Bluegrass State officials have turned on the lights at an effort to help small, struggling employers buy health coverage.

The new Kentucky Insurance Coverage Affordability and Relief to Small Employers pilot program will help eligible employers with 2 to 25 employees pay health insurance premiums.

To be eligible for the ICARE program, an employer must 50% of the employee’s premium for single coverage and have an average annual employee salary of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level.

This year, the average employee salary can be no more than about $29,400, according to a program fact sheet prepared by officials at the Kentucky Office of Insurance Regulation.

The program will pay $40 in subsidies per employee month if the employer has not offered health coverage for the past 12 months.

“The amount decreases by $10 per year over the life of the program,” officials note.

The program also will pay $60 per eligible employee per month for an employer group if at least one employee has a “defined high-cost condition,” such as diabetes or cancer. That amount decreases by $15 per year over the life of the program, officials say.

The program will provide a “health risk assessment” for all participating employees.

“After July 1, 2007, insurers participating in the program must offer a health lifestyle discount,” officials say.

Employees’ dependents could get coverage through the subsidized group plans, but employers would not get health care incentive payments for dependents, officials say.

All health insurers participating in the Kentucky small group or group association market must participate.

Any health insurance agent licensed in Kentucky can help employers sign up for the program.

The state will start accepting applications Nov. 1.

The program received strong support from Kentucky lawmakers but has drawn criticism from at least one Kentucky blogger.

“This is just another government give-away program,” David Adams, a Nicholasville, Ky., resident, writes in his blog, Kentucky Progress.

Links to documents concerning the ICARE program are on the Web at Document Link