Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Communication Office
Governor Fletcher Applauds Senate Committee Passage of ICARE Initiative

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, March 07, 2006  
Contact Information:  Brett Hall
Jodi Whitaker
Troy Body

Vikki Franklin

House Bill 445 will make health insurance more affordable for small businesses

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Governor Ernie Fletcher today praised the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee for passage of the Insurance Coverage, Affordability and Relief to Employers (ICARE) initiative, House Bill 445.

“I commend today’s action by the committee members in showing their support for providing assistance to small businesses and their employees this session,” said Governor Fletcher. “ICARE and the other provisions will help make health care coverage more accessible and affordable for employers and employees at small businesses across the commonwealth. All of Kentucky’s working families deserve health insurance.”

The ICARE initiative was coupled with some equally important market improvements designed to provide consumers with more access to information about the cost and quality of health care services; this information is not readily available today.  Another provision enhances links between commercial insurance and the state Medicaid program. The bill also requires a study to determine the effects of inappropriate medical billing on consumers and proposes the exploration of an interstate compact for health insurance with neighboring states.

“This bill addresses one of the most pressing issues for small businesses in the commonwealth,” said Senator Gary Tapp, (R-Waddy) chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. “I am pleased to have worked with Governor Fletcher and his administration on this bill.”

ICARE is the product of collaboration between the Fletcher administration and organizations representing small businesses, insurance and other segments of the health care industry. Governor Fletcher’s proposed budget included $20 million in funding for the ICARE initiative, designed for small businesses employing two to 25 employees. The House of Representatives passed House Bill 445 on Feb. 7.

Through the program, the state would provide an immediate premium reimbursement to eligible small employers. Groups that have been uninsured or have an employee with a high cost condition qualify, as long as the employer meets certain salary requirements. Small businesses using the program must also participate in a health risk assessment for their employees, designed to promote wellness and disease management.

“I am pleased to see that Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee members recognize how crucial the ICARE program is to both our state's health insurance crisis and our small businesses. ICARE will break the cycle of uninsured Kentuckians by helping our employers provide health insurance to their employees,” said Rep. Brandon Smith (R – Hazard). “I look forward to seeing this bill continue its way through the legislative process and signed into law by the Governor.”

Small businesses represent 93 percent of business establishments in the state and 33 percent of private sector, non-farm employment. Only 44 percent of small businesses currently offer insurance coverage to their employees, compared to more than 90 percent for large businesses. Employer-sponsored insurance has declined approximately 7 percent in Kentucky since 2000.

“I'm pleased the Senate agreed to move this legislation forward,” said Rep. Tommy Thompson (D – Owensboro). “It will allow Kentucky's small businesses to continue to be an economic engine of growth, and enhance the physical and fiscal well-being of more Kentuckians.”

“ICARE really will help move Kentucky forward,” said Governor Fletcher. “This initiative shows what can happen when we all work together.”