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Waiting for 2014 and Beyond

David P. Lind BenchmarkUncertainty remains…we continue to wait.

A Deloitte study was released on July 24 indicating that 9 percent of employers in the U.S. said they may stop offering health insurance in the next three years. Based on numerous study results from last year, this number is not at all surprising. In fact, we surveyed Iowa employers last summer and found that less than 6 percent of employers reported the possibility of dropping health coverage when 2014 arrives (see below).

2011 Iowa Employer Benefits Study 

So what gives? Why do employers feel that they may no longer offer coverage? For one, in 2014 employers with over 50 employees who fail to offer minimum essential coverage will incur a penalty of up to $2,000 annually per employee. In addition, if employees are required to pay more than 9.5 percent of their income for self-only coverage, the employer would be penalized $3,000 per year, per full-time employee who enrolls in the exchange and is eligible for government subsidies…a non-deductible expense to the employer.

Perhaps another more plausible approach employers might take would be to pursue a “defined contribution” strategy whereby the employer provides a defined amount of money to each employee who will then purchase coverage through the exchange. Keep in mind that by 2014, individuals will not have to worry about pre-existing conditions when applying for individual coverage. Employers may find this approach more palatable than offering their own health plan, which takes time and resources to keep the plan in compliance (and remain competitive).

When we asked Iowa employers whether they would terminate their current group medical plan, pay the $2,000 penalty per employee, and increase employee compensation with the money saved from dropping health coverage, less than 1 percent said they were “very likely” to pursue this approach (see below).

 2011 Iowa Employer Benefits Study

There are many studies to draw from when attempting to understand what employers will do in 2014 and beyond. Needless to say, there is still much confusion from the employer community about how the health reform law will impact their health coverage.

Playing a “wait and see” approach may be the most logical strategy for the time being.

New Beginnings for Benchmarking Benefits in Iowa

David P. Lind BenchmarkSince 1999, my firm has surveyed Iowa employers to learn about the benefits they offer to their employees. The “Iowa Employer Benefits Study” has revealed many key facts that allow employers, regardless of size and industry, to determine annually how competitive their benefits are when attempting to attract and retain employees. After all, to be successful, employers MUST have the right employees when competing locally, nationally and globally. This is a fact of business life!

Prior to 2012, our surveys have randomly-selected Iowa employers once a year. Annual surveys are really a “snap-shot” in time, allowing us to sample a particular population for that time period and compare the results to previous years’ results.  Doing this has provided a wealth of data on employee benefit trends that provides meaningful information for employers, policy-makers, the media, etc. This work also allows us to compare different industries within Iowa to one another. All industries, by the way, are NOT created equal! There are inherent issues within each industry that impacts the type of benefits offered to employees…and the costs can be considerably different when comparing industries.

Beginning in 2012, we have updated our survey process to make it even more fresh, relevant, local and customized for the Iowa employer. Instead of surveying all industries at the same time each year, we are staggering the survey process to allow a greater likelihood of observing trends sooner, rather than later.

Here’s how it will work:

Every two months, beginning in January and February of 2012, we will survey just one major Iowa industry. For example, we just finished surveying the Manufacturing industry in Jan/Feb, and we are now “interviewing” the Retail sector for March and April. The other survey periods for 2012 include:

  • May/June – Finance and Insurance
  • July/August – Healthcare & Social Services
  • September/October – All Other Sectors not interviewed in the other five periods
  • November/December – All State & Local Governments

In 2013 and beyond, the process will be repeated as mentioned above. During any given survey period, new questions can be added once new trends and developments have been identified, including new questions about health reform issues, wellness initiatives, and employer attitudes on various subject matter, to name a few.

In addition to having on-going “fresh” data, we will seek a higher number of respondents for each industry than we have in the past, making our already credible survey even more robust! Our studies have consistently interviewed over 900 employers in each of the last several years…and we will now add to this number under the new survey process.

If your organization is randomly selected to participate in this new and improved study, I highly encourage you to participate (if you already have, we thank you!). By participating in this important research, you will receive an overall summary of the survey results that will help your organization compare itself to other Iowa employers. If your organization has not been randomly selected to be surveyed, don’t despair, you still have access to this information. Should you wish to have an easily customized benchmark analysis with other Iowa employers both within and outside your industry, you can perform this anytime here. New and improved benchmark programs will also be developed within the near future! Many changes are being made to this landmark study, but its’ integrity remains unchanged. You have my word on that!

Here’s to a new beginning – for all of us!  

 

Health Reform…Are You a Skeptic?

David P. Lind BenchmarkAs an employer, what do YOU think of health reform? Will it successfully attack rising health insurance rates that you continue to pay year after year? Will the Iowa health insurance exchange in 2014 make any difference for small employers? What about the Supreme Court’s involvement?

Most of these questions (and many others) were asked of Iowa employers in our 2011 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. So how did they respond? They’re a skeptical bunch.

  • 54 percent either “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that the health law should be repealed completely
  • 68 percent at least somewhat agree that the law should be repealed in some parts only, while keeping other parts of the law intact
  • 65 percent believe employer health plan costs with increase because of health care reform
  • Only 17 percent agree that a state-based insurance exchange will keep health insurance rates lower than without health reform (41 percent are unsure)
  • 54 percent believe the provision of the law to require coverage (or pay a fine) should be repealed (also known as the individual mandate)
  • 51 percent want a repeal of the provision that requires employers with over 50 employees to either continue offering coverage or pay an annual penalty of $2,000 per employee.

Iowa employers do, however, support the provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals due to poor health. I think this is one part of the law that most everyone agrees we should keep…but to do so, insurance companies need the assurance they are covering healthy people too.

All of this leads to the Supreme Court hearing arguments in late March about challenges to this law, specifically the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance and of provisions requiring states to expand eligibility for their Medicaid programs. Based from the arguments, it is likely the Supreme Court will issue a written opinion before the close of the current term in June, 2012.

STAY TUNED…regardless of the outcome, we will continue to see rising health care costs (and insurance premiums) for the unforeseeable future. Iowa employers have reasons to remain skeptical and apprehensive for the time being.