Back Button
Menu Button

Iowa Employer Benefits Study© on ‘Hold’
Plus: The Great Resignation

Iowa Employer Benefits Study©

I have decided to put a ‘hold’ on the Iowa Employer Benefits Study for 2022 and into the indefinite future. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was not helpful to this annual survey, changes in the background research resources that I had relied on for the past two decades have also impacted the long-term viability of pursuing this important survey.

Data Point Research, Inc. (DPR), my trusted research partner for twenty years, no longer offers its excellent survey services. Our history of joint collaboration was immensely important to having both accurate and consistent data when trending benefits and costs in Iowa. I will miss my long-term relationship with Andrew Williams, founder of Data Point Research, but just as importantly, I have been very fortunate to call him a great friend and professional colleague. My best to Andrew!

I also owe a great deal of gratitude to those organizations, consultants and brokers who purchased blocks of the Lindex® benchmarks and studies over the years. Without their support and loyalty, the Iowa Employer Benefits Study would not have been as relevant and successful.

Finally, since 1999, the first year this annual study was performed, over 15,000 Iowa organizations have participated in this random survey process. I am proud that our survey results have provided Iowa employers with reliable, relevant, and customized information that cannot be found anywhere else in Iowa. This comprehensive statistical review of Iowa employee benefits has been a key resource for Iowa employers and policy makers. I am very thankful to the Iowa organizations that have taken the time to dutifully respond to this survey. Without their annual assistance, this study would not have been possible.

Although this study has been put on hold, future assessments are certainly possible.

The Great Resignation

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September alone (4.3 million in August). In fact, according to data from the people analytics firm Visier, at least one in four people quit their jobs in 2021. A PwC survey indicates that 65 percent of people were looking for a new job as of August.

Since experiencing work place changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are now expressing their work culture and location preferences and finding opportunities elsewhere. This has become a big wake-up call to organizations in Iowa and around the country – its a phenomenon known as the GREAT RESIGNATION of 2021.

Without question, employee benefits are extremely important when attracting qualified employees. But employee retention requires adhesive steps that will serve as ‘glue’ to keep employees both happy and on the payroll. What is this special glue? It begins by having a culture that permeates throughout the organization that promotes work-life balance and invites a sense of trust and belonging.

Employees are quitting their jobs in food, retail, hospitality AND in higher-paying jobs in many other industries. These employees no longer wish to commute to work and want to learn new skills to grow beyond their current job opportunities. Job dissatisfaction varies across demographics and occupations, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Work-life balance and flexibility was important to employees prior to COVID-19, but it has become more pronounced during the pandemic and its importance is here to stay. Pay equity and child care are critical issues for many who are dissatisfied with their current employment arrangement.

We certainly found this in our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study. In the workplace environment, employees value respect, achievement and having the opportunity to balance work time with family needs as most important. To attract and retain employees, employers will need to create a culture that is more responsive to employee needs and values. In an uncertain labor market where job openings outnumber applicants, assessing the local market of employee desires and sources of discontent will be crucial for any employer to stand out.

It is time for employers to evaluate existing employment practices and look for new opportunities to meet the expectations of their employees. Employers want their employees to be committed to their jobs, but employees want employers to show commitment to them. It is a two-way street.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be honest with ourselves and others – and then act accordingly!

To stay abreast of employee benefits, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

New Kaiser Survey on Employer Health Coverage Released

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released its 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey on November 10. The results provide an important glimpse into what is happening to employer-sponsored health insurance around the U.S.  Overall, Kaiser surveyed 1,686 non-federal public and private organizations with three or more employees, and from this number, 523 employers were located in 12 Midwestern states (an average of 44 employers per state). The Kaiser study does not break out the results by each state, only by region.

Unlike the results found in the 2020 survey, this year’s survey provides a much better representation of how employer-sponsored health insurance has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Additionally, KFF revised the 2021 survey to reflect changes employers and health plans made to address potential issues and uncertainties arising from the pandemic. The survey took place from mid-January through July of this year.

Key Findings by Kaiser

The Kaiser survey is very helpful because it documents national health trends for employer-sponsored plans. Some of the key findings in 2021 include the following:

  • About 59 percent of employers offer health benefits, a percentage much like the previous year. Similar to Iowa, the larger the employer, the more likely health benefits are offered. About half (49 percent) of U.S. organizations with 3 – 9 employees offer health coverage, and nearly all (99 percent) of the organizations surveyed by Kaiser with at least 200 employees offer health coverage.
  • The average single and family premiums increased by four percent over the past year, while worker’s wages increased by 5 percent and inflation increased by 1.9 percent.
  • The average annual premium for single health coverage is now $7,739 ($7,470 last year), while the average family health premium is at $22,221 ($21,342). Over the last five years, the family premium has increased over 22 percent, and over the last 10 years, it has increased 47 percent.
  • On average, covered workers contribute 17 percent of the total single coverage premium ($1,299 annual) and 28 percent of the premium for family coverage ($5,969 annual). In our 2019 Iowa study, we found that covered workers contributed 18.6 percent for single coverage while workers for family coverage contributed 30 percent of the premium.
  • The average single deductible found by Kaiser now stands at $1,669, which is remarkably similar to last year’s $1,644 average. In 2021, 85 percent of covered workers have a deductible in their plan, similar to last year (83 percent).
  • Fifty-eight percent of small firms and 83 percent of large organizations address health risks and unhealthy behaviors by offering a wellness or health promotion program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management, and behavioral or lifestyle coaching.
  • Telemedicine, which includes video chats and remote monitoring, continues to be very popular. In 2021, 95 percent of organizations with 50 or more employees that offer health insurance cover some healthcare services through telemedicine in their largest health plan, up from 67 percent three years ago.
  • Organizations with at least 50 employees were asked about changes they made to their health plans (after COVID-19 began) regarding mental health coverage for their employees. The results:
    • 31 percent expanded ways through which enrollees could get mental health or substance abuse services – such as telemedicine.
    • 16 percent developed new resources, such as employee assistance programs.
    • Six percent expanded the number of mental health or substance abuse providers in their plans’ networks.
    • Four percent waived or reduced cost-sharing for mental health or substance abuse services.
  • Health Care Price Transparency – Health insurance plans, including self-funded employers, will be required to make information available to enrollees about the estimated cost of services and cost sharing on a “real-time” basis. Twenty-six percent of large employers believe that providing employees with additional information about the cost of services will help their healthcare decision-making “a great deal” and an additional 50 percent responded that it will help their decision-making “somewhat.” Only three percent of large employers say the new transparency rules will reduce health spending “a great deal,” while 15 percent said they will reduce health spending “not at all.” Thirty-eight percent believe the new rules will reduce spending “somewhat” and 40 percent responded that spending will reduce by “very little.”

