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Group Health Insurance May Be Best for Your Business … Even If You’re an Individual

Even if you’re an individual, group health insurance may be best for your business.

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RECENTLY, I HEARD A business owner tell a frustrating story about how she was forced to spend a surprisingly large sum for the treatment of a health condition. She was angry because her individual health insurance plan, bought through the

Marketplace in 2014, had just increased in premium for the fourth time. She expected more from her insurance!

There has been a growing rift between group and individual insurance since 2015 — most owners have not been able to keep up with all of the details. I have heard, erroneously, from many business owners that they believe:

  • They couldn’t do group insurance.
  • They would have to pay for all of their employees.
  • Individual insurance would be cheaper.

Not true.

Individual insurance contracts (aka Obamacare plans) are no longer the same as group plans. Differences include deductibles, max out-of-pocket financial exposures, and pricing. In most cases, individual insurance is less advantageous for the consumer.

Many small business owners are not aware of the increased availability of group insurance.

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In 2014, the Affordable Care Act changed many of the regulations affecting small businesses and insurance. States have also been tweaking rules applicable to groups employing between two and 50 people (small groups). It is very possible that a small business would be better off with group insurance — and the employees as well.

Here is the basic situation: In most states businesses with two or more people are eligible to purchase group insurance. Why is this important?

Because, in many states, group insurance may be less expensive per person, have lower financial exposures and have access to larger PPO networks.

How does it work? There is a little-known aspect of the Affordable Care Act that makes group insurance very accessible for small businesses. If you have an inception/renewal date of Jan. 1, then the business is not required to contribute to the employees’ premiums. Further, there are no participation requirements (i.e. how many people must participate of the employed population), so the business owner could be the only one participating — a “group” of one. Some states do not allow groups of one. In these states, you must have two participants. And note that husband-wife groups are treated differently and may not be eligible.

If the group insurance plan renews on any other date of the year, then the group is subject to contribution and participation requirements. These requirements are set by the insurance companies and are typically less stringent than most business owners believe.

Typical participation requirement: 70 percent of eligible full-time staff after qualified waivers. A qualified waiver is someone who has an insurance plan from a spouse, the government or an individual plan. Let’s say we have a group of 10 full time employees, four of whom have coverage through their spouse and one who is on Medicare. Here is how we determine the participation requirement: 10 eligible – 5 qualified waivers = 5 employees. In this case, to attain 70 percent participation, only four people must participate!

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In regard to employer cost for groups that do not start/renew on Jan. 1, requirements may not be as high you think. In most cases, the employer is asked to contribute 25 percent of the cost of individual coverage on the lowest cost plan.

Here’s how this plays out in the real world: Most small businesses offer two or three plans for the employees to choose from, one of which will be the “lowest cost.” The employer then calculates 25 percent of what it costs for that single person and the employee is responsible for the remaining premium. How much money are we talking about? Typically an employer is asked to contribute $75 to $225 per month per person depending on the age of the employee — only for those who choose to contribute.

Marcus Newman is Vice President — Small Business Sales with GCG, a full-service financial, employee benefits and risk management firm. A regular public speaker and educator, he can be contacted at marcus.newman@gcgfinancial.com

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In the first of this three-part series, Dr. Eric White, Complete Family Vision Care, talks about managed care, and how to put your practice on the path to profitability.

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Columns

Celebrity Clients Are Cool, but Never Forget Who the Real Stars Are

Repeat after me: “Every customer who walks through my door is a VIP”.

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I’VE BEEN AN ECP on the Upper West Side in NYC for the better part of the last 30 years. Over the years, my Manhattan store, The Eye Man, has seen a virtual who’s- who of television, stage and screen walk through the doors.

In the early ’90s, I remember a particular client, an attractive woman in her 50s, who asked if she could bring her husband in for a pair of glasses. She intimated that he was a bit of a celebrity, but didn’t disclose his name. To accommodate her, I told her we could keep the shop open late one evening so that he could shop undisturbed. So, one brisk, fall evening after the shop had officially closed, I waited for our after-hours appointment and opened the door to one of America’s beloved anchors, Dan Rather.

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I greeted him as I would greet any customer, with a warm smile, a handshake and quickly locked the door behind him. Then I set about my business. He was here, after all, because he needed a pair of frames and no amount of swooning over his fame or accomplishments was going to get that job done. I felt he appreciated that professionalism and although there were a dozen things running through my head to ask about some of his most recent news features, I concentrated on helping him find what he was looking for with regard to my field of expertise … eyewear.

Dan and his wife spent approximately an hour with me that night, and what struck me most was how interested he was in everyone else. He asked specific questions, and he really listened. He didn’t posture, he didn’t demand extra attention, he was humble, and gracious and in an extraordinary way, he was very “normal.” I think he appreciated that I treated him like I would any customer in the store. I was attentive, but not overbearing. I was interested, but not stupefied by his celebrity. I offered my opinion when asked and I helped him get what he came for. In return, he gave me something … a reminder of the power of asking thought-provoking questions and truly listening, and how important that is in making people feel understood and valued.

There have been many more stars over the years, and for a few minutes or an hour, each lit up my store like a Broadway marquee while they shopped. I think the main thing these chance encounters have taught me is: The real superstars in our stores are “regular” people, the everyday men and women that share our names and the experiences they have within our stores with their families and friends. These people are the silent sales people that go unnoticed, yet many have given out your card or referred you to a friend and have added to your business. So, remember to make every customer that walks through your door, calls your business, or interacts with you on social media feel like a VIP. They’ll leave feeling like a superstar and will help lead you to your own type of blockbuster success.

