Oregon health insurance exchange: Small businesses push for choices
By Mike Roach
As a co-owner of an independent clothing retailer in Portland, I've experienced firsthand the evolution of health care insurance for small businesses and their employees. When our store first opened 37 years ago, providing health insurance to our employees wasn't a priority because they had other options. Today, it's a different story. To stay competitive with larger employers and meet the needs of our staff, we offer health insurance. This helps us retain top-notch employees who in turn help us to deliver the level of service our customers deserve and expect.
With fewer than a dozen employees, it was tough for us to find a plan that worked for the needs of the business and our employees. Our small size put us at a disadvantage. We could only afford to offer our employees one choice of carrier and one plan type. As the years have passed and the premiums have skyrocketed -- in 2011 our premiums went up 50 percent -- we're still stuck paying a significant amount of money with no greater choices.
Luckily, Oregon was one of the first states to embrace and plan for the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. One of those provisions includes the development of a health insurance exchange to make it easier for small businesses to give their employees a choice in their health coverage. According to a Field Poll in Oregon, just one in four small employers currently offers health benefits to all of its employees. But when small-business owners are told that Oregon's exchange opens in 2014, the proportion of those who are likely to offer health coverage to their employees jumps to 42 percent.