THE UNINSURED: Health Promotion May Help Bridge The Gap
Small businesses that can't afford to provide health insurance for their employees now have a new option thanks to "two fledgling attempts" to bring employee health promotion programs to smaller companies, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Worksite Wellness Project is a "pilot project [begun] two years ago to assist businesses with between 20 to 100 workers whose pay averages $7.50 per hour or less." Meanwhile, researchers at the University of California-Irvine "are training 80 companies to create their own health-promotion programs," and researchers at UC-San Francisco and the state health department are "analyzing a statewide survey of 1,000 businesses to determine ... what hampers small business' ability to provide health-promotion programs." Health department researcher James Carman said, "A lot of small businesses haven't had the time or the resources to think about what it would be like to take a proactive approach to the health of their employees. One of the major barriers is that it takes a certain critical mass of employees to support a person that could provide educational material."
A Little Goes A Long Way
While health promotion programs at larger companies are often seen as an add-on to traditional health insurance, programs in smaller companies can help provide at least a base of health care for uninsured workers. J.B.'s Private Label, a Los Angeles-based garment manufacturer, couldn't afford to provide health insurance for its employees and dependents, and found that employees preferred "higher take-home pay" to "lower-cost medical insurance with employee co-payments." But now through participation in the free Worksite Wellness Program, employees receive "flu shots, eye exams [and] lectures on gynecological health issues or breast cancer information." Co-owner Reenie Bender called the program "a godsend," noting that "three of our folks needed glasses," two women had lumps in their breasts and 95% of female employees had never had a Pap smear. She also noted that the "lectures and tests have given the workers basic health information and prompted them to take better care of themselves" (Torres, 12/23).