RAVENSWOOD — After listening to the small businesses that make up its membership, the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce figured out a way to solve a problem many of them face: How to get affordable health insurance.
The solution? The chamber itself assembled a group health plan and made it accessible to its members.
“We’re the only chamber locally that is offering this kind of health insurance program and we’re feeling the impact of that,” Megan Bunimovich, the chamber’s executive director, said. “Businesses in different neighborhoods and chambers from other parts of the city are asking us how to set something like this up.”
The idea, she said, came out of a “listening tour” when the chamber asked businesses about their hardships.
Since the chamber was formed in 2015, one challenge she frequently heard was having reliable access to quality, affordable health insurance for employees. Small businesses with a small number employees, two or three for instance, are simply unable to find competitive rates and coverage in the current healthcare market, she said.
Additionally, some chamber members weren’t able to retain talented employees for a long period of time because of a lack of healthcare benefits.
“So one of our guiding principles at the chamber is how to reduce overhead for small businesses,” Bunimovich said. “So creating a group health insurance program was one of the ways we’re able to help reduce their overhead so that they can focus on bigger and better things for their small businesses.”
Assembling a group for chamber members allows more affordable, comprehensive and competitive health insurance options for smaller businesses.
“It took us about two years to put this together and right now we have 25 people enrolled in it. Out of our 200 chamber members about 10 percent are now part of it,” she said.
The more companies that sign up, the more cost-effective plans offered through insurance partners will be.
Bunimovich is looking into how her chamber can potentially partner with others in the city to further grow the program.
“A big reason why people choose to be employed somewhere is whether they can go on a group insurance plan,” said Melissa McAtee, co-owner of Elbe Creative Partners.
She heard about what the chamber was offering through a business neighbor when it launched at the beginning of the year. She was initially skeptical about how it would work.
“I’d never heard of this kind of setup before. But when they put us in touch with the insurance agent and he was really great at setting us up with a new plan and insurance carrier, and so far so good,” she said.
Another business that signed up for the chamber’s group healthcare plan is Hagerty Insurance Agency Inc.
“It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Because the chamber is mainly for small businesses and this is a great way to get a group plan together,” Margaret Hagerty, the agency’s owner, said. “I only have two employees and before this, a group plan wasn’t in the cards. So it’s been wonderful.”
Chamber members taking advantage of the program are saving about 5 or 10 percent off the market, Bunimovich said.
“They’re seeing a discount and we’re using large, reputable health insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare,” Bunimovich said. “So far, our small businesses are loving it and we’re hoping to double the number of people enrolled by 2020.”
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