KeepHealthCare.ORG – Colorado employers are pushing higher health care costs to workers, report says – The Denver Post
A new report released this week reveals that the cost of health insurance for employers in Colorado is increasing faster than the national average — and that employers are often pushing that added cost onto their workers.
Meanwhile, an annual study released last year found, for the first time in its history, that the percentage of Coloradans covered by an employer-based plan had dropped below 50 percent. Taken together, the two reports paint a worrisome picture for employer-based insurance, the workhorse of Colorado’s health coverage system.
People who get health insurance through their work generally haven’t had to deal with the extreme price increases that people who buy insurance themselves have. But the new reports show they are still being squeezed — just more slowly — as employers grapple with constantly changing insurance rules and rates.
“It’s hard for employers to look out into the future and see what it will look like and be able to plan for that,” said Beth Brown, a consultant at the Denver-based Employers Council.
Here, then, are some answers to questions about the two reports:
What’s new this week?
Lockton, a professional services firm, released a survey finding that the cost of employer-based health insurance plans in Colorado increased in 2017 by an average of 7.7 percent, faster than the increase in 2016 and about 1.5 percentage points faster than the national average.
Employers mitigated these cost increases mostly by tinkering with the design of health plans — pushing higher premiums and deductibles onto workers, trying to make greater use of telemedicine and limited networks of doctors, or, in some cases, switching insurance companies altogether. The result was that employers saw an effective increase in health insurance costs of 5.8 percent.
Why does this matter?
The changes mean that workers might be paying more upfront for health insurance or more in deductibles before insurance actually kicks in. But the cost increases for employers could have other impacts, as well.
A separate study this week ranked Colorado only 19th in the country for wage growth. The Lockton survey found that employers are factoring rising health insurance costs into overall compensation packages for workers.
“The labor climate requires competitive wages but has produced a reemergence of benefits as a primary total rewards tool,” the report stated.
Why is employer-sponsored insurance so significant?
Colorado currently has a record-low uninsured rate, but those who have insurance are spread around into different pools. Medicaid and Medicare — which generally pay less than doctors and hospitals would like to receive for their services — cover about 35 percent of the state, while about 8 percent of people buy coverage on their own. Employers have always covered the bulk of Coloradans, and their private insurance plans provide generous reimbursements that hospitals say are necessary for them to stay afloat.
That makes the decline of people with employer-sponsored coverage so eye-catching. When the Colorado Health Institute did its first Health Access Survey in 2009, almost 58 percent of the state had employer-based coverage. That share dipped to 49 percent in the most recent survey, and, except for one blip in between, it’s been a steady drop.
Does that mean the end is near for employer-based coverage?
Probably not. The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — requires bigger companies to provide health insurance. Federal data show that a higher percentage of all employers in Colorado offered health insurance in 2016 compared to 2013, said Jaclyn Zubrzycki, an analyst with the Colorado Health Institute.
So that makes the decline in the percentage of people saying they have insurance through an employer puzzling. Zubrzycki said she expects to have a follow-up report on the issue completed in the next couple of months.
“There is a trend happening here,” she said. “… But it’s definitely not gone. It’s still something that many employers offer.”