Local businesses looking at group insurance plan

Employers' organization believes health coverage key to stable work force

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— More than a year ago, a loose association of professionals in human resource positions came together, gave themselves a name and set out to find the best way to insure an uninsured work force.

This week they hope to sell their idea to the public.

The Human Resource Cooperative formed from a discussion about the need to retain seasonal employees in Steamboat Springs.

The best way to counter the high rate of employee turnover, the group decided, was to offer them a reason to stay health insurance.

On Tuesday at Centennial Hall, the HR Cooperative will present its plan for helping workers obtain and then maintain their health insurance.

Two sessions, one at noon in Citizens Hall and the other at 5 p.m. in Room 113 and 114, will feature Ed Pittaway, president of Community Benefits Group of Colorado.

"The meeting is really to introduce a concept," he said. "It's a pretty clear need in the community."

Pittaway assisted the HR Cooperative in outlining a plan for the creation of a central entity to administer insurance on behalf of businesses.

A Professional Employer Organizations acts as a co-employer for any number of businesses by filling such human resource roles as hiring and firing and overseeing workers' compensation and medical and dental benefits.

A PEO in Steamboat could provide those services for less and offer employers more affordable insurance than they could get on their own by joining them together under one umbrella organization.

PEOs exist in number in more urban areas such as Denver.

Pittaway, who has worked extensively with Steamboat employers over the past 15 years, said his insurance company could put together a fairly comprehensive PEO designed specifically for Steamboat Springs.

He will explain how CBG of Colorado could set up a PEO for employers in the community, but the option still exists for other health insurance carriers in town or in the state to

take on the project,

said Kathy Coates, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association membership director.

Coates, who joined the HR Cooperative a few months ago, mailed 300 letters to prospective employers in late fall to survey interest in the possibility of a PEO.

She expected only a small response but instead received about 50 replies in the mail.

People who responded to Coates' inquiry ranged from small-business owners with just a few employees to larger employers in the lodging and restaurant industry.

Coates said she was encouraged so many people took the time to respond to her letter.

"They must be game to hear about whatever might be available," she said. "I have the sense that people are looking for alternatives."

Coates estimated about 600 employees worked for one of the 50 employers who responded to her letter.

Even half that number would be a sizeable enough amount to move forward with a PEO, she added.

"It's such a grassroots thing," she said.

A centralized source for medical benefits means seasonal workers could maintain their health insurance throughout the year, as long as they worked for employers who belonged to the PEO, said Darcy Trask, a TIC employee and HR Cooperative supporter.

"If a person worked the winter season at one job and part of the summer season at another job, they would continue to have health insurance year-round," Trask said.

The promise of continuing benefits from businesses enrolled in the PEO might encourage workers to stay longer in their jobs, she added.

The Tuesday meeting will allow employers, employees and the general public to decide if a PEO is right for their community, Trask said.

The HR Cooperative wants some idea of whether it has the support of employers to move forward with creating a centralized health plan for businesses or if they should pursue other alternatives to getting accessible insurance, she said.

After a long effort to make gains toward achieving accessible insurance for Steamboat workers, John Thrasher, human resource manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, said he was pleased to see the group's efforts had come together.

"I'm just hoping for a product that we can offer to the community," he said.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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