AUGUSTA – Franklin Memorial Hospital leaders announced a new program Wednesday to help small businesses and the self-employed afford health insurance.

The Franklin Community Health Network, which owns the Franklin Memorial Hospital, said it will pay 20 percent of the first year coverage costs for DirigoChoice, and 10 percent in the second year, for small companies and the self-employed who buy the coverage for themselves and their workers.

The value of the subsidies will vary depending on what each individual’s plan costs. Franklin Memorial Hospital President Richard Batt estimates that the program will help provide coverage to 1,000 area people now going without. The $375,000, two-year cost of the program will come from the network’s endowment, Batt said.

Gov. John Baldacci, who stood next to Farmington leaders in the State House while announcing the new program, said health care leadership “shines very bright in Franklin County.” Baldacci said he was excited to announce the plan, and hoped other hospitals would follow their example. The governor praised FCHN as a national leader in caring for people in its community, pioneering programs to keep patients well, and working to see they have access to care.

The new program is critical to help small businesses and the self-employed afford coverage, health officials said.

“The United States provides the best health care in the world, if you have money,” said Dick Dennis, chairman of the board for Franklin Community Health Network. For those who don’t, health care in the United States falls to 47th in the world, near African countries, he said. “As trustees we grapple with access.”

When more have coverage, everyone benefits, including the Bath Iron Works welder, a Portland office worker, and a University of Maine faculty member, Batt said. “Because right now when folks come to our doors who do not have insurance, we, like all hospitals, cost-shift that expense to those who do have insurance and taxpayers.” That raises everyone’s costs, Batt said, adding that covering more means less cost-shifting and lower costs, he said.

The Franklin DirigoChoice Incentive Program is limited to small companies, the self-employed and workers who have not had health coverage in the last year, and who live in what’s considered the Greater Franklin County area, which includes towns on the outskirts of the county.

“We include Livermore to Coburn Gore,” said Mike Luciano of the Greater Franklin Development Council, who encouraged businesses to look at information on the new program on the Internet at www.greaterfranklin.com.

While DirigoChoice offers reduced premiums to qualifying workers, small businesses are responsible for 60 percent of their worker’s premiums. The Franklin program is designed to help more employers afford coverage for their workers, Luciano said.

The first beneficiary of the Franklin program is Kenneth Sparkes, who owns Sparkes Hearing Services in Farmington. Sparkes said he and his wife employ an administrative assistant, who has worked for them for three years. They have been unable to afford health care for their employee, Sparkes said, adding that that changed when he looked into Dirigo.

After discovering he could receive a one-year, 20 percent discount, Sparkes said it shows “the community and state support business owners.”


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