Today’s news:

Health Plus program gets major boost

Standing in front of Elmhurst Hospital Center Friday, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) announced the expansion of the Family Health Plus program through the recently passed state budget, which will enable small businesses to buy health insurance for their employees at an affordable rate.

“That’s important because we have to do everything to support small businesses,” Stavisky said. “They’re the lifeblood of our economy.”

Under the new plan, employers can purchase health insurance through Family Health Plus at $345 a month for each employee, which can be reduced to $157 a month for each employee through tax credits, said Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society. Employees will pay $104 per month.

Benjamin said previously that the state opened up the Family Health Plus program at the rate of $541 a month per employee, but through legislation the state was able to reduce the rate through three steps. The first was adopting limited co-payments. The second was adopting the Medicaid default rate for patients going out-of-network and using the emergency room instead of the commercial rate for those costs, which brought the premium down by about $5. The third was adopting a modified crowd-out rule, which allows any business without employee health insurance or any business with fewer than 50 employees who spend more than 15 percent of their payroll on health insurance to sign up right away, but requires any other business interested in the plan to wait six months.

Stavisky said this legislation has no fiscal impact and does not require taxes to be raised.

“This piece of legislation flew through Albany,” Benjamin said.

The tax credits, available for businesses that purchase their own insurance with fewer than 25 employees and which pay employees an average of $50,000 a year, are available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the sweeping health-care legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in March. Tax credits are available on a sliding scale and full tax credits, bringing the monthly cost per employee for employers down to $157, will be given to businesses with 10 employees or less who pay employees an average of $25,000 a year or less.

Heidi Siegfried of New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage said the new plan has reasonable co-pays, with $15 for an office visit, $22 for a specialist visit and $100 for the emergency room.

Queens merchant Freddy Castiblanco, who owns the Terraza 7 Train Cafe on 40-19 Gleane St. in Elmhurst, praised the new legislation, saying he has wanted to purchase group health-care insurance as his business has grown.

“I have lost some of my most talented employees to other employers because I can’t provide health insurance,” he said. “I have witnessed my employees avoid necessary medical treatment because they feared facing a large hospital bill — what could have been small medical problems turned into larger crises because my employees lacked health coverage.”

Stavisky called the legislation pro-business and pro-family.

“Workers who can afford to take care of their health live longer and are more productive,” she said, “which makes them also better able to care for their families and communities.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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