Restaurant-specific insurance exchange debuts in D.C.

As a former Matchbox employee married to a Graffiato bartender, Alisia Kleinmann knows a thing or two about the lack of health insurance in the restaurant industry.

“My husband is 35 years old. We have two kids. He never had insurance,” said Kleinmann, president of the hospitality trade organization Industree. “I just kept thinking, something has to change. Something has to get better.”

Last week Kleinmann, 33, rolled out Industree Exchange, a private insurance exchange geared at Washington-area restaurants and bars with more than 100 employees.

The idea, she said, was to make it as simple — and affordable — as possible for local eateries and bars to comply with new employer mandates that go into effect next year. Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with 100 or more full-time workers must provide health-care benefits by Jan. 1.

“Every single option has been designed, negotiated and built specifically for the demographics of the restaurant industry,” Kleinmann, founder and chief executive, said. “They keep you in compliance with Obamacare and they’re completely affordable.”


Alisia Kleinmann, founder and chief executive of Industree Exchange. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post )

In addition to more than 15 full-coverage options by United Healthcare and Cigna, the exchange offers a number of “skinny plans.” Those options, which are provided by Loomis, range from $61 to $91 per month and offer the bare minimum: Preventative care, flu shots, prescription medication and a handful of outpatient procedures.

“Up until now, you get offered two or three different choices, or you get offered nothing,” Kleinmann said. “A lot of what’s out there is completely unaffordable to a huge part of the restaurant industry, specifically the back-of-the-house guys.”

RW Restaurant Group, which has 250 full-time employees and oversees seven restaurants including Brasserie Beck and Marcel’s, was one of the first local companies to sign on.

“When Obamacare was passed, we became very concerned about how we were going to pay for coverage for our employees,” said Frank T. Shull, a partner and chief operating officer at the company.

Under the restaurant group’s current plan (which is offered to executives and other select employees), the company must pay $400 per month per employee for health-care benefits.

“You take that figure, $400, and multiply it by 250 people — that’s $100,000 per month we’d be spending,” Shull said. “It just isn’t something we could do.”

Instead, the company will offer basic insurance — for about $100 per month — from Industree Exchange to its 250 full-time employees.

“We want our employees to have health-care, but it had to be affordable,” Shull said. “We have seven restaurants, but we’re not a big company like IBM.”

It took about six months for Kleinmann to set up the exchange, which is a joint project between Industree and M&T Insurance Agency, a subsidiary of M&T Bank. Liazon, which operates private exchanges, provided the back-end technology and invoicing systems.

Kleinmann, formerly a private chef and meeting planner, got licensed as an insurance broker in early 2013 so she could oversee the process. Kleinmann said she did not invest any money up front because M&T and Liazon footed start-up costs for the exchange.

“The good news was that Liazon had already built the model, so it didn’t take long to get the store up and running,” said Kevin Gannon, vice president at M&T Insurance Agency.

Many of the plans, Kleinmann said, are tailored to hospitality workers, who tend to be relatively young and in good health. Some of the exchange’s providers, such as Loomis, also provide extended customer service hours to accommodate workers’ schedules.

“A lot of exchanges have everything on the shelves of their stores — hundreds and hundreds of products,” said Kleinmann, who purchases health insurance for herself through Maryland’s public exchange. “I wanted to trim it down for a very specific demographic.”

The first round of enrollments will go into effect Aug. 1.

Kleinmann plans to create a companion Web site in Spanish and expand to other parts of the country. But for now, she said she’s focused on getting local restaurants to sign up.

“Washington has been a great launchpad,” Kleinmann said. “There is a real need for something like this.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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