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When the Rhode Island health-benefits exchange becomes operational on Oct. 1, companies with fewer than 50 employees will be able to use it to offer health insurance to their workers. But those with between 50 and 99 employees will not be able to do so.
The reason? While the federal government defines small employers in terms of eligibility for the exchange as those with fewer than 100 workers, Rhode Island has set that limit at 50.
The distinction is not a small one. Companies with fewer than 50 workers account for 40.4 percent of the state’s employees, according to a study released last week by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. Companies with between 50 and 99 workers account for another 11.6 percent of the state’s workforce.
And while employers with fewer than 25 workers are going to be eligible for expanded tax credits when offering insurance to their workers, companies with more than 50 workers not only are not eligible for credits, they face fines for not offering health insurance to their workers.
Including all employers with up to 100 employees would give the benefits-exchange risk pool more than half the workers in Rhode Island, a large enough group to help make the economics of the exchange work better. And it would help the cohort of larger companies take advantage of the economies of scale that the benefits exchange promises and thus avoid fines. But unless the General Assembly amends the law that set up the exchange, that is not going to happen.
This is one simple bit of legislation that has the potential to help a good many Rhode Island employers and their workers. •