California's health exchange agency revealed Thursday which insurers
will be available under the federal health reform law to people employed by
small businesses and the rates they will pay.
In San Francisco, businesses with 50 or fewer workers will be able to pick a level of coverage from a standardized set of benefits. Their employees will then select from among four insurers: Blue Shield of California, Chinese Community Health Plan, Health Net and Kaiser.
The rates will vary by age, residence and other factors. For a 40-year-old worker in San Francisco, the average monthly cost for a midrange policy will be $316. In Alameda County, workers will be able to choose among three insurers for an average rate of $389.
"Like never before, employees in the small businesses will have a choice of health plan and not be locked into one plan the employer selects," said Peter Lee, executive director of the exchange known as Covered California.
The plans go on sale Oct. 1 for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
The federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, requires most Americans to obtain coverage next year either by being under an employer's plan, qualifying for government health programs or purchasing it through exchanges. Some people will qualify for federal subsidies, and anyone without coverage will be subject to financial penalties.
As part of the law, businesses with fewer than 50 workers can take part in the new state exchange for small employers, though they are not required to. Small businesses don't face penalties for not offering coverage.
State health-exchange officials hope the new plans will entice small businesses by offering cheaper coverage than they can find on the open market. Companies with 25 or fewer workers can also qualify for federal tax credits if they buy coverage through the exchange.
The federal subsidies for health coverage are available only for individuals, not businesses, so some employers may opt to drop coverage and encourage their workers to buy insurance in the exchange on their own, said Scott Hauge, a small-business advocate who runs a San Francisco insurance company.
Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest insurer for small businesses, said last month that it wouldn't sell its coverage in the exchange, which some observers viewed as a setback for the fledgling program.
State exchange officials said they still had plenty of plans to offer to workers.
Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @vcolliver
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