S.F. chamber seeks health plan

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is seeking a way to provide health insurance plans to all its member companies, particularly small businesses, while struggling with a decade-old law that takes much of the cost benefit out of association plans.

In November, the 2,000-business-plus chamber issued a request for proposals from health insurance providers and brokers to develop a benefits program for chamber members, with the understanding that good performance during development could lead to a long-term role for the developer. The chamber received seven proposals by the Nov. 22 deadline, chamber VP Leslie Milloy said, and a committee is working toward selecting a winner by the January deadline.

The chamber is doing this, she said, to provide a benefit to its small business members.

“In addition to offering great access and choice to health care plans, we would be bundling the offer for our chamber members,” Milloy said. “It would be a whole menu of choices.”

What it likely won’t offer these small businesses is deep-discount rates some hope a big group bargainer could achieve. State legislation passed in 1993, AB 1672, provided better health care access for small business but took the wind out of the sails of group plans, several insurance experts said.

“We can do those, but … the rates aren’t necessarily lower,” said Daniel Abrams, CEO of Abrams California Health Insurance Agency, an Orange County brokerage. “I’ve got a lot of chambers who want to do plans with us. It just hasn’t been viable to do financially. A lot of companies will have a lot of things that I call perks, that don’t really mean any thing.”

The chamber, while hoping for a good deal, does not expect discount rates, Milloy said. But by vetting the proposals, it plans to save members the time and energy of looking for advantageous health plans. And the chamber also hopes the insurance provider will bring in add-on services that make life easier for small business owners. The chamber does not intend to administrate the plan once it’s implemented, she said.

“If they’re prepared to go to insurance brokers and negotiate a decent rate for all of us … it’s a win-win situation,” said David McGrane, president of the small Ozone Advertising agency, who is on the chamber’s small business advisory council. “I think it’s hoped that it will be less expensive. But at the very least it’s hoped it would have added value.”

He would like it if the provider updated him regularly on changes in insurance laws that affect his business, he said.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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