Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 12, 2010

Business owners unsure about county health plan

Hundreds of Palo Alto businesses are small enough to qualify, Chamber head estimates

by Martin Sanchez

Palo Alto business owners appear uncertain about joining a new county health care plan for uninsured workers, despite promises it would cut monthly insurance premiums in half.

The plan, "Healthy Workers," was developed by local advocacy groups Working Partnerships USA and Santa Clara Family Health Plan and the county-run Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System. Healthy Workers is open to those who earn less than $18 per hour and work more than 20 hours per week at businesses with two to 50 employees, Working Partnerships USA spokesman Jody Meacham said.

"There are such a great number in our county who are without care," Santa Clara County supervisor Liz Kniss, a registered nurse, said. "This plan will give them the dignity and respect of having health care coverage."

Hassem Bordbari, the owner of Barron Park Florist on El Camino Real, said he canceled health insurance for himself and his two employees one year ago because their combined monthly premium reached $2,400. He knows several neighboring shop owners who cannot provide insurance either, he said.

"(Health care) in this country is all getting bad, especially when you are getting older. ... We live by the grace of God that nothing happens to us," he said.

Bordbari unsuccessfully looked for a cheaper plan when his original plan's costs peaked. He said he wants to do "a lot of research" before forming an opinion on Healthy Workers. But, he said, "Whatever they're going to do is better than what it is now."

Under the plan, which debuted last week, employers pay a $150 monthly premium and employees pay a $75 monthly premium. These premiums are roughly half the cost of other comparable plans, Meacham said.

Some business owners already provide health insurance to their employees. Jeff Selzer, who runs Palo Alto Bicycles on University Avenue, said his current plan's premiums have increased by 12 to 20 percent per year in recent years.

If he did not already offer insurance and adopted Healthy Workers, some of his employees would not qualify due to earning higher than the county plan's minimum.

Gillian Robinson, who co-owns the ZombieRunner athletic shop and café on California Avenue, noted Healthy Workers' monthly premium is cheaper than ZombieRunner's current plan's.

"The tough part is finding everything that's out there. ... I have a lot to do every day, and if it would require a lot of work for (only) some savings, I don't know," she said.

Robinson said she might look into Healthy Workers when she hires new employees.

But Meacham clarified Thursday that businesses cannot switch to Healthy Workers from another plan. Only small businesses that are not now offering health coverage are eligible, he said.

Paula Sandas, the president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, said the majority of the chamber's estimated 575 member businesses are small enough to qualify for Healthy Workers.

"In Palo Alto, I would guess we are talking about small retail and restaurants. ... This is a really good thing for businesses," she said.

Healthy Workers has been in development since 2006, Meacham said.

The plan provides standard medical care at a discount to people who would otherwise rely on Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System emergency rooms — the county's medical "safety net" — for treatment, he said.

Since emergency-room visits cost the county more than regular doctor's appointments, the money the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System saves through reduced emergency-room use will make up for the discount, he said.

"Even if (discounted care) is still costing us money, we still come out ahead," Kniss said.

Sandas said that Healthy Workers' limited selection of participating clinics could be a problem for business owners. The only participating clinic in Palo Alto is the MayView Community Health Center on Grant Road.

Meacham said Working Partnerships USA will monitor the program's effectiveness and accessibility in the coming months.

"If there's tweaking that needs to be done ... we want to be involved in that," he said.

Editorial Intern Martin Sanchez can be e-mailed at msanchez@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Jim, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm

The big problem with the Healthy Workers insurance is that it has too many restrictions on who can be covered. Putting some workers on one plan and other workers on another plan is too complicated for employers. Why can't Healthy Workers cover everyone?


Posted by Big problem with this model, a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 11, 2010 at 7:25 am

No, the biggest problem is that, once again, businesses that are successful enough to pay their employees with a better wage and/or health insurance are supplementing businesses that are failing and should be allowed to fail. Once again punishing success, and rewarding failure, creating burdens on the societal system.

What happens when you reward a behavior? You get more of it..

Keep it up, California.

In addition, there is an assumption that a struggling business owner has no other means ( not visible on the surface), and "needs help" in order to "be fair"..yet in reality many people live in one way, yet have assets that are not visible to the rest of us..and we, in our generosity, fall for the facade and jump to supplement.

Keep it up California.

My vote..let us go back to each person caring for himself and his family, "sink or swim" businesses, and let each person give charity to those s/he feels need it. Anyone who wants to donate to a fund for health insurance, be my guest. Let the rest of us be ...

Millions of individuals risking and earning and donating will make much wiser decisions about the future of our country than bureacrats do when doling out other people's money, choosing winners and losers.






Posted by Jody Meacham, Working Partnerships USA, a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2010 at 9:39 am

As communications director for Working Partnerships USA, one of the organizations that developed Healthy Workers, I feel that a misconception in this story should be addressed.

Businesses cannot switch to Healthy Workers from another plan. Only small businesses that are not now offering health coverage are eligible. The financial model for Healthy Workers is designed to relieve pressure on the county's safety net.


