In the six years Cheryl Howard has been director of the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center, she hasn’t been able to offer her employees health insurance.
“The rate has been too expensive for a small organization with 11 employees,” Howard said.
So Howard said she will look into a new plan a St. Louis-based organization is offering after hearing representatives pitch the service at a forum this morning in Columbia. The Mission Center is putting together a consortium of not-for-profit entities across the state to create a large group of people that is cheaper to insure, and it met with a dozen representatives from Mid-Missouri organizations this morning.
“When we’re small, we don’t have a lot of buying power in the marketplace,” said Christy Maxfield, The Mission Center’s executive vice president.
Founded three years ago, The Mission Center provides office services such as accounting and human resources to not-for-profits. It’s a for-profit entity, but it’s organized as an L3C, a relatively new business entity that allows small profits in order to leverage private capital seeking lower returns of 1 to 5 percent.
Recently, it has been gathering organizations to join the health insurance pool. About 60 organizations have joined the group, and Mission Center CEO Chris Miller hopes to grow the pool of people to between 1,500 and 2,000. No Columbia organizations have joined yet, but The Mission Center has hired a local employee to help coordinate and bring in participants.
Maxfield warned that the group couldn’t promise immediate reduction of medical insurance rates, but some coverage costs will likely go down immediately, such as disability and dental. In the meantime, the large-group pricing The Mission Center buys through United Health Care could reduce the sometimes “catastrophic volatility” small organizations face when renewing their health insurance, she said.
Brenda Frank, chief operating officer of the Jefferson City-based Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, said that compared to rate increases many businesses and organizations dealt with this year, her small agency did “fairly well.” But the uncertainty and volatility in health insurance rates she faces each year make it difficult for the organization to plan.
“I think we all need to do what we can to offer our employees affordable, quality health insurance at the most reasonable cost we can,” Frank said.
Assembling the group of not-for-profits isn’t the only health insurance-related project The Mission Center is pursuing. This summer, it received a $500,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to put together a new health insurance cooperative, the Missouri Community Healthcare Co-Op. As part of the Affordable Care Act, money was set aside to provide low-interest loans to organizations wanting to establish not-for-profit health insurance providers, and The Mission Center has applied.
The co-ops will compete with established, for-profit carriers on the soon-to-be-established health insurance exchanges, where businesses and individuals will be able to shop for the best insurance rates and plans.
Miller said the group’s studies predict the not-for-profit group will likely get better rates from United Health Care at first. When the co-op is capitalized and operating, though, it will serve as an alternative that the group — and any Missouri business or individual — could use if rates became competitive.
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