How Small Business Owners Can Cut Their Health Insurance Costs In Half

Small business owners cannow take advantage of Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or HRAs, as a way to cuttheir health insurance expenses in half. As health insurance premiumscontinue to grow, fewer small businesses are offering group coverage to theiremployees. For small businesses with healthy employees, establishing HRAscan be a great way to help their employees obtain permanent, portableindividual health insurance at a much lower cost than conventional groupcoverage.

Whatis a Health Reimbursement Arrangement?

A Health ReimbursementArrangement, or HRA, is simply an agreement by an employer to reimburse theemployee for their health insurance premiums and other specified medicalexpenses. This is considered to be a tax-free fringe benefit for theemployee.

Because family andindividual health insurance plans are underwritten (meaning that theinsurance company has the option of excluding a condition or declining anapplication all together), they are much less expensive than are groupplans. In fact, they typically cost less than half as much.

HRAs are also known asSection 105 plans, named after the section in the U.S. Tax Code that governsthem.

HowHealth ReimbursementArrangements Work

In today’s business climateemployees are quick to go elsewhere if they see a better opportunity.Providing good benefits is essential to retaining the best employees, but grouphealth insurance can be too expensive for some small business owners.

An HRA allows you toreimburse your employees for their individual health insurance expenses, takingyou out of the middle. Employees carry their own private coverage whichis totally portable and not tied down to their employment.

You no longer have toadminister the plan, and you no longer have to shop it every year. Whenemployees carry their own private coverage, there are also no COBRA issues todeal with when employment terminates.

When you establish an HRAfor your employees, you define what expenses that you will be reimbursing, andhow much you will reimburse. For example, you may say that you willreimburse up to $300/month for covered health insurance and medicalexpenses. If the employee uses less than that, any excess creditaccumulates for future disbursement.

When the employee has aqualified medical expense, they would submit it to you for reimbursement, up tothe amount of their HRA balance. You then simply cut a check for theamount of the reimbursement. It’s that simple. You count it as abusiness expense, and your employee pays no taxes on that reimbursement.

KeepingYour Employees Healthy

Most of your employees willincur medical expenses every year, including dental expenses and eye glassexpenses. Through an HRA you can reimburse your employees for theseexpenses with tax-free dollars.

The best businesses areabout more than just selling widgets and making money. The more thebusiness cares about the employees and the more the employees care about thebusiness – the more fun we have and the more successful we are. So whynot reimburse for preventive benefits like smoking cessation programs, weightloss programs, or even just annual physicals.

The great thing about HRAsis that you are the architect. You get to decide what expenses you willreimburse. You also have the right to exclude part time employees,employees who have worked for you for less than three years, and those underage 25.

Howto Establish Your HRAs

When you establish an HRA, all you haveto do is furnish a Summary Plan Description to all plan participants. TheSummary Plan Description simply describes who is eligible, and the benefitlimits that can be reimbursed. For instance, it may list the minimumnumber of hours they must work, their minimum age, and the number of monthsthey must be employed. It will list the benefit limit for reimbursementof health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket expenses, term life premiums, andpossibly other expenses. You must also keep a Plan Document in yourfiles, which documents the same information.

ABetter System for Employer and Employee

If you have a smallbusiness of healthy employees, an HRA may be a no-brainer. Keep in mindthat because your employees will be applying for individual health insurancecoverage instead of group coverage, their premiums will be much lower but theplans will each be individually underwritten.

Your employees will eachget to choose the insurance plan and deductible that best fits their individualneeds. Many are choosing Health Savings Accounts asa way to further reduce their health insurance costs. Once everyone isapproved they will have permanent coverage that is not tied down to theiremployment. And you can get out of the insurance business, for good.

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