Monday, February 13, 2012

Direct Health starts operation in Idaho Falls

Perhaps you have not heard the term "Superior Benefit Option," but that is the term that Direct Health uses to describe itself.

The Idaho Falls company, which started Feb. 1, aims to give employers a health care option to offer employees, allowing them to put money away for health care expenses and make donations themselves to employees' accounts as well.

It's not health insurance or a cafeteria plan, which would be regulated more vigorously by the Idaho Department of Insurance. Nor is it a health reimbursement account or a health savings account.

"It's a way for people to take control of their health care history and future," said Julie Rae, human resources director for Channel Blend, an Idaho Falls call center company. "It's a very simple concept. Usually when we talk to people about it, they try to overthink it."

Direct Health came about because Channel Blend CEO Jeff Neiswanger wanted something he could offer his employees without getting into the expense and red tape of traditional health insurance.

It is not designed to cover catastrophic health care expenses. It is a program under which people can sock away money for everything from a eye exams to massages to health club memberships. Right now, there are 16 providers in the network and 85 participants with active balances. When it's time to pay, participants show their cards, transactions are done online and providers get their money almost immediately.

There are no co-pays and no premiums. Unlike a flex plan, participants can take their money if they leave a job (although they can't cash out). The money can be rolled over from year to year, so there are no "use it or lose it" deadlines. The downside is it can't be considered a pre-tax contribution.

Rae said they are hoping that as word gets out the numbers on both sides will grow. Providers are already providing deep discounts to Direct Health participants. For employers, it's an option for companies with small numbers of employees or high turnover. Even larger employers that offer health insurance can use it to supplement what they offer.

There is a big emphasis on preventive care and wellness. "We're trying to do a couple of things," she said. "We want to see people being judicious with their health care money. With this, they spend it on what they need."

The link to the Web site is http://www.directhealthofidaho.com/index.html