Thousands of small-business owners in Kentucky can now enroll in a state-run program to help them pay for employee health insurance.

As of Nov. 1, the Insurance Coverage Affordability and Relief to Small Employers program, or ICARE, will provide money to cover part of the cost of monthly insurance premiums.

"One of the biggest challenges faced by small-business owners is offering competitive benefit packages," state Sen. Garry Tapp said in a statement. "ICARE will help businesses provide quality health insurance to their employees and help make Kentucky businesses more competitive."

Designed for businesses with 2 to 25 employees, ICARE offers $40 per employee per month to companies that have not offered health coverage within the past 12 months. It also offers $60 a month for firms employing someone with a high-cost condition.

The state expects about 4,000 businesses and close to 20,000 employees to benefit from the ICARE, which will begin as a pilot program.

Some employers, however, say the program will not do enough.

"Forty bucks barely scratches the surface," said Barry Laws, CEO of Open Range, a Crestwood, Ky., paintball and firing range.

"If employees want health care, they want something decent," he said. "Even if we matched that, it wouldn't be very much."

Instead, Laws said he thinks the state should work on health insurance directly with individuals.

"Leave the employer out of it," Laws said. "We have enough problems without worrying about employee health care." From the taxes and fees of starting a business to the everyday operating costs, many start-ups simply cannot afford to even consider giving their employees healthcare, he added.