Virginia gets federal money to help small businesses provide health coverage

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More than $15 million in federal money is expected to flow into Virginia over the next five years to help small businesses provide affordable health coverage.

Governor Timothy M. Kaine announced today that the state will receive $912,658 in federal dollars from the U S. Department of Health and Human Services through its new State Health Access Program. Over a five-year grant period that amount — tied to proposed program expansions — should grow.

“By focusing on both health coverage and wellness education, this initiative will contribute toward the long-term changes needed to control costs for small businesses and the broader health care system,” Kaine said. 

A portion of the first-year award, $200,000, will go for the start up costs of a Virginia Center for Healthy Small Business.  Established as a public-private partnership, the center’s statewide mission would strengthen Virginia’s small businesses by educating them about the value of health coverage and employee wellness. The center is not expected to be operational until 2010, and would cost anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 a year to operate, according to Lynda Tran, a spokesperson for the governor.

One of the center’s programs would test and replicate the offer of a small business employee wellness product that could be a stepping stone toward enrollment in a health insurance product with subsidies for employees up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. According to the state, eligible enrollees would include small businesses with 50 or fewer workers, or about 33,000 small firms that do not currently offer health insurance plans.

Other funds would be set aside for providing wellness benefits to children of lower-income employees and creating an Employee Wellness Passport with onsite vaccinations for low-income workers, wellness education and basic health screening.

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