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By 2025, 38 Percent of State & Local Budgets will be Consumed by Healthcare

Do you ever wonder why so many of my blogs are about healthcare? It’s actually quite simple. The healthcare ‘problem’ is constant, unbridled, unsustainable, frustrating and largely because it is covered in green – money green.

The cost of healthcare has been, and continues to be, the bane of existence in our lives. It has become the new ‘weather’ in our discussions, as most everyone talks about it, but very little has been done to change it.

Another example of just how dangerous healthcare costs have become was recently reported by Fitch Ratings, a financial information services organization with operations in more than 30 countries. Their analysis states (suggests) that rising health insurance costs and retirement rates will increase budgetary pressure on U.S. state and local governments – which will adversely impact their financial ratings.

Developing their own 10-year scenario analysis for state and local budget allocations, Fitch assumed that healthcare and pension expenses would continue to grow rapidly while no policies would be implemented to offset this growth. From this, Fitch found that healthcare and social services would increase from annual budgets of 27.6 percent in 2005 to an estimated 38.3 percent by 2025. Consequently, budgets for state and local spending for education, transportation/public safety/environmental and housing would each decrease, largely due to being crowded-out by growing healthcare costs.

Inaction during this time (2018-2025) by local and state policymakers and administrators will only cause this problem to fester – the proverbial “can being kicked down the road” for later generations to tackle. State and local budgets cannot afford this to happen, not now, and certainly not in the future.

One need look no further than what is happening in our public-school systems here in Iowa and around the country. Paychecks for teachers have become skimpier, causing school teachers, students and supporters to strike. A recent story by Kaiser Health paints a very realistic picture of what Fitch’s findings reveal for our state and local communities in the months and years to come.

On top of the Fitch analysis, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on employer-sponsored healthcare projects a six percent medical-cost growth in 2019. Although this growth rate is similar to the past five-year trend in medical cost growth, it nonetheless continues to exceed the annual consumer price index (CPI). This presents the “unsustainable” cost paradigm for consumers and employers who foot the majority of the medical bills through higher premiums, deductibles and charges. Having access to healthcare remains important, but so too, are controlling the cost of the care received. Healthcare prices are largely opaque, requiring a persistent push for price and outcome transparencies that have so far eluded the healthcare industry.

As far back as 442 B.C., Sophocles expressed the message don’t blame the person who brings bad news. With that said, hey, I’m only the messenger – don’t shoot me!

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The Value of Employee Benefits…
It’s a Passing Parade

Portland Grand Floral Parade 2016

Portland Grand Floral Parade 2016

On the eve of receiving our new 2016 Iowa Employer Benefits Study survey results, I once again have a great deal of anticipation about what this data may reveal. At this point, I only know that 1,014 randomly-selected employers responded to this survey which continues to exceed our annual goal of 1,000. A big ‘thank you’ to all organizations that took the time to participate in this annual work!

Offering workplace employee benefits has been happening for decades. From the employee perspective, receiving various workplace perks is a staple expectation when being interviewed and ultimately hired by most employers. In fact, recent research conducted by staffing and HR service company, Randstad US, shows that jobseekers most value salary, employee benefits, long-term job stability and a pleasant work environment.

Employers, for their part, offer employees and jobseekers a cadre of benefits they believe to be highly-valued by their mainstream targeted ‘audience.’ But it is extremely important for employers to dissect their intended audience by gender, age groups (e.g. generation), location, race and other factors that will help clarify the benefit ‘value’ employees desire. By not doing so, a disconnect will eventually occur, resulting in a large chasm of a wasted investment that is costly, both in terms of money and desired human capital.

Conducting biannual employee engagement surveys may eliminate much of the guesswork that employers have when trying to predict which future strategies to embrace. I suspect that a healthy chunk of employers put their human investment strategies on cruise control assuming that the desires of employees five or ten years ago will still apply in today’s world. Most often, they do not.

Much like a New Year’s Day or Fourth of July parade, a perpetual flow of people (and floats) coming and going will not be replicated again. In a similar fashion, so does the employment pool that organizations continue to encounter.

One example on how employers respond to the ‘new parade’ of employees can be found through three employers: Aetna, Fidelity and PricewaterhouseCoopers. All three have launched their own student loan matching programs for employees who are pursuing undergraduate and/or graduate-level degrees.

Beginning in 2017, Aetna’s full-time employees will qualify for matching loan payments of up to $2,000 per year, totaling $10,000 per student. Part-timers will receive half of this amount by pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees from accredited institutions.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), about 3% to 4% of all U.S. companies contribute to employees’ student debt payments to help soften the financial burden they increasingly face. About 71% of college graduates carry student loan debt, totaling $1.3 trillion of student debt in this country. A need clearly exists to help alleviate financial hardships and new approaches must be pursued.

Our annual study’s purpose is to survey employers about the key benefits they offer at this particular point in time. It allows employers to compare their benefits with the mainstream. However, the juxtaposition of organization culture and employee attributes can allow any organization to stake a claim on having a competitive advantage when attracting and retaining their most prized asset – the employee. To do this, the organization will need to account for what is most important and valued by their employee population.

So enjoy this year’s parade, but be ready for upcoming attractions that may appear in the next one.

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