Crowdfunding Offers Big Promise

by Sattie Clark, VOIS Founder/President

Senator Jeff Merkley was in town last week (May 2) to talk about the Crowdfunding Act, an amendment he co-sponsored that was passed by the U.S. Senate on March 22 and signed into law by President Obama on April 5. The American Sustainable Business Council, a key supporter of this legislation, asked me to participate as a panelist on their behalf and VOIS’s.

Crowdfunding is a model for small businesses and entrepreneurs to raise capital using the internet to solicit small investments from a large number of people. The Crowdfunding Act creates a vehicle for small businesses to access capital investment without the prohibitive cost and time previously required by SEC regulations. It also protects investors from predatory scams by limiting the amount any one person can invest and by limiting the amount of money a company can raise (up to $1 million).

What does this mean for small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs? First, anyone who has a great idea or a cool prototype product can pitch it on one of many internet crowdfunding sites and see who bites. Small businesses in need of capital to scale up can take on investors without losing control of their companies. For entrepreneurs, there is an opportunity to test the market demand for their big idea—before risking their life savings and going into debt.

What’s in it for investors? It can be an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with an up-and-coming superstar company. It’s a way to vote with your dollars for the future you want. It can offer a means of community-based financing of local projects and businesses.

For more information about crowdfunding including examples of crowdfunded businesses and a list of crowdfunding site, I recommend the entry on the topic.

Can a ZIP code determine your health or affect your business’s bottom line?

By Tricia Tillman, Director, Office of Equity and Inclusion, Oregon Health Authority

Pop quiz! What is the greatest variance in average life expectancy between U.S. counties? The answer is stunningly disparate–15 years!

Where we live, learn, work and play can have a greater impact on how long and well we live than just access to quality medical care, and our ZIP code is often more important to our health than our genetic code. A person’s health and chances of becoming sick and dying early are greatly influenced by powerful social factors such as education, income, neighborhoods, housing and access to fresh food. In fact it’s estimated that only 50% of illness and death is caused by either genetic or behavioral factors.

Yet individuals and businesses are paying dearly for our “premium” health care system and encouraging people to simply exercise and eat right, while as a community, we apathetically address the environmental and policy decisions that can have significant return on health.

Despite massive investments in the American health care system, we are not achieving anywhere close to our full health potential. How do you think the U.S. stacks up to other countries in terms of the basic health outcome measure of life expectancy? The answer is 29th place, behind countries like Chile and Greece and tied with South Korea. What about infant mortality? Answer, 30th place despite being the richest country on earth. We spend four times as much on health care than any other country, or more than $2.7 trillion a year, to try and fix our sick bodies rather than spending a fraction of this to address key social determinants of health.

It’s not only the poor, but the middle class workforce whose health and pocket books are suffering. How much do you think Americans pay each year for health care? In 2009, it was $7,600 per person, more than double the median of the 30 OECD countries. To make things worse, it’s costing businesses $1 trillion a year in lost productivity due to illness. This is not sustainable from either a health perspective or an economic perspective. As businesses interested in equity and sustainability, we face a choice: invest a little in conditions that can improve health today, or pay a lot to repair our sick bodies tomorrow.

So why are our health outcomes among the worst in the industrialized world, even as our medical costs continue to escalate and technology continues to improve? Please join me on April 19th at this month’s VOIS networking and education event to learn how upfront investments and civic engagement can improve our health, without investing in the health delivery system. Co-sponsored and hosted by Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon, I’ll be discussing why our zip code and social factors can determine our health. Hope you can join us!

Lower insurance costs, maximum benefits

by Tom Blan, COO, International Living Future Institute/Cascadia Green Building Council

Like most organizations, the International Living Future Institute/Cascadia Green Building Council has been affected by ever increasing premium costs for health care coverage for our employees. We have implemented a strategy that has worked to keep costs under control while not sacrificing the level of coverage that our employees have enjoyed in the past.

As everyone knows, health plans with a high deductible are cheaper than the low deductible plans that people want. We’ve figured out a way to get the best of both worlds. What we have done is raise the deductible amount of our policy from the initial $250 amount to $1,000 in 2011, and then in 2012 we raised it again to $3,000. At the same time, we established a Health Savings Account for our employees and implemented a process whereby employees who had exceeded the original deductible amount of $250 would be reimbursed for any excess over that amount.

Employees who exceed $250 in deductible payments submit an Explanation of Benefits to one designated person at our organization, who maintains confidentiality in order to comply with HIPAA confidentiality rules. In effect, we are self-insuring for the deductible portion. We felt confident raising our “official” deductible to $3,000 in 2012, because in 2011, when our liability was only $750 per person ($1,000 – $250), our reimbursement costs were WELL below a break-even point for following this strategy. We reasoned that even if those same people went over the deductible limit again to the maximum level possible, we would still save far more than that amount in monthly premiums by raising the deductible.

This isn’t the simplest approach to employer-funded health insurance, but it has allowed us to provide extremely high quality coverage to our employees without breaking the bank. Perhaps it would work for you company as well.

Voice for Oregon Innovation & Sustainability
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