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How to Handle Negative Reviews

There are effective ways to reduce their impact.

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ARE YOU HAUNTED by old reviews, especially bad ones?

Many clients ask whether and how they can be deleted. In some cases, ODs have taken over an office and want to dissociate from the reviews of the old owners. Given the importance of reviews, many of our clients would do anything to wipe the slate clean. Well, unfortunately that is usually not an option (except for a special circumstance that I will discuss below), but there are effective ways to handle undesirable reviews and reduce the impact they have on your reputation.

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A Case When You Can Delete Reviews

If you are taking over a business, you can delete old reviews and start fresh with proof of acquisition, but according to a response from a Google rep to one of our clients, this is not advised because it could negatively affect your SEO. This, of course, is relative. While having no reviews is detrimental both to your new patient acquisition and to your SEO, having a number of bad reviews from an old practice that is no longer relevant might do even more damage. You have to weigh out the situation based on the type of reviews and the importance and quality of your SEO. Keep in mind that 9.8 percent of your visibility in local search engines is based on review signals such as the number and average rating of your reviews, so a lot of great reviews can seriously help your website ranking.

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The Alternative to Deleting Reviews

Perhaps the best advice when you have unwanted reviews is to drown them out with positive ones. If you have some bad comments, it’s not the end of the world. Everyone has an opinion, and dissatisfied customers are more likely to post a review than those that are happy with your services. (Studies show that while 35 percent of people review after a bad experience, only 23 percent review after a good one.)

So your job is to make a conscious effort to encourage and even outright ask your happy patients to do so.

How Many Reviews Do I Need?

The answer to this question largely depends on your local competition and where you are starting from. If your biggest competitor has 20 reviews, you want to shoot for 30. If they have 50, go for more, but it has to be reasonable. Growing your reviews is an ongoing process that you should always be working at, and it won’t happen overnight. If you are new to this, have a goal of 20 reviews and aim for a couple every month. The point is that getting reviews is something you need to work at. Many happy customers just need a reminder (or two) to share their experience.

How Do I Get Reviews?

There are a lot of strategies for getting reviews, and we’ve written about this a bunch, but what’s most important is that your whole practice needs to rally around the goal. Getting reviews is a team effort. You see a happy patient in the exam chair, ask for a review. The optician fits a happy customer, ask for a review. The office manager is scheduling a follow up visit, ask for a review. Making patients happy and asking for reviews must become part of the workflow, with everyone on board.

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Respond to Bad Reviews

The last important point that needs mentioning is that if you do get a bad review, don’t ignore it. While you don’t want to get personal, go into details or make excuses, you do want to express that you care about customer satisfaction and view this as a chance to improve. While keeping HIPAA in mind, it can help to offer to speak to the disgruntled party to rectify the situation. Other readers will see a professional response that shows good customer service as a positive sign and you never know, the unhappy client may change his or her mind — and review.

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Columns

Use Digital Marketing to Target Glasses and Contacts Wearers in Your Area

A member of Facebook’s Small Business Council shares 4 key ways.

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IN SOME WAYS, IT’S a great time to be an optometrist. In 2017 alone, the average income for an OD increased by about 4 percent. That said, no independent eyecare professionals should turn a blind eye to the technological advances that make it easier than ever to reach customers.

While optometry offices are far from obsolete, online upstarts like Warby Parker and Felix Gray have gained traction. Optometrists are working to combat this shift. One survey found that 57 percent of ECPs have offered more frequent discounts to appeal to customers.

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Thankfully, you don’t have to cut your way to profitability; instead, use digital marketing to target people in your area who already have glasses or contacts.

See Eye to Eye With Clients. The advent of social media targeting has leveled the playing field in countless industries. Optometry is no exception. ODs can use digital tools to target customers with precision.

While the medium is important, the people you’re targeting are even more critical. Whether you’re filtering by city, county or zip code, try to stay as local as possible. Once you’ve identified your target audience, it’s time to take your marketing efforts to the next level.

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Set up your facebook pixel. About 171.4 million Americans use Facebook at least once per month. Many of those people use it to hunt for medical information for themselves or their kids. This is where the Facebook pixel — code you place on your website that uses cookies to track how users interact with your Facebook ads — proves its power. Use a pixel to retarget individuals further down your sales funnel, gathering information that makes it possible to contact people who are interested in your services.

Limit your distinct audiences. Set a dollar amount (it could be $100 or $1,000 per month) for your sponsored social posts, and then stick to that rate regardless of how many distinct audiences you target. At most, you should target three audiences; targeting too many people is as bad as targeting no one.

Amplify your reach. For more chances to convert, you need more eyes on your posts. Promoted Tweets or Facebook Ads can help you reach a larger audience, but you don’t necessarily need to pay for followers. This can be as simple as a call to action at the end of your posts asking readers to share on their profiles.

Make your creative pop. Twitter’s Video Website Card is changing the way brands advertise on the social platform. Pairing autoplay video with a company’s website link, it allows advertisers to create ads that pop. Ads using the tool received twice as many click-throughs as traditional mobile video ads.
Optometry, like most medical fields, isn’t leading the charge of digital marketing. But that doesn’t mean your office should fall behind. Social media marketing isn’t easy, but these suggestions can help you get started.

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