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Cutting your small business health care costs

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(The Minnesota Society of Certified Professional Accountants provided this column to Detroit Lakes Newspapers. Visit www.mncpa.org for more info.)

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The price of providing health care to small company employees is soaring.

In fact, 28 percent of businesses surveyed said their health care insurance rates had jumped more than 20 percent in the past year, according to a study by the National Small Business Association.

Shop around for the best provider

Your current insurance provider is not the only game in town, so it's a good idea to look into other carriers and see if they can give you a better deal.

You may be able to save some money and even improve your coverage.

As part of your research, be sure to find out in detail exactly what the policy will cover.

Don't be fooled into going with an insurer whose policy is cheaper simply because it doesn't offer as much as your existing coverage.

It's also a good idea to talk to other businesses that are covered by the new insurer to see if they have any complaints about issues such as coverage, customer service or other important considerations.

Promote wellness

One great way to minimize health care costs is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.

Many companies are now accomplishing this goal by offering wellness programs, which encourage or help people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Wellness initiatives can include programs to stop smoking, lose weight, take up exercise and reduce stress.

The programs make it easier for employees to make healthier choices, which can lower medical bills and improve staff morale.

There is an initial outlay to add these programs to your coverage, but many companies find that this is a worthwhile investment.

That's because when you lower the amount of claims on your company's health insurance, you may be able to reduce your health care insurance premiums.

Look into voluntary benefits

Voluntary benefits are sponsored and offered by the employer but the premiums are paid for by the employee.

They can be an appealing option for small businesses because they make it possible to provide a wide range of benefits without having to pay for them.

They can include anything from core benefits, such as major medical coverage, to ancillary benefits, such as long-term disability or group term life insurance.

They are a good deal for employees because the premiums they pay are typically lower than they would be for individual coverage.

It may be also easier for employees to qualify for some coverage, such as individual disability income, and the coverage is often portable.

Employees can pick and choose the policies they need and employers can offer the kinds of benefits that make it easier to attract and retain top people.

Cut back on what you offer

Many company owners are reluctant to slash their health care benefits altogether, but there are steps you can take to lower your outlay while still providing employees with needed coverage.

They include raising the employee contribution for health insurance, upping their co-payment or increasing the deductible.

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