Back Button
Menu Button

Scary 13 Year Trend

Iowa Employer Benefits StudyI’ll admit it. I’m somewhat of a self-described GEEK! I love numbers, statistics, trends…I love stories!

That is why I enjoy research. Trends that germinate from research can ultimately tell stories. Iowa has a story…unfortunately, a very common (and scary) story.

One comparison slide that I put together provides a very interesting ‘story’ about what is happening to health insurance rates both in Iowa and nationally. This slide (see below) demonstrates that Iowa is not immune from the disturbing trend that the Kaiser/HRET Survey has revealed for the past thirteen years (1999 through 2011) in the U.S. When I superimpose our Iowa study results with the Kaiser results, the trends are eerily similar. OK, downright scary!

David P. Lind Benchmark

The Kaiser single coverage annual premium (light green bar), has increased by 147 percent from 1999 to 2011. By comparison, the Iowa single coverage annual premium (DPLB Single) increased by 145 percent during that same period. In 2011, the national single premium is about 7.5 percent higher than Iowa’s average single premium. By contrast, the average national family premium is 13.4 percent higher than Iowa’s family premium. If anything, Iowa is fortunate to have lower than average insurance premiums when compared to the rest of the country.

But the trend we see in Iowa employer premiums is alarming. We may have lower premiums than many other states, but our premium growth rate appears to be very comparable to the national average – which is not a flattering compliment to Iowa. It is important for Iowa employers to compete both nationally and globally by having quality health care at affordable costs. Clearly, the trends we see on this particular slide are devastating to employers within and outside of Iowa.

I look forward to continuing this ‘story’ to see how health reform will affect these trends. What is your guess? 

 

Wellness – Size Seems to Matter

David P. Lind BenchmarkSize really does matter – it appears.

For many years, we have asked thousands of Iowa employers whether they offer some type of wellness initiative, and if so, what components do they include in their program. From our 2011 Study, we do know that Iowa employers offer the following wellness initiatives:

  • 44 percent offer Medical Information to their employees through a website, newsletter, etc.
  • 26 percent of Health Screening Programs
  • 23 percent offer Smoking Cessation Programs
  • 22 percent offer Chronic Disease Management Programs
  • 21 percent offer Health Risk Assessment Programs
  • 21 percent offer Health Club discount/reimbursement Programs
  • 18 percent offer Weight Control Programs

When we look a bit closer at these numbers, we see a very consistent theme (found in all past studies) – smaller employers are clearly less likely to embrace wellness initiatives (see below).

 David P. Lind Benchmark

A few primary reasons that smaller employers do not offer wellness initiatives relates to cost and time. Smaller employers have fewer resources than their larger counterparts, and therefore desire to spend their time and money on keeping their business, well, in business! For the typical small Iowa employer, focusing on the basics of their business is paramount to surviving in these harsh economic times.

Due to sheer cost, offering health insurance might be considered a ‘necessary evil’. But offering health coverage allows the employer to compete with other employers for qualified workforce talent. From our studies, we know that smaller employers are less likely to offer health insurance to their employees. Compared to larger Iowa employers, small employers tend to receive higher rate adjustments to their health plans, year after year. From this, small employers are forced to drastically change plan designs that shift additional costs to employees through higher deductibles and copayments. When employees have to pay more through higher cost shifting, many may forgo (or delay) seeking health care services altogether. This unintended consequence can be detrimental to the long term interests of small employers.

It may be time for smaller employers to reconsider offering sensible wellness initiatives – perhaps not to expect immediate relief in health insurance premiums, but to promote a healthier, more productive workforce. Size should not really matter when it comes to having a healthy workforce.

 

A More Sensible Lifestyle

Now here is a study to stand up and take notice.

According to researchers who used data collected for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), reducing the number of hours spent watching television to fewer than two hours every day may extend life expectancy by nearly 1.4 years. In addition, if we can just limit our sitting down each day to no more than 3 hours, we can also increase our life expectancy by as much as two years!

I have read articles about sedentary life and the adverse outcomes that follow…higher obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, etc. This study goes a step further by linking lower life expectancy to the unhealthy lifestyle choices we make, namely, living a sedentary life. The study does acknowledge, however, that the researchers “assume” a causal association rather than “proving” that sedentary lifestyle will negatively impact how long we may ultimately live. This seems to be an intuitive assumption…so I’ll buy into this.

As organizations attempt to make a more positive impact to the health of their employees, maybe Iowa employers should find creative ways to keep their employees standing for longer periods…such as providing adjustable desks that allow employees to stand up when using computers and phones, require staff meetings to be shorter in duration (less sitting), or simply encourage walking breaks. Standing all day at work, however, can cause our bodies to endure the natural force of gravity, pulling the body down and causing the muscles to be tense…resulting in pain, etc.

Clearly, living a more moderate lifestyle between sitting and standing seems to make the most sense!