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But a funny thing happened: With the government mandating that employers provide coverage for employees or face penalties, many companies began to deeply research the policies they offer and trim what they don't have to provide.
Companies shift more health costs onto workers
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"As businesses try to shave expenses, there's no getting around it, this is a very expensive area of health care," said Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt. "The question is, is that practice becoming more prevalent? Absolutely. Did the ACA accelerate that practice? Arguably yes. The ACA may have rolled it forward a year or two, but that was on the horizon.
"Any time you're dealing with something that has to do with health, potentially life and death, and there's a lot of money on the line, and you don't have a frame of reference, it makes it very challenging to figure out what to do," Morgan said. "And we just had more questions than we had answers."
average, $5,900 in total annual premiums for employer sponsored coverage. On average, family plans cost more than $16,300. "With employees' costs for medical coverage growing much more quickly than general inflation, hourly earnings and family income, some workers are inevitably (being) priced out of coverage," the study Omega Seamaster Chronograph Co Axial
All of a sudden, he had to examine his insurance options more closely than he ever had before.
It's a high cost that companies have long wanted to shed. And in the wake of health reform, they are taking action. Over the next four years, the study said, 69 percent of employers plan to shift more of the cost of health care onto employees. In real terms, that can mean much higher premiums for people, especially for employees trying to get coverage for their families.
With employers frozen, the onus is on the individual to act, which is easier said than done.
By comparison, the study estimates 31 million members of the workforce will get their insurance through the federal health exchange by 2018.
Eventually, the type of coverage will change, too. The NIHM predicts that by 2018, 40 million American employees will be enrolled in private exchanges. In this model, employers may give employees a set amount to help buy health coverage. The company will offer a selection of plans that workers can choose from. If they choose a plan that is more expensive than the employer's contribution, the employee must pay the difference.
Clay Morgan re examined his insurance options after a move to Tennessee pushed him into a much more expensive plan. He decided to put himself and his daughter, Elaine, on a BlueCross BlueShield family plan. His wife, Laura, is on a high deductible individual plan.(Photo: Karen Kraft / The Tennessean)
"My wife was three weeks pregnant just barely," Morgan said. "I was floored, absolutely livid about it."
Morgan, for example, is a small business owner. He runs a local office for BNI, the world's largest business networking organization. For several years, he's bought insurance without an employer in between. But moving to Nashville wiped his family's coverage record with his carrier, and, like employees across the country, he was faced with the option of starting over.
In April, business executive Clay Morgan found his family's health insurance in limbo after he moved across state lines from Kentucky to Nashville. Merely updating his address with his carrier wound up pushing him into a different, much more expensive plan.
Families across the country are experiencing a similar phenomenon as companies roll out their enrollments benefits packages this fall. Companies are bracing for the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and many are changing the health benefits they offer employees. That probably means that they are accelerating the trend of transferring more of the cost of care onto their workers. Employees, many who have been thrust into the role of health care consumer for the first time, are struggling to decide what to do.
"The challenge we're seeing right now during open enrollment season, for employers, is that they're trying to make the right decision about what's in the best interest of their employees and the company," said Austin Madison, vice president at Nashville insurer Crichton Group. But now, he says, "It's kind of like death by information overload."
Most American workers get insurance through their employers, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Management. As of 2011, the study said, more than half of the 75 million non elderly people with jobs in the private sector were insured through firms with more than 500 employees. One quarter were insured through firms with 50 or fewer people on staff.
Employers aren't necessarily using that scapegoat to be nefarious, Haile added they're confused, too.
One of the big items on many a chopping Omega Gold Watches For Men block is coverage for spouses, for instance.
employers who are increasing the cost for workers are blaming Obamacare," Haile said. "It's a very convenient scapegoat."
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The cost of insuring the majority of the American workforce doesn't come cheap. Health insurance costs ate 7.7 percent of total payroll expenses for private sector employers in 2012, according to the NIHM study.
In the interim, however, companies and the people they employ are struggling to navigate an uncertain system. The ACA does not offer much of a roadmap. It does mandate that companies with more than 50 people insure employees. Those that don't will face fines. Originally scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, that tax has been delayed until 2015 to give employers more time to comply.
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