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Health Insurance Plan Serves Small Businesses

A little-known state program offering affordable health insurance to small businesses aims to toot its horn.

The Health Insurance Plan of California, which lets employees of participating small businesses choose from among 23 health plans, wants to scare up new policyholders at a marketing fair June 26 at Downey Savings & Loan in Newport Beach.

“Exposure is the thing. People don’t know about us,” said Patricia Steinbarth, the plan’s executive director, who partly blames its piddling marketing budget.

Steinbarth and her staff--all employees of a Roseville-based unit of Humana Inc., the Louisville, Ky., health maintenance company--manage the plan on a contract with the state. The plan, called “HIPC” for short, was started by state legislation four years ago. It serves about 7,000 companies, each with two to 50 workers. A total of 130,000 employees and their families are plan members.

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Still, considering there are about 913,000 such employers across the state, the plan has barely made a dent in the market. Part of the problem, of course, is that many don’t offer health coverage at all. A survey last year by the National Federation of Independent Business, an advocacy group for small businesses, found that 44% of its 44,000 member businesses in California don’t offer health care coverage. Most cited cost as the reason.

In the hope of spreading the word about her plan faster, Steinbarth is turning to low-budget marketing venues like Downey’s “Business Banking Forum.” The fair, set for 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., will also offer information on leasing, bank cards, payroll service, equipment leasing and loans.

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Barbara Marsh covers health care for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7762 and at barbara.marsh@latimes.com.

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