WASHINGTON – John Slingluff’s business is conveyor belts. But recently, the president of Baltimore Belting Co. has found himself taking a crash course in the insurance business.
After double-digit premium increases for each of the last seven years, Slingluff said he knew that he was going to have to find cheaper insurance, or stop offering coverage when his Aetna insurance agent told him about a 30 percent increase in 2003.
“Last year about this time I called my agent and said that either we’re going to have a lower type of insurance or we’re going to have to discontinue our insurance,” he said.
Slingluff is one of many small business owners in Maryland struggling to afford health insurance coverage, even under Maryland’s premium cap.
Although more small business owners in Maryland provide coverage for their employees than the national average, nearly half of state businesses with fewer than 10 employees do not offer any coverage, according to the Maryland Health Care Commission.
Slingluff said that when he started looking for another insurance company to cover his business — which has 11, mostly older, employees — he found himself trapped in a confusing and expensive maze of PPOs, HMOs and indemnities.
Also, with so many physicians unhappy with reimbursement rates, Slingluff said that he was doctor hunting as well as company hunting.
“Not only were the costs going up, but we were finding that there were doctors who were refusing to accept new patients,” he said.
Slingluff eventually found a company and plan for his business, but said that he had to change provider types and raise his deductibles and co-payments.
He said small business owners need the help association health plans offer. If that help does not come soon, he said, more and more small businesses are going to be leaving their employees without insurance.
“Had we not been able to find a lower cost provider a year ago, we would not have been able to continue offering coverage,” Slingluff said.