Kent Health Plans Effects Cannot Be Underestimated

    Small businesses, the majority in the universe of the business world, are well advised to account for another round of double-digit health care benefit increases. Some may have little choice other than to shift an increasing amount of the cost to employees, an action with a certain domino effect in the marketplace.

    What is particularly troubling for these businesses, the bulk of all employment, is a company’s ability to continue to recruit and retain employees, even while the looming crisis of a smaller work force is only temporarily buried by the economic downturn.

    This is an issue which is an added destabilizing factor in Michigan’s economy, and one that drew such comment from gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm last week in a debate with opponent Dick Posthumus.

    Granholm specifically cited the Kent Health Plan program and others of similar composition across the state, as one state government could replicate or boost, at least in the short term. (A position we believe Posthumus would likely consider as well.)

    That also is the advice from the first business to sign up under Kent Health Plan Corp. Plan C, which specifically targets small businesses employing four to 15 people. Tom Kusmeirski, CEO of Meir Finish and Woodworks, notes in a Business Journal report this week, “Starting out a business is tough and right now is a tough time, especially in the wood industry — it’s so depressed right now. This really does help small companies get started. It would be nice if the government or someone could help these smaller guys get going and get their feet on the ground because all businesses start small. They all don’t walk in as giants.”

    Kusmeirski also noted, “Anytime you start a new business you don’t know what you’re going to run into. It’s a huge expense to get started, and being able to draw employees is extremely difficult. So when you’re starting up you can’t offer all the fringe benefits that companies can that have been in business for years and years. But yet you have to compete and you have to try to draw people.”

    The affordability of the program was lauded not only by Kusmeirski but by his employees as well. “That is the key,” he said.

    The nonprofit organization, funded by local, state and federal sources, will announce another enrollment period early next year.

    This particular program is as big a boost to small businesses as any tax abatement program offered by the state to usually larger business operations. State and county government should be encouraged by the program’s enthusiastic response to expand the funding base in 2003. It is no small act as health care costs escalate and cripple a rebounding economy.           

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