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In October, Maryland began offering small businesses insurance through the Health Insurance Partnership, a premium subsidy program for small business. Eligibility right now is limited to small businesses with between two and nine employees that have not been able to offer health insurance to employees in the previous 12 months and whose employees have an average salary of less than $50,000. Businesses that meet these criteria may receive a subsidy of up to 50% of their health insurance premium. Employers have their choice of health benefit plans offered by CareFirst BCBS, Coventry Health Care, United Healthcare and Aetna.

The state wanted to focus on its smallest businesses because that is where the lack of health insurance is most acute, says John Colmers, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Reimbursement goes directly to the health insurer, so agents still get full commission on their sale, but the employer gets a bill that's half the size it would otherwise be.

"This means agents have no disincentive to sell to these really small businesses," Colmers says. Right now about 550 individuals are enrolled; the department is hoping to enroll 1,500 businesses this year.

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LAST UPDATE: Jan 28 2009 | 9:53 AM ET
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