March 8, 2019 2 min read

Expanding access to lower-cost health insurance for small businesses

Rising health insurance expenses and the pressures of the federal Affordable Care Act remain major concerns for businesses across the state. These trends hit small businesses the hardest.

In fact, 80 percent of Missouri business leaders expect their health care costs to increase significantly in coming years. And more than 70 percent say rising health care costs will limit growth at their businesses, according to a Gallup survey conducted by the Missouri Chamber as part of its Missouri 2030 strategic initiative.

In response to this, a new type of health insurance offering came to Missouri in 2017. Called a multiple employer welfare arrangement, or MEWA, this innovative model enables smaller employers to join together and share in the overall claims risk by being part of larger self-funded pool.

House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann (R-O’Fallon) is working to expand this option to more small businesses.

“When employers join MEWAs, they experience both cost savings and enhanced benefits when compared to ACA-compliant health care plans,” Wiemann said.

Wiemann’s House Bill 942 would change Missouri statute to allow public marketing of approved MEWA plans, making it easier for small businesses to access. Current state law prohibits brokers and providers from marketing MEWA options to the general public.

Brendan Cossette, the Missouri Chamber’s chief operating officer, testified in support of the bill. As an organization with a small number of employees, the Missouri Chamber itself had seen a 100 percent increase in its health insurance premiums over a three-year time span, he said. Likewise, feedback from the chamber’s membership was largely about skyrocketing health insurance costs.

So, in collaboration with local chambers of commerce across the state, the Missouri Chamber launched a MEWA in 2017. Available only to chamber members, the MEWA quickly grew to include more than 1,100 small businesses, providing coverage to more than 16,000 Missourians.

“The problem is, we can talk to our members or the local chambers with which we are affiliated, but we can’t talk to anybody who is not a member,” said Cossette. “So, if somebody came into a broker’s office and said, ‘I’ve got three people, a small shop, and I would like to provide health insurance to my employees’…If they aren’t a member of a chamber, the broker cannot mention this product at all.”

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