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In search of benefits . . .

December 15, 2009

Health CareYou have to wonder what the insurance companies were thinking. Many, maybe most, small businesses are struggling with cash flow issues; and we all know that. One might expect the insurance executives to be sending out the word to agents and brokers that in light of the “predatory government regulatory atmosphere,” there shall be no premium increases for small business clients. Apparently that hasn’t happened. Instead monumental premium increases are hitting small businesses.

One small business owner I know, a staunch conservative and very pro business, was adamantly against ANY government intervention in healthcare. The only thing she felt was useful was to have government remove the interstate barriers to competition among insurance companies. Then the bill came to renew the insurance benefits for her employees. The increase was 32%. She is now all for some kind of intervention, not just more competition; maybe not too much public option, but something to help drive down costs. Many small businesses are finding that they cannot afford to be in the insurance benefit program.

On the other hand, you might think that in light of the administrations goals of putting in place more regulations and also initiating a “public option” for insurance, that they would try and keep any perceptions about government interference with health care out of the headlines. Again, the word hasn’t gotten to the committees making recommendations on women’s health. And so we get the news that one of the more effective programs for breast cancer screening is to be deemphasized. The public, helped by the media, interprets this new recommendation as proving that indeed big government wants to get between you and your doctor.

In similar fashion to the business woman above, another woman with whom I have had conversations around the healthcare issues was pretty much convinced that a public option was the only sensible way to contain healthcare costs. Otherwise, the insurance companies will continue to reap huge profits at the expense of policy holders. And, she claimed, the government isn’t really who we need to worry about. It’s the insurance companies who hang us out to dry with fine print and denial of coverage due to trumped up pre-existing condition claims. Needless to say, she’s having second thoughts now based on the Mammogram flap.

So neither side on this argument seems to be paying attention to the public sentiment or the “customer’s issues.” Arrogance is a word that comes to mind.

The major reason that companies are in the benefit business is to have something other than salary on which to compete for good employees. With the increasing cost of drugs, medical insurance and other mandated insurance such as worker’s compensation now going through the ceiling, it may be time to look for some other kind of benefits with which to attract employees. I know this is heresy and I’m sure I’ll get a bunch of “hate mail,” but I’m thinking it’s time to hope that the government does take the health insurance monkey of the backs of our businesses and we can go find other benefits to supply our employees. It’s a chance to maybe level the field again – if costs are really reduced for employees.

The “big boys” will be able to afford the usual benefits for employees. If small businesses can’t, then they won’t be able to attract top notch employees; unless they can offer something else. One idea has surfaced in a new book called the Dream Manager. I’m sure we could come up with other ideas, including paying  higher salaries so our employees can take care of their own insurance (if effective, low cost insurance becomes available). Wellness programs are much needed. The trick will be to greatly reduce the amounts spent on employee health insurance by business and use the savings to fund other innovative benefits.

How about you? What will you do about employee benefits? Are your health insurance premiums sky-rocketing? Will you have to cut back on benefits this year? Do you have other benefits, or plans for new benefits?

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