College Park firm goes with Blue Cross TOP UNIFORM CO.


COLLEGE PARK -- On a sweltering June day, kids are lined up outside the changing rooms at Top Uniform Co. in College Park, waiting their turn to try on blazers and plaid jumpers for next fall's school wear.

The family business is thriving by providing uniforms for more than 100 area private schools. But behind the busy counters, the owners are worried -- about health insurance.

Company President Gloria Heyison, who with her husband, Mel, founded the company 30 years ago, is ill, and their son Neil, general manager for the past five years, found out just a few

days ago that they can't renew the company's old health insurance plan.

Because Top's plan is set to lapse July 1, the Heyisons had to sign up with one of the new state-mandated plans.

The Heyisons chose a Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan that will charge them only $5 for every visit to an approved physician. But Gloria Heyison will have to foot most of the costs of her visits to a specialist of her choice.

Because she'll have to pay the first $3,000 of her annual out-of-network doctor bills -- a significant increase from last year's $625 deductible -- she will end up paying more although her monthly premiums will be slightly lower.

And although the legislature created a standard package last year in the hopes of persuading business owners such as the Heyisons to provide insurance to their workers, the family won't offer insurance to any of their more than 20 full- and part-time employees.

Mr. Heyison said that his full-time employees are covered by their parents' or spouses' policies. And no employee has ever asked him for coverage, he said.

Providing full coverage for all employees "would put a financial burden on our company," Neil Heyison said, adding, that "We are doing really well. We could do it."

When his insurance broker called to tell him he'd have to buy an insurance plan he didn't like, "I said 'You're kidding!' I didn't hear anything about this," he said.

And he was even angrier when he discovered that he had, essentially, no choice among these state-mandated plans.

Because many insurers' packages were still awaiting approval in mid-June, the Heyisons could only choose from Blue Cross' options.

"Blue Cross tends to be slow in paying their bills and tends to exclude certain charges" that he thinks it ought to pay, Mr. Heyison said. "I don't have any choice and I'm not happy about that. . . . I think it is a monopoly."

"Middle- and upper-class Americans should not be penalized for what they work for," he said.

"Privileges and benefits should not be taken away from people who've worked hard in order to cover people who aren't doing anything," he said.

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