Baltimore Business Journal
by Emily Mullin, Staff

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and health care advocates launched a new campaign Tuesday to educate the state’s small businesses about a tax credit provided under the federal health care reform law aimed at helping employers buy health insurance.

CareFirst, the region’s largest insurer, is spending $150,000 in radio advertisements and a text messaging service that will let Maryland business owners know about the tax credit program. The insurance company has partnered with Maryland Health Care For All, a coalition of health care advocacy groups, to develop the advertising campaign.

“These small businesses are the life blood of the economy,” CareFirst CEO Chet Burrell said Tuesday at a news conference.

The radio ads are slated to run in the Greater Baltimore region, Annapolis and Salisbury.

CareFirst, a nonprofit insurer, also launched a text messaging service allowing employers to text “HEALTH” to 877877 to get information about the tax credits immediately on their phones.

Under the federal health care reform law, businesses that have fewer than 25 employees with an average annual salary of $50,000 or less are eligible for tax credits up to 35 percent of their health insurance costs.

“A healthier Maryland is a more productive Maryland,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said Tuesday.

As health insurance premiums continue to rise, a major concern for small businesses is how to finance their employees’ health benefits. The federal health care reform law requires all U.S. citizens to be enrolled in a health insurance plan by 2014 or pay a penalty. By 2014, states will have set up health insurance exchanges, or new marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can go to buy health insurance.

The tax credits are available to businesses now and employers can apply for them at any time throughout the year.

“We don’t want to leave any of this money on the table,” said Vincent DeMarco, a health care lobbyist and president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative.

Maryland already has a subsidy program for small businesses that helps business owners purchase health insurance for their employees, but only businesses of between two and nine employees are eligible and at least 75 percent of those employees have to participate.

The state has offered these subsidies since 2008, but DeMarco said not many have signed up because the program has not been widely publicized.

Burrell said CareFirst serves 33,000 small businesses in Maryland and 80 percent of those have less than 10 employees. He said many of those businesses could get the credits.

An estimated 66,000, or 80 percent, of Maryland’s 82,600 small businesses could be eligible for these tax credits.

Various state departments including the Department of Business and Economic Development, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs and the Maryland Health Care Commission will also be distributing information about the tax credit through their newsletters as well as having business cards in their office advertising for the new text message service.

Last modified: March 15, 2011