Brokers at CaliforniaChoice, the Golden State’s only small group private health insurance exchange, have been given an unusual tool to help them lock in enrollments: a package of discount coupons for movies, amusement parks, sporting events and car rentals.

Known as CalPerks, the discount program is provided free to brokers who belong to CHOICE Administrators, which runs the exchange. Considered a $200 value, the discounts range from 20% to 40% and can be used at more than 200 retail outlets and service providers including stores, restaurants, hotels and dry cleaners.

“We put this package together to allow our brokers to look more sophisticated,” explains Ron Goldstein, president and CEO of Choice Administrators. “It’s almost like a lifestyle package.”

CaliforniaChoice, now in its 20th year of operation, serves the more than 75% of small California businesses that have between one and 99 employees. In aggregate, they employ more than five million state residents.

Jason Reichert, the owner of JLR Enterprises and Insurance Services, Inc., appreciates the perceived value of CalPerks. “As a broker, we’re looking for as many tools and additional options as we can get to sell clients. [With CalPerks] I think CalChoice has really hit the mark compared to what SHOP and some of these other carriers have.”

Softening the blow

Discounts on fun and practical services “softens the blow” of rising out-of-pocket medical expenses and higher rates under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), adds Melissa Calabretta, a broker with Reichert’s firm.

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“We put this package together to allow our brokers to look more sophisticated. It’s almost like a lifestyle package.”

CalChoice competes with the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, which operates through Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange.

In Goldstein’s view, “I think SHOP struggles because its real focus is on insuring the uninsured in the individual market.” That employers can buy direct on the SHOP exchange “is a turnoff for a majority of brokers.”

The Choice Administrators CEO expected CalChoice’s latest enrollment to be flat compared with 2015, when the ACA employer mandate took effect, but was pleasantly surprised. “We’re actually ahead of projections already,” he reports.

As for how CalPerks helps influence employee coverage choices, Goldstein believes people are still making emotional decisions and will enroll, for instance, in the same plan as other members of their family. As more Internet-based tools take hold, however, he predicts that more people will migrate to plans that are a better fit.

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