Health Team

Chambers of commerce team up to offer health benefits

Posted June 18, 2009 4:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2009 6:43 p.m. EDT

— A new initiative by several chambers of commerce is making it easier for small businesses to offer health benefits.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and Piedmont Health Services launched a program in December to provide affordable health care to uninsured chamber members and their families. The Hillsborough and Chatham County chambers of commerce joined in May.

"It is a tough time right now, and insurance is going up, and we're able to provide, uniquely to members of the chamber, a very important benefit," said Aaron Nelson, CEO of the chamber.

Chamber members in Hillsborough, Chapel, Carrboro and Chatham County can visit any of six Piedmont Health centers in Orange, Chatham, Alamance and Caswell counties. They will pay a flat fees of $60 for visits, $20 for outside lab work and $10 for prescriptions.

The program doesn't offer insurance but aims to provide the same kind of service and affordable access to doctors and service that insurance can buy, explained Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health Services.

"What they need is to know they can see a doctor affordably," he said.

Bettye Jenkins has benefited from the program. The Chapel Hill flower-shop owner dropped her insurance last winter after monthly premiums rose to $346.

"I started just praying, 'Lord, please take care of me. Don't let me get sick now,'' Jenkins said. The chamber health benefit "was like the answer to a prayer for me, because I didn't know what I was going to do."

Toomey said that it's best that people have insurance in case of health catastrophes, but the chamber health benefit can help fill the gap for the uninsured.

For information on joining the program, call Betty Melanson, with Piedmont Health Services, at 919-619-2159 or 919-933-8494.