Employee healthcare plans are dropping dead fast

It's going to be a while before (and if) the Obama Administration can put its healthcare-for-all plan in place, but I wonder if any employers will still be offering healthcare plans by that time.

A new survey out this month by workforce research firm Hewitt Associates found that 19% of the 343 employers it asked are planning to stop offering health benefits over the next three to five years. That's a fourfold jump from just last year, when only 4% were planning an exit strategy. (Thanks, Workforce.com)

For those who still offer health benefits for the employees they don't lay off, keeping workers healthy is the major workforce issue this year, up from #2 on the list in 2008. Actually the term they used is "promoting employee accountability" and the specific health conditions they're going to be on the lookout for in their workforce are asthma, cardiovascular disease, depression and diabetes. So don't expect free doughnuts on Friday even when the economy bounces back, but maybe they'll keep the mental-health counselor on staff?
Regarding their thoughts about the Obama plan, 60% said the federal government should take the lead on healthcare reform, while 33% said the Feds and the states should share responsibility. Half of them say Obama's healthcare proposals will affect their current healthcare strategies -- although evidence shows that his latest moves are already having an effect.

That's because as part of the stimulus package recently passed, Congress is requiring employers to pay 65% of workers' COBRA insurance premiums for nine months (this applies to workers laid off between September 1, 2008 and December 31 of this year.) Employers can recoup that money from the government through a payroll tax credit or direct reimbursement, but a Crain's Cleveland Business article says the problem for businesses is paying those costs up front. Lawyer Patti Weisburg says the mandate could slow down hiring in better times because up-front premium costs are making employers lay off people in the first place. "Our small companies can't even get a loan to do business," much less afford COBRA premiums.

No doubt, it's tough all around for employers, their remaining employees and everyone else temporarily out of the workforce. There's no clue about what it will take to lasso this sinkhole of a problem. Until government tries out its own remedy for health insurance, the best bet for all of us is to work out regularly, eat right and keep as sane as we can.

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