Memphis businesses slow to accept Cover Tennessee insurance

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - Memphis businesses have been slower than other cities to sign up for the state's new Cover Tennessee health insurance program, state data shows. As of late May, 24 people were enrolled in the program for small businesses in Shelby County compared to 108 in Davidson County, which includes Nashville.

A total of 1,038 people were enrolled statewide.

The statewide figure stood at 6,013 as of June 22. But Shelby County still lags the rest of the state, and Tennessee Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz came to Memphis recently to promote the program.

Launched in March, CoverTN is limited to workers employed by participating small businesses. To be eligible, companies can employ no more than 25 workers, at least half of whom earn less than $41,000 per year.

The plan calls for the state, workers and employers to each pay one-third of the average monthly premium of $150.

CoverTN is one element of the Cover Tennessee plan that includes programs to cover children and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

It also offers CoverRx, a prescription-drug plan for the uninsured or people who have insurance that doesn't cover drugs.

Small business owners say the low acceptance in Memphis rate could reflect lack of awareness, the presence of alternative plans for the working poor and limited benefits under the CoverTN program.

"Probably Nashville has greater enrollment than Memphis has had because they have had more programs to get the word out first," said Dennis Beatty chairman of the board of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce, a Memphis group.

He called CoverTN a "great program" for people without insurance, but said more expensive commercial programs are better.

"Cover Tennessee is a skeletal program and it keeps the small company employee from being without insurance totally," he said.

"But it should not be equated with a major medical program."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)