Maricopa’s playing field is about to be leveled for small businesses that normally can’t afford to offer health insurance as a part of their benefits package to employees.

The city’s chamber of commerce made a deal with Humana Healthcare recently that will allow chamber members the option to purchase health, dental and life insurance under group rates.

“A lot of small business are unable to go out on their own and secure group benefits,” said Terri Kingery, executive director of the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce. “Being a chamber member allows small businesses to combine their buying power and get insurance at a better price.”

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Kingery made getting group rate health insurance for Maricopa Chamber of Commerce members a priority when she took the job as executive director. As a result, Humana Healthcare will discuss the details of the program they negotiated Dec. 12 at the chamber’s office.

Although this creates a win-win situation for the chamber and small businesses alike – the chamber draws in more membership while small businesses attract higher quality employees by offering more enticing compensation packages – it also provides a progressive solution to what many healthcare officials in the United States refer to as a crisis.

More than 46 million people went without healthcare insurance in the United States in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They attribute this largely to the growing cost of insurance for individuals and small businesses.

Although wages increased by 4 percent last year, according to watchdog group americansforhealthcare.org, insurance premiums increased by 15 percent. This difference puts a major strain on the 25 million small businesses in America, including the majority of Maricopa’s employers, trying to compete in the labor pool.

“There are 125 active members in the chamber,” Kingery said. “Most don’t offer benefits.”

And now they can, but getting to this point wasn’t easy, according to Kingery. She said that most healthcare providers wouldn’t deal with the chamber because of its small size.

After meeting with several companies, she said Humana was the one who finally stepped up to the plate to do business.

“Humana has proven over our 45-year history that we embrace change and seize opportunities that help to transform our business,” said Humana spokesperson Brent Tregaskes. “Our vision is to become the most trusted name in health solutions.”

Kingery is excited about the new opportunities this plan can bring for small businesses, as well as for Maricopa.

“Yes, it’s insurance, and, yes, it’s great but, because we are a chamber this small, it is amazing that we even have this opportunity,” she said. However, she cautions, “If members don’t use these benefits, then they will go away.”

Maricopa Chamber of Commerce will host a seminar Dec. 12 from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the chamber’s office; at that time representatives from Humana and the Bagnal Company will detail the program.

For more information about joining the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce, e-mail Terri Kingery at tkingery@maricopachamberofcommerce.com, or call (520) 568-2844.

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