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How’s Business?: Unhealthy state

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By now most of us have viewed Gov. George Pataki’s TV commercial that ends with his saying, “Now that’s healthy New York.” It is a announcement to create awareness for this state-subsidized health coverage plan for small businesses.

Queens maintains many small businesses in need of such a program. So how is it progressing? After its three-year run you would think it rather successful with its niche for small businesses; however, many reasons have contributed to its deficiency in attracting interest.

There is extremely low to nil support from insurance agents, who secure their income from commissions and do not get paid for recommending Healthy New York. When a small Queens business firm submits an inquiry to an insurance agency, Healthy New York is absent from the entire conversation. The program’s limited publicity budget is another factor restraining public consciousness.

Then we have the ever-present government bureaucracy in such avenues’ responding to public questions. You would think with the strong demand for such coverage that Healthy New York would be scoring record numbers in subscribers. Well, it is not. Estimated figures indicate there are small businesses with a half million uninsured workers in New York City alone, with a bulk of them in Queens.

And Healthy New York’s results? Just under 40,000 subscribers. In a head-count breakdown that is about 13,000 annually in three years. Nothing to wave a flag about. Once again in its attempt to create a successful ointment, our state government has thrown several flies into it. The first is known as the crowd-out provision.

This rule limits company eligibility by not offering health insurance to its employees the previous year. The next fly is the low-average wage rate. One-third of the company’s employees cannot earn more than $32,000. So a firm with just three employees earning just $35,000 each (not a lot of money by today’s standards) is out of luck.

Another big fly is that prescription drugs and mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, to name a few, are absent from the plan. Finally, the real big, fat fly is that employers enrolled in Healthy New York have to pick up 50 percent of the total premium, an item not even required by private plans. This more or less makes the plan unaffordable for many small businesses.

So how’s business for our small firms in Queens and the Healthy New York program? With all its many infecting flies, it is a somewhat Unhealthy New York.

Joe Palumbo is the fund manager of The Palco Group, Inc., an investment company, and can be reached at palcogroup@aol.com or 718-461-8317.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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