During the course of 2009, an alarming trend line was broken. For the first time ever, more employers under 50 employees were not offering medical insurance to employees than those who continued to provide employer sponsored healthcare.
Unfortunately, achieving affordability is often a zero sum game and the current system often fails the weakest and most disenfranchised of its stakeholders. While the burden of spiraling healthcare costs has effected virtually every employer, the weight of cost increases has been borne disproportionately by individuals and smaller employers (1-250 employees). The opaque science of risk pooling, cost shifting and risk selection has as much to do with unacceptable increases as poor consumerism, over treatment and inefficiency. As we march toward insurance exchanges and pooled purchasing for employers in 2014, we will continue to witness a game of pass the parcel leaving smaller employers holding the bag.
Healthcare cost shifting begins at the highest levels with federal and state governments routinely cost shifting to the private sector by serially under-reimbursing specialists and hospitals for the cost of their services. Doctors and hospitals, in turn, shift cost to the private sector charging higher fees for services to make up for underfunded Medicare and Medicaid rates. Health systems have consolidated along with multi-specialty medical groups gaining critical bargaining power that results in higher contracted rate increases negotiated with insurers. Insurers, attempting to keep rising medical trends down, must exact concessions from less well leveraged providers such as community based hospitals and primary care doctors. The result is an Darwinian landscape where only the large survive.
As core medical trends hover between 7%-8%, insurer insured book of business medical trends have climbed into and remain in double digits. Larger employers remain more immune from peanut butter spread book of business trends due to their own unique claim credibility and in many instances, due to the simple act of self insurance. Lack of size and actuarial credibility leaves smaller employers and individuals to be underwritten within pools of risk — pools that continue to pass on the rising costs of care at an alarming rate. To add insult to injury, as states and the Federal government become increasingly larger medical payers (already representing over 50% of all medical spend in the US), cost shifting will only accelerate in the private sector resulting in higher medical trends impacting smaller employer pools.Continue reading…