The expansion of Washington Healthplanfinder Business is targeting employers with 50 to 99 workers.
More than 100 small businesses in Washington are covering their workers through the state’s health-insurance exchange, officials announced Thursday.
And beginning in November, the Washington Healthplanfinder Business exchange will expand its reach to include employers with up to 100 workers, growing beyond its current market covering businesses with 1 to 50 workers.
Three insurers — UnitedHealthcare of Washington, Moda Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest — propose selling 47 plans to businesses in Washington for coverage that starts in 2016. Kaiser’s offerings cover only two Southwest Washington counties.
Washington’s small-business exchange got off to a slow start when it launched in 2013, with Kaiser the only company selling plans, and only in Clark and Cowlitz counties.
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Last fall, Moda joined the exchange and offered plans statewide; now UnitedHealthcare is hoping to sell through the exchange as well.
By the end of 2014, only 11 small businesses had completed their enrollments in the exchange. Now the 100 businesses using the exchange cover roughly 535 people.
“We didn’t know how well it would catch fire, and we’ve been really pleased with the level of consistent growth,” said Catherine Bailey, director of Washington Healthplanfinder Business. Employers can sign up for the exchange year-round, while individuals, for the most part, can enroll only during special enrollment periods.
In addition to Healthplanfinder Business, the state runs Washington Healthplanfinder, which sells plans to individuals seeking coverage. Both exchanges were formed under the Affordable Care Act and have money-saving incentives to entice customers.
The individual exchange offers tax benefits that lower the price of monthly premiums based on a person’s income.
The business exchange provides tax credits for qualifying employers. The perk applies to businesses and nonprofits with 25 or fewer full-time employees who make on average $50,000 a year or less, and which pay at least half the cost of their employees’ insurance premiums.
Small businesses can recoup up to 50 percent of their insurance costs, while nonprofits can get credits for up to 35 percent.
The health-insurance tax credit “is becoming better known among the small- employer community,” Bailey said. “We’ve been asking some of our enrolled groups about whether they’re using it, and a number of them are.”
Beginning in 2016, businesses with 50 to 99 workers will be required to provide health insurance for some of their employees or face penalties. (There are no mandates for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.)
Employers don’t have to use the exchange to meet the mandate. In fact, the majority of small employers purchasing coverage in Washington are buying insurance through trusts and associations, which have historically offered lower prices. The state also has what’s called a small-group market for small businesses.
One of the selling points of the exchange, said Bailey, is that employers can let their workers choose their own plans and the site has tools to help companies more easily manage their employees’ benefits.
As with the individual exchange, the business exchange has faced some technical glitches, but those are being fixed and the site is running well, Bailey said.