By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – When Valerie Ann Leduc, vice president of operations at Angelo’s Civita Farnese restaurant on Federal Hill, spoke up at the initial meeting on Feb. 2 of the R.I. Health Insurance Small Employer Task Force, she dramatically changed the tone of the gathering.
Her company’s health insurance rates had just jumped 22.8 percent for 2012, Leduc explained, but because she was a small employer, she couldn’t get any information about the exact reasons behind why the costs had escalated so dramatically. “We were planning on an increase [of about 10 percent], but it’s hard to make massive changes in your business plans in 30 days,” she said.
R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller, who had convened the new task force in an attempt to get small businesses that are health insurance purchasers more involved in the debate about rising rates, responded: “Wow! How can I get in touch with you?” Leduc provided him with her business card.
What Leduc made clear – and was soon joined by other participants – is that small businesses and small employers don’t need to be “educated” about the health care costs. Instead, they want new product offerings that provide them with better opportunities to manage costs in a predictable fashion.
As another participant asked: “How do we budget for an [unexpected] 15 percent increase in our profit and loss statement?”
After the event, Leduc told Providence Business News that the gathering was a good first step. “We all have to work together.” She said that the health insurance commissioner had not yet been in touch with her.
There is a push on by many health care reform advocates, including Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, to get more small businesses to take advantage of the federal small business tax credit, which provides for up to 35 percent credit for costs for those small employers that provide employees with health insurance. Leduc said that her firm had gone through the process last year, and that they were looking at it again this year, but the decision to apply or not was being left to their accountant. “It hasn’t really been promoted,” she said.