September 23, 2023

Benefits are an important tool for businesses looking to hire and with a program set to begin next year with the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, one of those benefits, health insurance, may be an easier thing to provide for small businesses.

Chamber Blue of Kansas, an association health plan through BlueCross BlueShield of Kansas (BCBSKS) will be a benefit offered to chamber members soon, offering savings to small businesses and non-profit organizations in the Salina community.

Eric Brown, the Salina Chamber president and CEO said association plans were something that the chamber had been able to offer in the past, beginning even before his time with the chamber, but plans like these were phased out for organizations that weren’t in the same industry after the overhaul of insurance created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“There still are associations out there that have had these plans for some time, like a contractor association or something like that, where the businesses are all exactly the same,” Brown said.

According to Brown, things changed some under President Donald Trump’s administration and opportunities opened up for association plans to be offered more widely again.

A look at downtown Salina from the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Walnut Street. Many of the places in the downtown area are small businesses, which could benefit from a program the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce will start for an associated health plan through BlueCross BlueShield of Kansas.

A look at downtown Salina from the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Walnut Street. Many of the places in the downtown area are small businesses, which could benefit from a program the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce will start for an associated health plan through BlueCross BlueShield of Kansas.

“Probably three or four years ago we started having this conversation at the state level, doing our best to get this pushed through and make it legal in Kansas,” Brown said.

What this means for small businesses in Salina

Having access and the ability to provide health insurance at a larger scale like this is something that helps employers and employees alike.

As small businesses tend to have smaller numbers of employees, Brown said this could be a real gamechanger for those businesses.

“If you have two or three people that are on your insurance, that pool is only those two or three people,” Brown said. “That risk is only spread there and that drives premiums up. If we’re able to stitch together this many individuals and businesses, it’s going to lower the risk, spread that pool out and give much better options and competitive rates.”

This could benefit the community as a whole as well. Unemployment in the community is still around 2%, and Brown said this opens up opportunities for businesses to be attractive to those looking for employment.

“When you talk about being employers of choice, offering quality medical benefits is something that most individuals are looking for now and expecting,” Brown said. “This is a way for us to reduce that cost for our small businesses.”

BlueCross BlueShield a trusted name in the health insurance industry

Brown said the conversations at the state level with the Chamber of Commerce Executives of Kansas led to looking at BCBSKS, with conversations with the insurance provider beginning last year.

“Having the ability of (working with) a BlueCross BlueShield is (great),” Brown said. “They’re trusted; they already serve a large amount of the state.”

Not only is the BCBSKS a well known name, it is a provider that is known for its quality and wide offering of services.

“The employees, employers…and the medical community, know, trust and have worked with (BCBSKS) directly,” Brown said. “That gives employers the ability to know and trust that insurance product, because it’s so widely known.”

Brown said there are 26 communities in Kansas taking up this opportunity, and having a big enough provider like BCBSKS is important to make sure it is something that can be handled across the entire state.

He said the provider also offers so much that is key to employers and important to employees in terms of healthcare.

“They have insurance, but they have so many other options on top of that,” Brown said. “Whether it’s mental health, healthy options or programs that go above and beyond health insurance.”

BCBSKS believes this is a good partnership in the state as well.

“This is going to be a great program for small businesses in our state to have some options that they just haven’t had before,” said Rebecca Witte, public relations specialist for the provider.

Witte said BCBSKS spans across the state, serving 103 of its 105 counties, with Johnson and Wyandotte served by another BlueCross provider.

“We pride ourselves in being Kansans serving Kansans,” Witte said. “Our employees are members of this state. They live in these communities, work in these communities, volunteer in these communities (and) go to church in these communities. They know the people they are serving.”

Witte said having a local Kansas provider providing for these Kansas businesses is great for the community.

“Our sales team is able to provide that one-on-one support, being literally that voice on the other end of the phone or a physical person in their business helping walk through the options,” Witte said. “That’s not something a lot of other insurance providers in our state can really say. Our staff really go above and beyond and want to serve their fellow Kansans well.”

Next steps ahead for Chamber Blue of Kansas

Brown said the next few months are key to how successful this process can be.

The chamber will schedule a few sessions for its members to meet with BCBSKS and get a better understanding how this process will work.

“Those will be question and answer kind of sessions,” Brown said. “We’ll run those morning, evening, afternoons, to try to catch any and every small business owner at a time that works with there schedule.”

The chamber will also schedule some webinars for those who can’t make it to in-person sessions.

Brown said the biggest thing will be getting information out to the community and for small businesses to let the chamber and BCBSKS know what their needs are, with a health insurance survey going out in August.

“That’s going to be the most important piece of this,” Brown said. “That’s what those initial rates will be set at, when we look at insurance for 2023.”

This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: Salina Chamber partners with BlueCross BlueShield for small businesses