by Krista Pierce, The Item

November 11, 2004

An innovative pilot program, the first of its kind in the nation, will soon be tested in six South Carolina counties, including Sumter.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce recently announced it is helping coordinate an employee health care program for small businesses that don’t have traditional group health insurance. In addition to Sumter, the program will be tested in Beaufort, Darlington, Greenville, Greenwood and Horry.

Frank Knapp Jr., president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber, said more than 60 percent of the state’s small businesses with less than 100 employees do not offer health insurance to employees.

“If we are ever going to improve the health of our citizens, then we must either get insurance premiums under control and lower or make health care services more affordable,” he said.

For the pilot program, the S.C. Small Business Chamber has partnered with health care providers in the test counties to offer services to participating small-business employees at negotiated costs.

“We can’t simply say, ‘Well you can’t afford it, tough luck,'” Knapp said. “We’ve got to get people into primary health care programs.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a national health report by United Health Foundation, which placed South Carolina’s health status at 47th in the nation.

The report cited a high incidence of infectious disease, infant mortality rate and vast health disparities among races.

Knapp said people who do not have insurance through their employer often forego preventive health care and seek care only in emergency situations. By then, he said, it’s often too late.

“Our efforts to address small group health insurance costs have not been successful to date,” said Knapp, whose organization has supported legislation to enable small businesses to band together at the state level to acquire health insurance. “The effort we are announcing today attacks the problem from the other direction.”

Knapp declined to release the name of the local health care provider that has agreed to participate in the test program, but he said if the program proves successful, he hopes to expand it to every county in the state.

Small businesses in the test counties that do not have a health insurance plan and are interested in providing health care services for their employees at lower costs should contact the Small Business Chamber at (803) 252-5733.

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