Column: State insurance plan gives choices to small businesses, workers

BY Audrey Gasteier


Massachusetts has achieved historic success over the last 12 years in making health care more accessible and affordable to its residents, but one of the biggest hurdles remaining is to make it easier and less costly for the state’s smallest businesses to offer coverage to employees.
For most employers, not just in Massachusetts but across the country, providing health insurance to employees is a significant investment. For too many small businesses, connecting employees to coverage is considered too expensive and too complicated to manage.
Through its long-term health care reform efforts, Massachusetts has the highest insured rate in the nation, with 97 percent of all residents having health coverage. Employer-sponsored insurance is a cornerstone of that coverage, with just over half of all insured residents getting covered through work.
Approximately 65 percent of all businesses in Massachusetts offer coverage to their employees. However, of businesses with fewer than 10 employees – there are more than 100,000 in Massachusetts – only 48 percent offer coverage. For small employers, managing the complexities of offering a group plan, or the perception that the costs would be too high or too unpredictable, are hurdles to providing insurance. But our health care system is strongest when employers – of all sizes – are doing their part to share in the responsibility of health coverage.
In order to address the reasons why some small employers have avoided or stepped away from offering coverage, last year the Massachusetts Health Connector rebuilt and modernized its small business platform. The new Health Connector for Business provides access to easy plan comparison, premium rebates and tax credits, and an online process to make it easier for small businesses to offer affordable coverage and provide employees with the opportunity to pick their own plan.
The platform offers employers – and their brokers if they choose to use one – tools to compare plan benefits and prices. Small employers may be surprised to learn how much they can save just by shopping around. Employers will find that plans offering the same benefits can vary by up to 30 percent. In addition to savings that can be found by shopping around, employers can also participate in the Wellness Track program, which offers employers a 15 percent annual rebate on their premium payments. And, some businesses will qualify for federal tax credits, covering up to 50 percent of an employer’s premium payments.
All of the coverage offered through Health Connector for Business is high-value and trustworthy. All plans meet state and federal standards, which ensure strong benefits, cost sharing limits, and consumer protections that keep our market fair and stable and ensure employees and their families get the health care they need.
In addition to the cost savings opportunities and the peace of mind that comes with high-value coverage that meets state standards, Health Connector for Business also brings a degree of choice for employees that has never before been available in the Massachusetts small group insurance market.
The backbone of Massachusetts’s health care success is the universal understanding of the importance of having health insurance and a shared commitment to keeping our coverage landscape and insurance market strong and easy to access. That system relies on the continued commitment from health providers and insurance carriers, consumers, and businesses.
Health Connector for Business makes health insurance more accessible and affordable to both employers and employees, and delivers another tool to the market to help ensure that the fabric of our health coverage landscape remains strong and vibrant.
Audrey Gasteier is the Chief of Policy and Strategy at the Massachusetts Health Connector. Health Connector for Business can be found at