Huizenga renews push to expand small business medical health insurance program


Jeff Fortenbacher believes Access Health is prepared for the national stage and to assist the smallest of U.S. small businesses afford worker health coverage.

If Congress were to enact laws providing funding to prove it, Fortenbacher sees Access Health as a national model to copy in communities across America by offering inexpensive coverage that’s close by for each employers and their employees.

Jeff Fortenbacher, Bill Huizenga

“It’s one solution,” said Fortenbacher, the CEO of Access Health, which for greater than 20 years has provided basic, low-cost coverage to small businesses that previously were unable to afford it and employ people who find themselves generally low-wage earners.

“I do know it would work,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated it really works.”

Access Health uses low-cost premiums paid by each employers and employees, plus federal Medicaid funding that’s funneled through the state, to support coverage that’s typically been bought by small businesses in low-wage sectors.

Small employers enrolled in Access Health presently pay $70 a month per worker for basic coverage that comes with low copays and 0 deductibles which might be often barriers to low-income people affording medical health insurance. Employees pay the identical monthly premium, and one other $70 comes from federal Medicaid funding that goes to care providers.

Nonetheless, Access Health coverage is proscribed and only good at local care providers in Muskegon County and northern Ottawa County.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, plans to reintroduce federal laws soon that may require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund three to 4 pilot programs across the country to check the model behind Access Health, in addition to expand this system in West Michigan.

“That is an modern way of getting at an actual problem,” Huizenga said during a recent news conference on the Access Health office in Muskegon. “We all know that it’s going to get monetary savings, nevertheless it also — possibly more importantly — goes to deliver care.”

Fortenbacher points to actuarial data showing the health plan provides coverage at costs which might be 55-percent lower than health coverage purchased on an exchange that complies with the federal Reasonably priced Care Act.

Key to that final result is an intense concentrate on wellness and health prevention, managing costly chronic medical conditions, and wrap-around services that look to deal with a person’s social determinants of health, corresponding to their financial status, home life or connecting them with work.

Fortenbacher views the model as not only a option to provide basic coverage that permits people to access care when needed, but as providing a “transitional path out of poverty” and leading people to economic independence.

“We’re either going to have an entire bunch of individuals living on assistance and in poverty and distressed areas their whole life, or we’re going to should align support systems to permit them and support them to make that transition,” he said. “People deserve at the least a possibility to make that alternative to live in another way.”



Economic development tool

The nonprofit Access Health is designed as a bridge to enable small employers to offer worker health coverage until they will afford the business market. About 500 individuals who work at 220 small businesses in Muskegon County and northern Ottawa County are covered by Access Health, which through the years has worked with greater than 2,000 employers.

Access Health reopened to recent enrollments in May after securing a waiver for modern health coverage that temporarily restored $2 million in lost funding. The health plan halted enrollments in 2018 to concentrate on existing enrollees after losing state and federal Medicaid funding that helped to pay the associated fee of health premiums for workers at participating small businesses.

Losing the funding was a “huge hit” to Access Health, which at one point covered greater than 1,300 people.

As well, Fortenbacher believes Access Health may help “reboot local economies” hit hard by the pandemic and enable small employers to raised attract and keep employees in a fiercely tight labor market because they will afford to supply health advantages.

“It’s an economic development tool, especially now when individuals are saying, ‘I want employees. I want help,’ they usually don’t have people to fill those positions,” he said. “We hear it on a regular basis: Businesses today face massive hiring challenges, which limit their ability to maintain regular hours or provide their pre‐COVID service levels. The flexibility to supply coverage like Access Health could be a game-changer for these small businesses, their employees and our communities.”

Huizinga has previously tried to advance laws through Congress to expand the model behind Access Health. A bill he introduced in 2019 didn’t move out of committee.

Fortenbacher doubts Huizenga’s recent laws can move before the current congressional session ends in January 2023. Bringing back the bill now can set the inspiration to start constructing support this yr for an additional reintroduction and push in the brand new congressional term.

Advocates for expanding Access Health’s model also could have to persuade defenders of the Reasonably priced Care Act that the Obama-era law and Medicaid expansion aren’t the cure-alls for getting people covered.

“We’re just going to have to begin to do our networking and get  the education on the market to get people to grasp,” Fortenbacher said. “It’s ultimately going to should go across political lines.” 


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