of many small-business owners in their struggle to find affordable health insurance for employees.And he’s exactly the kind of person John Karis wants to attend a forum with the Colorado Small Business Council next month. Officials from Pitkin, Eagle, Lake, Routt, Park, Grand and Summit counties have been invited to attend, as well as two officials from the governor’s office and a federal researcher collecting information about health care in Colorado.The council wants to hear from West Slope business owners about their concerns, Karis said. Half the session will be dedicated to health insurance issues, including how they affect employee retention and an employers’ ability to provide benefits. The council then will take that data to state legislators.”As anyone who’s ever dealt with government knows, it takes a relatively loud voice or a number of voices to get action,” Karis said. “My one voice doesn’t have the same impact as if we bring the council here to listen to people.”The insurance debacle already has the attention of State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald.”I look at the insurance industry with a very skeptical eye about what the problem is,” she said. “They’ll say it’s the mandates. They’ll say it’s the greedy physicians. They’ll say its unauthorized medical procedures. That may be part of the problem, but by God, it’s not all of the problem.”Determining what is the problem will be the focus of the Small Business Council meeting. Business and government representatives are encouraged to outline issues that affect their business at meeting.”They’re here to find out what the primary issues are,” Karis said. “I don’t think you can make a suggestion for change until you know what the conditions are.”When & Where-What: Small Business Council-Why: Hear concerns about issues affecting small businesses-When: Sept. 18, 10 a.m. to noon-Where: Hoosier Room of the new Summit County Community and Senior Center near the County Commons.-More info: John Karis, (970) 668-0855

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