AUBURN – Maine’s small business owners and their employees got some new choices for health insurance Thursday.

Through a new and innovative purchasing alliance called Chamber BlueOptions, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield will make a suite of five health care plans available to members of local or regional chambers.

BlueOptions is aimed at self-employed people and at companies with up to 50 employees. A smaller percentage of employee participation is required than under Maine’s Dirigo Health program, and there’s a discount when companies provide wellness programs for workers.

“As far as we know, this is the first time that an insurance product will reward employers for taking wellness seriously,” said Dana Connors, Maine State Chamber president.

At a news conference at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch, Connors said participating employees could get a 2 percent discount on annual premiums if their employers undertake certain wellness activities.

Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, joined Connors for the announcement. He emphasized the value of the plan’s flexibility.

“It makes it pretty easy for the employer,” Morrison said. “You’re giving your employees a smorgasbord – pick the one you want – and the employer will set what they’re going to pay for the employer share of individual and family coverage.”

Morrison and Connors agreed that Chamber BlueOptions is meant to complement Maine’s Dirigo Health program.

It recognizes that “one size does not necessarily fit all,” Morrison said.

“We’re asked, ‘Are you in competition with Dirigo?’ Well, we are and we are not,” Connors said. “They are two different programs.”

Both Dirigo and the new plans have the same goal, Morrison noted.

“The more options people have, the more people are going to be insured,” he said.

Connors pointed out that Dirigo Health has a subsidy component while Chamber BlueOptions does not.

“I don’t want to overstate or oversell, because it isn’t the answer to all of the health care and health insurance needs,” Connors said. “There are still a few questions of affordability, but this allows the options of one of those five plans to better tailor it to your own individual needs.”

Morrison added, “It still doesn’t bring down basic health insurance. There are things the state has to do policy-wise to bring down the cost of health insurance in the state.”

Chamber BlueOptions is available to employees when only 60 percent of a company’s workers participate, rather than 75 percent under Dirigo Health.

Its five choices include three PPO (preferred provider organization) plans with different deductibles and coinsurance levels, an HMO (health management organization) and a Health Savings Account plan.

Connors said the new plans go into effect on Jan. 1, 2007, but interested employers can get quotes now by contacting their local broker or by calling Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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