'Three-share' insurance gives some employers, patients first shot at health coverage

Though a silver bullet has yet to be found, five states--Oregon, Virginia, Minnesota, New York and Colorado--so far have taken advantage of federal grants to explore a new approach to making health insurance more affordable for some residents. "Three-share" programs, as they're called, simply divide premiums among three entities: patients, employers and the community.

The Gold Dust Saloon in Pueblo, Colo., is one restaurant forking over its third, in a move that offers health insurance to its cooks and wait staff for the first time in the 25 years it's been in business. Two local hospitals pay the community portion of the $180 premium for Gold Dust and 29 other small businesses in the county. Health Access Pueblo, launched in August 2008, doesn't offer insurance, avoiding the state's minimum benefit rules. Rather, 200 local doctors and two hospitals accept reduced rates.

Other three-share programs exist in Muskegon County, Mich., and Duval County, Fla.; but due to due to a lack of interest among employers and insurers, as well as strict eligibility rules, enrollment numbers remain small overall. Nonetheless, employers who participate in the programs claim the extra expense is worth it. "My employees will be healthier and will be less likely to call in sick," Gold Dust owner Ruth McDonald stated in an article coproduced by NPR and Kaiser Health News. "They'll realize this is a benefit and will stay longer. And a more experienced employee provides better food service," she added.

To learn more about "three share programs":
- read this NPR/Kaiser Health News article