Easing the pinch of providing health insurance

Premiums for health insurance provided through work have increased 114 percent in the past decade.

The news is even worse for employers, whose contribution to worker-insurance premiums increased 147 percent, to $3,997 per employee since 2000, according to a Kaiser Foundation study.

Some local employers are spreading the burden, according to Darla Fortner, communications director for the Western Colorado Human Resource Association.

“I’ve seen some of the smaller companies and even some of the larger ones add really high deductibles,” she said.

Fortner said she believes some employers will stop offering health insurance altogether if they can direct employees to a national health care option in a few years.

“People still want to be a top employer and stay competitive, but if you can save the money, you can probably offer other benefits,” she said.

There are ways to keep health care costs down, though. One way is to have employees pay for a larger portion of their insurance and care. Another is to offer medical savings accounts, in which employers bank on people not having to use all of the money they contribute to the account for medical expenses.

There’s also the option of striving to keep employees healthy. The American Journal of Health Promotion reported in 2001, a company could save about $4 in health insurance costs for every dollar invested in a wellness program. Absenteeism also decreases when a workplace adopts a wellness program, LiveWell Colorado Chief Executive Officer and President Maren Stewart said, but employers shouldn’t start a program without engaging employees and finding what techniques will result in long-term health improvement.

“Incentives are very important as far as employee participation. Make sure to have a peer-support network, and (people will) feel they’re part of something bigger,” Stewart said.

“Handing out pedometers is a great program that may not result in sustainable change,” she added. “Having doughnuts once a month instead of four times a month at meetings may be more sustainable change.”

Starting a wellness program doesn’t have to mean investing in gym memberships and other costly measures, said Donna Marshall, executive director of the Colorado Business Coalition on Health. Even small steps can help.

“There’s so much that can be done using local resources,” Marshall said.

Andrew Webber, president and CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health, said he predicts employers eventually will offer a regular health insurance option and a less-expensive option that requires employees to fill out a health-risk-assessment form. He can envision employers not hiring smokers, something that already has been done at some businesses, but he doesn’t see the trend going as far as companies refusing to hire pregnant or obese people.

“Obviously you can’t go that far,” Webber said.


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