Nonprofit caters to businesses too small to qualify for national discounts
APRIL 12, 2012 1:57 p.m. (2)
If the massive law is upheld, among the changes promised for 2014 are an expansion of Medicaid and the advent of government health care “exchanges,” where uninsured consumers can choose an insurance plan. Gov. Nikki Haley believes a state-sponsored exchange will be too expensive for South Carolina, preferring to leave it to the private sector to brainstorm ideas.
From that brainstorming has emerged South Carolina’s first health insurance cooperative, a two-year-old nonprofit group that gives non-related small businesses the opportunity to purchase health insurance as one entity.
The South Carolina Health Cooperative is targeted at small-business owners who struggle to afford health coverage because they don’t qualify for the discounts that larger businesses enjoy, said founder and CEO Cooper Littlejohn.
The cooperative was formed after insurance agent Steve Nuttall challenged Littlejohn to find a way to offer affordable health insurance to businesses with two to 50 employees, Littlejohn said.
By joining, member businesses increase their buying power with health insurance companies, therefore lowering their premium costs, Littlejohn said. “My favorite thing about the co-op is that the members own it. It’s like a homeowners’ association,” he said.
A health insurance co-op is a novel offering in South Carolina, said David Slade, vice president of employee benefits at Rosenfeld Einstein agency. With other new health insurance options like exchanges on the horizon in 2014, consumers will have to determine where a co-op option fits in the spectrum. Slade said it still may be a challenge to find an insurance carrier willing to assume the risk for a group of small businesses.
The cooperative is currently underwritten by Lloyd’s of London, approved by the state’s Department of Insurance.
The South Carolina Health Cooperative will be holding open enrollment and information meetings across the state throughout April, with meetings in Greenville and Spartanburg on April 19.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the community. Their most trusted asset is their employees; they’re like extended families. It’s a privilege to serve them,” said Littlejohn.
In Greenville, co-op representatives will hold informational meetings at 9 a.m. on April 19 at Cline Hose and Hydraulics, 601 Buncombe St. In Spartanburg, meetings will be held at 12:30 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. at Spartanburg St. Matthew’s Episcopal church, 101 St. Matthew’s Lane.