SARANAC LAKE The Tri-Lakes Uninsured Task Force received a major boost this week in the form of a $107,688 grant secured by the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce (PNCC). The grant, awarded by the New York State Health Foundation, will be used for a special project entitled Overcoming Tri-Lakes Small Business Barriers to Offering Employee Health Coverage. PNCC is serving as the applicant and administrator for a coalition consisting of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (SLACC), the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau, the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce, Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the Task Force. The planning grant will initially target the Tri-Lakes area, and is the first step of a potential project that aims to increase awareness in the business community of available health insurance options like Healthy New York. In July and August, the Tri-Lakes Uninsured Task Force released a survey to local business owners that sought feedback on health insurance issues. PNCC president Garry Douglas hopes that the grant will work to further explore these issues and eventually increase enrollment in state financed insurance programs. Surveys, focus groups and other methods will be used to define both the initial objections and the best messages and approaches for achieving enrollment increases, he noted. Ann Morgan, program coordinator for the Task Force, noted that the best approach to increasing coverage for the work force was to find out the various reasons why employees arent already signed up for healthcare packages. We need to have a good understanding of how business people approach health insurance, said Morgan. We want them, the employees, to not only accept the programs they offer, but also to take a look at some of the public programs that are offered as well. Chandler Ralph, president and CEO of the Adirondack Medical Center and also a chairperson for the Task Force, noted that it is important to support small businesses and their insurance needs. (They) are the backbone of our local economy, she said. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for those businesses to take an active role in establishing a new service to help them better respond to their employees health insurance needs. SLACC executive director Sylvie D. Nelson noted that when businesses can offer solid benefit packages, they often see an increase in the overall quality of employees that apply for work. This is very important to our goal of bringing affordable health care to everyone, said Nelson, who is also a chairperson of the advisory committee that will oversee the grant project. It is a quality of life issue as employees who have insurance do not have to worry about a devastating financial situation in the face of a health crisis, and wont avoid basic health care because they cant afford it. The project hopes that by increasing awareness, currently uninsured employers and self-employed business people will take advantage of available options. Douglas noted that previously utilized marketing campaigns for Healthy New York have been largely unsuccessful, and that taking a grassroots, locally-based approach might be the better route. Our experience is that most will sign-up for some form of insurance once they truly know of choices that didnt know of or had misconceptions about, added Douglas. The challenge is reaching an audience that by its nature can be very busy and difficult to engage.