Employee health insurance is a big expense for a small business — one that can be too spendy to bear.
And that can leave workers out in the cold for medical coverage. But a new local program is giving businesses a low-cost way to provide their workers with health coverage.
It’s called SmartMoney, and it’s the brainchild of Darrell Strong of PayneWest Insurance.
“So many are being shut out of the system,” said Strong, an employee benefits broker. “They make too much money for the free stuff, but not enough to afford what the rest of us have.”
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With the program, “we’re excited to reach a whole new group of people,” he said.
SmartMoney costs businesses $129 per month per employee, compared to the typical $400 to $500.
So many are being shut out of the system. They make too much money for the free stuff, but not enough to afford what the rest of us have.
Darrell Strong, PayneWest Insurance
It’s made possible through a partnership with Grace Clinic in Kennewick, which provides free health care to the low-income uninsured.
Through the program, employees get unlimited access to the clinic and its health care providers, with no out-of-pocket costs.
That means no deductible or co-pays, including for lab work.
They also have around-the-clock access to a doctor by phone or video chat through a telemedicine service.
Employers can upgrade to include $25,000 in accident medical coverage and dental care.
Benefits play a role in attracting and retaining employees, so if you can do something meaningful, it’s a good thing.
Mark Brault, Grace Clinic president
The new program is aimed at small employers that otherwise couldn’t afford covering their workers — not companies that already provide traditional coverage but want to save money.
It addresses a real and pressing need in the community, said Mark Brault, Grace Clinic president.
The Affordable Care Act made health coverage more affordable and accessible, he said, but many still are left out — making too much to qualify for free care, but not enough to afford their own plans.
“From the clinic’s perspective, it’s about trying to fill as many of the gaps in the system as we can for people who don’t have other good options,” Brault said.
The Benton-Franklin area has an estimated 32,000 people without insurance.
Grace Clinic, which logs about 550 patient visits a month, is prepared to expand its patient load with the SmartMoney program, having added a full-time nurse practitioner and fifth clinic day.
The clinic also has resident physicians from Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Trios Health rotating through to treat patients. Residency is an intensive training period that comes after medical school.
The new program will be an obvious help to the newly covered employees, who’ll be able to regularly see a doctor without going broke, Brault and Strong said.
And it’ll benefit businesses, too — helping them recruit workers and maintain a healthier workforce.
“Benefits play a role in attracting and retaining employees, so if you can do something meaningful, it’s a good thing,” Brault said.
“The biggest thing is this intangible — (the feeling that) this employer cares about me,” Strong said.