Raleigh small biz owners team up to solve health insurance dilemma

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- As the healthcare debate rages in Washington, a group of small business owners in Wake County decided to stop waiting out the uncertainty in Congress. They're taking matters into their own hands to bring down the cost of health care and provide coverage for their workers.

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Jolie Rollins is one of those business owners. After 20 years in corporate sales, Rollins quit her job and chased her dream. She and her husband are now proudly serving up all-natural gourmet barbeque from the food truck they call, Cockadoodlemoo.

But when Rollins left the corporate world, she also left behind her corporate health benefits. She and her husband had to buy insurance on the health exchange and to attract better talent to their new venture they wanted to find an affordable plan to offer employees.

"Which was ridiculously expensive with crazy deductibles. It was essentially unusable," Rollins said about her then-fruitless search for small-group health insurance.

"A lot of (small business owners) saw their rates increase by thousands of dollars over the last few years," said Jennifer Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh.

Martin's non-profit took on the task of convincing dozens of small business owners across the city, like Rollins, that buying health coverage as large group could bring health costs down for each individual business.

"Small businesses need a competitive edge," Martin said. "They need that competitive opportunity to get deals to help save them money, group buying. We had to have 150 initially to make it work."

Last month, Shop Local hit its target.

Count Cockadoodlemoo as one of the 150 local businesses to sign on. And for the first time, Rollins is offering health coverage to employees. She says it's been a magnet for top talent.

"All I said was let them know we cover half of their insurance and I had five calls immediately," she said.

As Washington endlessly debates repeal and replace or possible fixes to Obamacare, Jolie Rollins and her barbeque truck no longer feel left in limbo.

"Now we're able to just cut through and not worry about what they're doing in Washington and focus on what we're doing here in Raleigh," Rollins said.

Shop Local Raleigh says it's in talks with national small business organizations, offering advice on how to replicate the program in other cities.

It is also trying to grow the health plan here among Raleigh business owners. More business only increases the purchasing power. They're taking all calls.

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