HealthShare helps the uninsured, one small business at a timeHealthShare is a local, non-profit, health coverage program, which offers affordable health coverage for uninsured employees working in small businesses.
In order to define HealthShare, it helps to first say what it isn’t: HealthShare is not an insurance company.
But HealthShare works almost the same way. You and your employer pay the costs of a monthly premium and HealthShare pays a portion of your healthcare costs. Rather than being insurance, HealthShare is a local, non-profit, health coverage program, which offers affordable health coverage for uninsured employees working in small businesses. They do this by partnering with local medical providers to provide services, hooking people up with existing healthcare programs and, at the moment, with the help of grant money.
“It’s really a good collaboration across the community to provide a service,” said Jenny Peterson, program development director. “We’re looking
out for the uninsured.”
If you qualify, it could mean the difference between having healthcare coverage or remaining in the ranks of the uninsured. Also, HealthShare coverage must come through the employer; people can’t sign up unless their employer signs up, and businesses have to meet certain requirements to sign on with HealthShare.
For the owners of Twin Ports Cyclery, HealthShare meant they could offer their employees healthcare coverage for the first time.
Denis Sauve, who co-owns the business with his wife, said they were looking at $300 to $400 a month for health insurance for their workers (whose numbers range from one or two in the winter to six or seven in the summer). Then they heard about HealthShare and signed up.
“In general, when employees are working for $8 or $9 an hour, it’s a labor of love,” Sauve said. “But I felt really guilty, because if anything (medical) happens and you’re uninsured, it’s catastrophic. So I think this is an excellent program: It’s something I can afford as a benefit for my workers and something they can afford too.”
Both part-time and full-time employees are eligible.
HealthShare is very affordable for both employer and employee. If a business signs up, the business owner pays $60 a month per employee. Employees either pay a standard rate of $67 a month (no one can be denied for pre-existing conditions) or $53 if they choose the Wellness plan, which requires meeting with a care manager to set two goals for improving health. Family members may be added at the same cost (although the employer is not required to pay for them) with a lower rate for children.
There is a drawback. Providers also have to participate, and the program is limited to local providers, of which about 95 percent have signed on. While that’s good at home, it means you need to come home if you get sick in the Twin Cities.
HealthShare is available only to certain small businesses, which meet the following requirements:
• Employ 50 or fewer people;
• Be located in Duluth, southern St. Louis County or Lake County (although they are working on expanding the coverage area to Carlton, Cook and northern St. Louis County, so call if you’re interested);
• Pay a median hourly wage of $12.50 or less;
• Not have offered health insurance benefits to employees during the previous 12 months.
HealthShare Executive Director Dan Svendsen said they chose to target small businesses because, after a couple years of research, they figured out that there are a lot of healthcare programs out there, but not everyone has equal access.
“Most people who are uninsured, probably 75 percent, work,” he said. “And about 60 percent of those people work for small businesses. It behooved us to find [a solution].”
When he says “us,” Svendsen is referring to the other non-profit organization he directs, Generations Heathcare Initiatives. Among other things, Generations worked with the Healthcare Access Office at the Lake Superior Community Health Center, because about a third of those employed-but-uninsured people are eligible for some kind of existing program.
Then they developed HealthShare, which launched in October of 2008. It’s growing faster now, thanks to a five-year state-federal grant and increased visibility. In December, HealthShare was covering 23 businesses with 70 employees and dependents. By late last month, they had enrolled 40 employers with 115 employees.
The HealthShare program also aims to get people more involved in their own health, and to help them develop a relationship with a healthcare provider, so problems are addressed sooner.
Find out more about HealthShare at www.healthsharemn.com or by calling 336-5710.