Posted by Herb, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2010 at 11:58 am

This is a mistake. The County government should not be involved in providing, or facilitating, health care for businesses. Public safety concerns, like dealing with illegals that have TB, or AIDS, mandates that either the State/County maintain some sort of health care presence. But to be involved in offering services to small businesses is not going to end well. It's only a matter of time before the costs of this program exceed its income, and there will be pressure on the General Fund of the County to "help" this fund.

Small businesses that can not generate enough money to pay basic costs are probably too small to operate in a place like the Silicon Valley.

> "Even if (discounted care) is still costing us money, we
> still come out ahead," Kniss said.

Unless there is a very well documented cost analysis for the current system, and the proposed changes, this is another black hole for taxpayers' hard-earned-money.



Posted by Maria, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm


We have two successful businesses in downtown, and we offer health insurance to those who qualify for it. That was the first thing I bought before I paid myself (the owner) a salary. So by any means, I am a good guy and play by the rules.

The part that I hate the most when I think of it is: Why the heck should a business be involved in providing the healthcare of the employees. This is the business of the government, and not my business! It's not about the cost; it is a philosophical, societal argument indicated that a goverment should take care of things that deal with the commons.

--And, it leaves us to make a decision to offer health insurance to someone who is potentially here illegally, making them more apt to stick around. (yes, people here illegally have illegal documents which is yet another thing that the government should be dealing with).


Posted by just thinkin', a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I say no public sponsored health care of any sort - or even subsidized by employers - regardless of my benefit.

No keeping of public health!!! We killed that in the 1980's of cryuing out loud.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by paloaltomarino, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I'm not sure where I fall on this debate but, I'm continually shocked by the people who post comments on here. The lack of empathy and the "I've got mine" nature of some of these comments is just sad for a community like this. I used to think we cared more and that translated into us doing more here, I'm not so sure of that these days.


Posted by Jocelyn Dong, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

@Jody Thank you for clarifying the requirements. We've updated the story to reflect that information.


Posted by Big problem with this model, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm

To the poster who said that health insurance is not the place of businesses, but govt..

I disagree. Car insurance, homeowners insurance, liability insurance, renters insurance, life insurance, etc etc do not belong either with the employer nor the govt..they belong, like all private decisions, to the individual.

The problem is that in medical insurance, unlike any other insurance, the govt started mucking it up by "tax breaking" employers who offer med insurance, but NOT keeping the field level by tax-breaking individuals..So, the market started twisting, This was after WW2.

Since then, with ever more twists of regulations, and an ever widening gap between employer-offered and private individual..well, here we are, 60 years later, with a completely convoluted system.

Level the playing field..

1) equal tax breaks, ( or not) for business bought or private bought insurance.

2) Tort reform..loser attorney pays legal fees for both sides.

3) Let us buy insurance across State lines so we can buy insurance that hasn't been regulated by our State into unaffordable ( from absurd requirements on what to cover).

4) Private incentives to buy health insurance, such as linking health insurance to a privelege such as a driver's license ( this would decrease pre-exsitings, since so many youth 18-30 can find the money to buy an expensive car, but not to buy their insurance..until something happens and they are then a "preexisting")

etc.

It is a bad idea to keep mandating those who are "rich" ie successful..be they businesses or individuals, to supplement those who are not.

The incentives get all screwed up when you "punish" the successful and "reward" the unsuccessful. You end up with fewer of the former and more of the latter, and the whole house of cards tumbles down a la Margaret Thatcher's famous line about the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.


Posted by Big problem with this model, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Dear paloaltomom:

It is not a lack of empathy, but in fact just the opposite. Driving every individual to do his best, to survive, to pay for himself and his family, helps all of society to thrive. We have..or maybe past tense "had" now, I don't know..the richest lowest 20% in the world, richer than any other nation's poor..yet we were "capitalist" and since the 80s had been driven primarily by a model of each person pull themselves up, and it will pull the entire nation up.

It is not a lack of compassion or empathy..nobody says "I got mine, screw you"..we are saying that EACH PERSON should "get his", and EACH PERSON decide where and how much of his earnings goes to charity of any sort.

Millions of individuals choosing how to better him/herself, and deciding where to spend OR donate their time and money works much better for the good of all, esp the poor, than a few people deciding who will pay what for ..anything..be it a car ( the Russian cars always sold so well!!), health care, or social services.

The most compassionate model is the one which has the fewest poor people, in my book..and we had the fewest poor people by any standard anywhere in the world.

Give me back compassionate individualism any day..let me choose which health care I will "donate" to, and which I won't. Countries without this model, like France, develop a people who believe "it isn't my job to fix x, y, z, it is somebody int he govt job", and donations of time and money plummet.

We sap the energy of the individual and national spirit the more we force people against their will to do what they don't wish. We develop the "moral hazard" in our people of giving them incentives to NOT care for themselves..which eventually collapses the entire system and causes much more grief in the long run for all people..






Posted by Jimmy, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:57 pm

No one is addressing the other issue why the premiums are going up [and no it's not due to greedy insurance companies!] but due to the cost of care! No one also has mentioned that the reason the cost of care is going up is due to the increase in unpaid hospital bills. No one is mentioning the main culprit of unpaid bills are illegal aliens who do not pay premiums or the bills but receive the care.

So, until we take immigration and social program costs seriously, costs will continously increase as will premiums...


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