The Kaiser study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs.

To stay abreast of employee benefits, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Mandating COVID Shots – Part II

There is a major new development that may impact the number of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. Just this Monday (August 23), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals, ages 16 years and older. Prior to this, the vaccine was available under emergency use only, which is still the case for individuals, ages 12 through 15, and for “the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.”

This full approval cannot come soon enough. According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, about 2,200 new COVID-19 cases are occurring each day in Iowa. A recent study published in Health Affairs found that COVID-19 vaccines prevented nearly 140,000 deaths during the first five months of the vaccine campaign. This number is approximately the size of Cedar Rapids. Finally, a Kaiser Family Foundation research brief published last week reveals that about 113,000 Americans could have avoided being hospitalized in June and July if they had received the COVID vaccine – which amounted to an estimated cost of $2.3 billion.

For individuals and employers on the fence about whether to obtain (or mandate) vaccinations, this latest move by the FDA signals that the (Pfizer) vaccine was determined to be both safe and effective – far outweighing the potential risks. The two shots together were found to be 91 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 and potentially serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death. The full approval by the FDA provides a stronger, fortified reason for employers to consider implementing – if desired – a vaccine mandate at the workplace.

New Reports that may Help Employers

I must give a big thanks to the May 20 podcast of Tradeoffs that addressed the employer mandate issue. This particular episode provides much of the background information that I am about to share on WHY employers might seriously consider mandating vaccine shots to their employees.

  1. Requiring Vaccines Actually Works

    Many studies show that, by mandating vaccinations at work – such as the flu shot – more people get vaccinated. Nursing homes and other healthcare settings (hospitals included) spell this out. For employers in other sectors, having more workers vaccinated will translate to having a safer work environment that results in fewer sick days and a smaller probability of new virus strains developing.

  2. Vaccines Reduce Community Spread

    According to a new study in The Journal of Human Resources by Corey White, a Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo health economist, California hospitals and counties that implemented influenza vaccine mandates for their employees found there was an uptick of flu shots by about 10 percentage points. But just as importantly, there was a 40 percent drop in the number of patients who caught the flu at the hospital, in addition to a 20 percent drop in people coming into the hospital with the flu. White calls this a ‘positive externality’ benefit, as it benefits not only the person getting the vaccine, but also reduces the risk of spreading the disease to others. It must be noted this may not be a perfect generalized finding for non-medical employers, but it does suggest that any employer, regardless of size and industry, may greatly impact their own community with such a mandate. This is especially true if many customers visit popular businesses throughout the community – such as restaurants and grocery stores.

    We also know that because COVID has become more politicized than the flu, mandating COVID shots may elicit a stronger response from employees than a simple flu mandate.

  1. Provide Exemptions, But Stay Vigilant About Asking Employees

    Brandyn Churchill, a Vanderbilt PhD candidate, released a study that found an 11 percent increase in the number of Washington D.C. school girls receiving the HPV vaccine by allowing parents to make the decision once a year, rather than only asking one time. The study suggests that employers, who may be concerned with employee backlash, can provide ‘generous exemptions’ to their mandates – such as for medical reasons or religious objections – but still increase vaccination rates if they repeatedly approach their employees about getting vaccinated. According to Churchill, how opt-outs are designed can actually lead more employees to getting vaccinated. From his study, it is unknown whether the uptick resulted from the HPV vaccine becoming more normalized during a period of time and therefore more accepted by parents, or because parents were asked more frequently to vaccinate their daughters. Churchill believes both reasons helped push the vaccination rate upwards. The takeaway from this study is that vaccine-hesitant people should be given plenty of opportunities and have options that are based on credible and relevant information. Over time, the vaccination rates will rise.

Final Thoughts…

It is true that in the new world in which we live, COVID is a wild-card on how employees will accept a workplace vaccination mandate. Will our ‘liberties’ be lost, or will we finally gain our freedom from this pandemic? Because the information on COVID-19 is so imperfect and ever-evolving, the delicate balance of providing caveats and caution must be used by employers to ensure that trust is built and maintained for a more informed workforce. The full approval by the FDA for the Pfizer vaccine is a good step toward increasing the vaccination rate. Hopefully, when thorough and appropriate analysis has been completed on the other two vaccines, additional approvals will be forthcoming.

From this, we can all benefit.

NOTE: For additional background on this topic, please see my August 4 blog, Can Employers Mandate COVID Shots?

To stay abreast of employee benefits, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.