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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

BENEFITS–Health Insurance Option Gives Employees Choices

State Legislature Implemented Similar Plan

Ken Ravazzolo believes benefits are the key to attracting and retaining good employees in San Diego.

Since January, Paragon Voice Systems, Ravazzolo’s interactive voice response manufacturing firm, has hired seven employees and is looking for more as it switches production to a modern voice recognition system.

When the firm had just two employees, and it had since 1991 [unclear], administering individual health care plans was not a problem. But when the company started to expand [in 1991?], Ravazzolo knew the individual health plan was not compatible with attracting qualified employees.

“Being a smaller company competing against the Qualcomms and the SAICs and people like that, we have to have really good benefits,” he said. “We wanted to be able to step up to the plate and say we’ve got this great medical plan.”

Ravazzolo wanted a health care plan that would give his employees a choice instead of just forcing a plan on them, he said.

When Encinitas-based Interactive Telesis Inc., a 33-employee firm, took a financial position in Paragon, Interactive executives suggested the umbrella plan offered by California Choice.

& #711; Options Offered Through

Third-Party Administrator

California Choice, a subsidiary of Word & Brown, an Orange County-based, privately held company, is a third party administrator marketing employee choice health care.

Through it, employers enroll in the program and let their employees subscribe to a plan offered by one of nine HMOs and one PPO , Blue Shield of California.

Small business employers buy Cal Choice because they don’t have to shackle a single health care plan around the individual needs of a fluctuating employee base, said Jim Bennett, the top Cal Choice executive in San Diego.

The HMO and PPO carriers all offer multiple plans, giving the employee upwards of 30 plans to choose from, he said.

“Employers like it because they don’t have to be King Solomon” in making health decisions for their employees, Bennett said.

The plan allows employees to change carriers and upgrade or downgrade plans after a year if they deem the plan isn’t compatible, he added.

& #711; Legislation Also Expands

Options For Employees

Cal Choice is a private company plan similar to the Health Insurance Plan of California implemented by the state Legislature as part of AB-1672 legislation, said Diana Twadell, account manager specializing in small groups at Barney & Barney, LLC.

Together, they are the only employee choice plans offered in California.

The legislation, which created the plan now called Pacific Advantage, was approved in 1993 to provide health insurance for businesses with up to 50 employees, she said. The Health Insurance Plan of California contracted with all the major HMOs in the state so small businesses would have a choice.

“They’re very similar, but there are just a few differences that would make them appeal to different types of clients,” Twadell said.

Pacific Advantage offers Kaiser Permanente as one of the HMOs and Cal Choice offers a PPO for San Diego residents, she added.

Twadell, who has worked at the San Diego-based life and health insurance agency since both plans became competitors in 1996, said they are very popular in San Diego.

“We’re a small-business town so these plans are ideal because they give small businesses the advantage of multiple plans that only large groups had before,” she said.


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