~ More Than $15 million to come to Virginia in the next five years to increase health coverage and wellness for workers in small firms ~ Governor Timothy M. Kaine today announced that Virginia has been awarded $912,658 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its new State Health Access Program (SHAP) to provide greater access to affordable health coverage for workers in Virginia ’s small firms. The federal award will increase each year of the five-year grant period to correspond with proposed program expansions, resulting in more than $15 million to Virginia.

"In these tough economic times, it's more important than ever that we find ways to expand access to quality, affordable health care for Virginians," said Governor Kaine. "By focusing on both health coverage and wellness education, this initiative will contribute toward the long-term changes needed to control costs for small businesses--and the broader healthcare system."

The federal award will go toward:

Expanding the Riverside Share program begun in the eastern region of the state in the fall of 2008. The Riverside Health System Foundation committed $1 million in the fall of 2008 to establish the Riverside Share pilot program for low income employees up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The expansion offers assistance in paying insurance premiums to more low-income employees (up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level);

Creating the Employee Wellness Passport, which will include onsite vaccinations for low-income workers, wellness education and basic health screening;

Providing wellness benefits to children of lower-income employees; Development of a Virginia Center for Healthy Small Business as a sustainable public-private partnership.

The Virginia Center for Healthy Small Business will have a statewide mission to strengthen Virginia small business by spreading employee health innovation and educating small businesses about the value of health coverage and employee wellness. The Center will build upon the web-based educational resources at Insure More Virginians initially developed through funds from the Virginia State Planning Grant, and more recently sponsored by Community Health Solutions.

The Virginia Healthy Small Business Initiative builds upon recommendations from three major policy research and planning efforts that began in 2003, including that of the Commission on Small Business Health Insurance Costs established in 2004 by then Lieutenant Governor Kaine.

That Commission was made up of small business owners, legislators and medical and insurance professionals. Among the findings and recommendations of the Commission were:

Cost Sharing . The Commission concluded that the cost of health insurance should be jointly borne by employers, employees, and the Commonwealth.

Wellness Programs . The Commission also concluded that reducing health care expenditures in the long run requires a healthier population. The Commission recommended the development of programs to encourage individuals to take important preventive measures and to encourage employers to offer wellness programs at work.

Education. The Commission’s educational recommendations fall into two broad categories: helping employers, the primary purchasers of health insurance, better understand their insurance choices; and providing patients with more information about the cost and quality of the health care services that they choose.

The Virginia Healthy Small Business Initiative brings together all of these recommendations. Virginia will test and then replicate the offer of a small business employee wellness product as an add-on to, or stepping stone toward, enrollment in a three-share health insurance product with subsidies available for employees up to 400% of the federal poverty level. Eligible enrollees include small businesses with 50 or fewer workers, or about 33,000 small firms in Virginia that do not now offer insurance plans.

“Improving the health of the Virginia communities we serve begins with improving access to quality care,” said Rick Pearce, President and CEO of Riverside Health System.

The grant will be administered by the Department of Health in collaboration with the Riverside Health System Foundation, Community Health Solutions, the Blue Ridge Medical Center , the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of other partners.