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The Reno skyline as seen on Monday, July 17, 2017. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The Reno and Sparks Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday that it will begin offering an association health plan to its small business members in partnership with Prominence Health Plan, following in the footsteps of four other chambers of commerce in Southern Nevada that unveiled similar plans with other insurance companies last month.

Small businesses that are members of the chamber will be able to purchase medical coverage through Prominence and dental, vision and life insurance through Kansas City Life with policies effective either Dec. 1 or Jan. 1. Members will be able to choose between a wide variety of “robust” plans, including both HMO and PPO plans, according to chamber CEO Ann Silver.

“We didn’t want to do this here with the Reno and Sparks Chamber of Commerce unless it was the same plan I was willing to be on and have my employees on,” Silver said. “I’m thrilled with it.”

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Clark County Health Plan Association, a partnership of three smaller Southern Nevada chambers, each announced plans last month to begin offering association health plans to their members in the wake of a rule released by the Department of Labor in June loosening the rules on such plans. The new rule exempts association health plans from providing the essential health benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, eliminates restrictions based on geography and allows companies in different industries in the same region to provide coverage together.

Silver said the chamber began looking into the possibility of an association health plan as soon as she heard that the rule change might be coming down the pipeline. Once the final rule came out, the chamber decided to open negotiations with Prominence, which is the current health plan for chamber employees.

“We wanted someone who had credibility in our community, who business operators would know and trust,” she said.

The chamber and Prominence developed a plan with a three-year fixed rate that “basically has all the features of a large company health insurance plan” but available to small businesses, Silver said. Anyone who is a member of the chamber and has between two and 50 members is eligible to enroll in the plan, which will be made available through insurance brokers in the community.

Silver said there are about 650 businesses that are chamber members that would be eligible for the plan and that thousands of people could potentially be covered under it.

“I really did it because I truly see and understand the shortfall in manpower in this community, and I feel most for the small business owners,” Silver said. “They can’t compete against the big guys that have corporate, HR infrastructure. To me, it was a way to level the playing field.”

The health plan will include access to a personalized reward system focused on motivating people to make healthy choices, called Go365, and a telemedicine service offering 24/7 access to physicians and psychiatrists with no co-pay, known as the Teladoc Program.

Prominence COO Kamal Jemmoua said in a statement that the company is “privileged” to partner with the chamber to offer what it described as “a more affordable, high quality, customer-focused solution.”

“Small business owners have numerous challenges recruiting and retaining top talent to achieve their business goals and aspirations — we hope we can be a small part of further enabling them,” Jemmoua said.

In Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is offering its association health plan through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield while the three chamber plan, made up of the Henderson, Latin and Boulder City chambers, partnered with UnitedHealthcare.

In general, association health plans have faced criticism for being potentially skimpier than those sold on the health insurance exchange because they aren’t required to provide the same essential benefits. But Insurance Commissioner Barbara Richardson said in an interview with The Nevada Independent last week that the Division of Insurance sees association health plans as providing additional health insurance options to Nevadans.

“We really see them as a benefit to the Nevada citizens,” Richardson said.

Silver acknowledged that many chamber plans offered before the Affordable Care Act went into effect offered “just a fraction of what someone might have in a comprehensive health insurance plan,” but emphasized that the chamber won’t offer any “skinny” plans to its members. She said that the new plan will offer “robust” benefits and that chamber members will be able to choose between a “Chinese menu” list of options depending on what kind of coverage businesses are looking for and how much employers want to contribute toward paying for the insurance.

“The balance has been tilted toward large companies for a very long time and I see our Downtown and Midtown in both Reno and Sparks being fundamental to the vitality of our economy,” Silver said. “As much as I appreciate that Tesla, Panasonic, and Switch are members of the chamber, all of their members are dependent on the goods and services of small businesses. Everybody needs a haircut, goes to the grocery store, and I thought we need to help small business in our community survive and thrive.”

The chamber will hold four informational sessions, two in September and two in October, to offer more information about the plan to chamber members or those interested in joining the chamber. Silver said that small businesses are immediately eligible to enroll in the association health plan once they have joined the chamber.

Disclosure: Switch has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

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