According to a 2007 study, about 59% of employers at small firms (3-199 workers) in the US provide employee health insurance. The percentage of small firms offering coverage has been dropping steadily since 1999. The study notes that cost remains the main reason cited by small firms who do not offer health benefits. Small firms that are new are less likely to offer coverage than ones that have been in existence for a number of years.
For example, using 2005 data for firms with fewer than 10 employees, 43% of those that had been in existence at least 20 years offered coverage, but only 24% of those that had been in existence less than 5 years did. The volatility of offer rates from year to year also appears to be higher for newer small businesses.

The types of coverage available to small employers are similar to those offered by large firms, but small businesses do not have the same options for financing their benefit plans. In particular, self-funded health care (whereby an employer provides health or disability benefits to employees with its own funds rather than contracting an insurance company) is not a practical option for most small employers. A RAND Corporation study published in April 2008 found that the cost of health care coverage places a greater burden on small firms, as a percentage of payroll, than on larger firms. A study published by the American Enterprise Institute in August 2008 examined the effect of state benefit mandates on self-employed individuals, and found that "the larger the number of mandates in a state, the lower the probability that a self-employed person will be a significant employment generator."Beneficiary cost sharing is, on average, higher among small firms than large firms.

When small group plans are medically underwritten, employees are asked to provide health information about themselves and their covered family members when they apply for coverage. When determining rates, insurance companies use the medical information on these applications. Sometimes they will request additional information from an applicant's physician or ask the applicants for clarification.

States regulate small group premium rates, typically by placing limits on the premium variation allowable between groups (rate bands). Insurers price to recover their costs over their entire book of small group business while abiding by state rating rules. Over time, the effect of initial underwriting "wears off" as the cost of a group regresses towards the mean. Recent claim experience - whether better or worse than average - is a strong predictor of future costs in the near term. But the average health status of a particular small employer group tends to regress over time towards that of an average group. The process used to price small group coverage changes when a state enacts small group reform laws.

Insurance brokers play a significant role in helping small employers find health insurance, particularly in more competitive markets. Average small group commissions range from 2 percent to 8 percent of premiums. Brokers provide services beyond insurance sales, such as assisting with employee enrollment and helping to resolve benefits issues.
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