Affordable Health Care for Small Businesses

Published in Lexington County Chronicle

August 3, 2006

It is possible for small businesses to afford health care benefits for employees. That is the conclusion of a 10-month pilot program in Columbia engineered by The SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Primary Health Care Association.

In September of last year, Mid-Carolina Steel & Recycling entered into an agreement with Columbia’s Eau Claire Cooperative Health Center and Richland Community Health Center. The private, non-profit Health Centers provided all primary and preventive medical care to approximately 25 employees and their families at rates based on family income. Mid-Carolina Steel paid all the medical costs after a $10 co-payment by the patient.

“The feedback from my employees has been very positive, the administration is working smoothly and my costs have been far below my expectations,” said Fred Seidenberg, president of Mid-Carolina Steel. For the first ten months of this program, the cost to Seidenberg’s company was only $1900.

“It is clear that we have pioneered one new solution to the health care and insurance crisis for small businesses,” said Frank Knapp, Jr., president of the Small Business Chamber. “Now we must market this solution in every community in the state with a Community Health Center.”

There are 19 Community Health Care Centers with 134 locations across the state.

“These health centers employ licensed physicians and medical staff to provide health services in addition to primary health care that can include dental, pharmaceuticals, transportation and mental health,” said Lathran J. Woodard, executive director of the S.C. Primary Health Care Association. The Centers are Federally Qualified, which enables them to use special Federal funds to supplement service costs to patients with family incomes up to 200% of poverty.

Knapp cautioned that this program is not health insurance and does not address specialists and hospital costs. “Now that we have demonstrated how regular doctor visits–the vast majority of health care services the average family needs–can be made affordable for small businesses, we are turning our attention to the major-medical piece of the puzzle.”

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