Editorial in The Greenville News
Published August 12, 2006
More than half of small businesses in this state can’t afford health-care insurance for their employees. That mars the competitiveness of employers and leaves many workers with few health-care options.
A new initiative might offer at least a partial solution. Small businesses without insurance are teaming up directly with community health centers to make primary care affordable. The business pays the cost of doctor visits and lab work after a $10 employee co-pay.
A recent Greenville News story related the success of the partnership for one Columbia-area business. Mid-Carolina Steel and Recycling enrolled 25 of its 50 employees in the plan. And since last September, employees have used the health center’s services at a cost to the company of $1,700. The program has been particularly beneficial for employees who could not afford the cost of family insurance coverage at the business.
The 19 community health centers in the state can offer lower-cost primary care for businesses because they are nonprofits and they can use federal funds for patients with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level. In the case of Greenville’s New Horizon Family Health Services, for instance, discounts of 20 percent to 80 percent off normal charges can be offered, depending on income and family size.
Hospitalization and specialists are not included in the plan: That lowers costs but also reduces the range of health services available. But the strength of the program is that it offers at least preventive and primary care for employees who before might not have had any health-care options beyond charity care.
Following the recent Greenville News story about the initiative, three other companies expressed interest in the plan, a project of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Primary Health Care Association. Other businesses interested in forming a partnership with a community health center should call the Small Business Chamber at (803) 252-5733.
Some lawmakers want the state to help small businesses pay for health-care expenses, and those efforts certainly are worthwhile. An increase in the cigarette tax could help provide health care for at least some of the estimated 850,000 South Carolinians (40,000 in Greenville County) who have no insurance.
Small businesses are one of the primary drivers of economic growth in the state. Private and public efforts to help small businesses afford health care for employees will bolster the economic vitality of our state.