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Employers continue to shift health insurance costs to workers

Health Care and Health Insurance
by David Dillon
Costs for health insurance are declining nationwide
Costs for health insurance are declining nationwide

The world of health insurance is changing rapidly these days, in no small part due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's various regulatory changes. Part of the impact of the health care law seems to have been that businesses that provide their employees with coverage continue to shift a large and growing portion of the costs of care onto those workers as a means of improving their own bottom lines and keeping such offerings sustainable.

The problem for consumers in these cases is that, of course, they're probably paying more for coverage without much in the way of commensurate increases in their pay, according to a report from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. These often manifest as higher co-pays and deductibles, but can also come in the form of pure premium increases, or even reduced access to care as it relates to doctor or network choice.

What does that mean for consumers?
Effectively, what the shift in benefit costs onto employees equates to is a decrease in pay for doing the same job, since more of their salary will go toward the same - or potentially worsening - coverage, the report said. That, in turn, may make them more reticent to seek medical care, even if they need it, because they might be worried about the high deductibles or the growing co-pays. And when people get health care less often, the chances that they run into greater health difficulties increases.

This may also be compounded by the fact that many companies often no longer allow their workers' spouses to be on their health insurance at all, the report said. This is particularly true of small businesses with greater concern over maintaining a strong bottom line, but it has a potentially devastating effect on the ability of those workers to get affordable care when they need it. And affordability will be crucial here because of how such treatment will take up a larger portion of their take-home pay going forward.

Should consumers pay more for the same health insurance?Should consumers pay more for the same health insurance?

What are companies doing?
However, in addition to this, it should be noted that many firms are also doing more to enroll in wellness programs that can once again help to bring down costs, meaning that they might not have to shift quite so much onto their employees going forward, the report said. However, some experts believe these might not be beneficial to all employees, as it may be harder for some to get into shape or kick unhealthy habits, even with incentives. Further, because some of these wellness programs also punish unhealthy habits, it could actually have a deleterious effect on morale and bottom lines alike.

Certainly, it might be wise for health insurers to work with companies and consumers to help them understand the ways in which such decisions end up impacting all involved. The more that can be done to keep people as healthy and with as much ready access to care as they need, the better off everyone will be.



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