EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

July 30, 2009

NH tries to cut health care costs for small businesses

Small businesses in New Hampshire are struggling to provide affordable health care for their employees — and the state is doing something about it.

As of Oct. 1, small-business owners could save up to 20 percent on health care costs, thanks to a new health care reform plan enacted by Gov. John Lynch.

"The cost is obviously high and it's on everybody's mind," said Dr. Ryan Storey, owner of Hampstead Animal Hospital.

Storey used to fund 100 percent of health care expenses for his 10 full-time employees, but when costs got too high, he had to reduce his contribution to 70 percent.

"I think it's good that individual states are taking it upon themselves to address the issues," he said.

The No. 1 concern of New Hampshire small-business owners is controlling health care costs, according to a recent survey conducted by the national organization Small Business Majority.

Fifty-two percent of small businesses in the Granite State do not provide insurance for their employees. Eighty-four percent of them said it's because they simply can't afford it.

"Small businesses are just getting crushed by the health care crisis. It's impeding growth and it's impeding entrepreneurship," said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority.

The new program, New Hampshire Healthcare First, was first introduced during the 2008 legislative session. It will give businesses with fewer than 50 employees additional health care incentives — health questionnaires, disease management programs and wellness incentives — to keep workers healthy and insurance costs low.

"Current offerings really don't have a full array of wellness benefits and initiatives," said Mike Wilkey, director of Life, Accident and Health for the New Hampshire Insurance Department. "Through those initiatives, we're hoping to keep people in better overall health, which makes health care claims less expensive."

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