I was a meeting on health care reform in Wilmington, DE, yesterday and U.S. Senator Thomas Carper, a Democrat representing the state, was on hand to tell us what was in store given the new legislation.
There’s so much in the law that bits and pieces have been coming out slowly, but one key part that caught my interest yesterday was discounts for employees who get healthy, up to 30 percent off their insurance premiums, the senator said.
Carper, a trim man who’s often seen jogging around Wilmington, seemed very excited about this provision in reform. If you lose weight, or bring down your blood pressure, he said, you can get a break on your insurance.
But what about the unhealthy workers among us who struggle with weight and medical issues? Is offering breaks on insurance, or financial rewards of any kind, actually a sneaky tax on the fat and unhealthy among us? (more…)
Many years ago, I volunteered for a nonprofit organization in New York called CancerCare. My work involved visiting with terminally ill patients so their loved ones could take a break from the caregiving process, maybe see a movie or go get their hair cut.
One thing that struck me was when I got to the homes of these families sometimes it was hard to tell the terminally ill patient from the caregiver. Often times the caregivers looked more beaten down and tired than the family member battling cancer.
I thought of this yesterday when I got a study from MetLife about how likely it is for caregivers to have health problems of their own, and how the problems cost employers big bucks every year in absenteeism and healthcare costs. And young adult and male caregivers are among the most at risk for health problems. (more…)
You know the world is coming to an end when the Philadelphia Phillies ban fatty foods for its players.
Turns out many sports teams are trying to get their team members/workers to eat right, according to a story on NPR yesterday that talked about a healthier menu for the San Francisco Giants and other teams:
Baseball players have something new to chew on: In the past few years, major league teams have thrown out fatty foods. At least a third of baseball clubs are recruiting nutritionists to make game day spreads healthier. Now, players are more likely to eat baby carrots than a Baby Ruth.
Baby carrots!? Have we all lost our minds.
There’s a growing movement on the part of many employers across the country to get their workers eating right and getting healthier. The thinking is you can be a more productive employee if you shed a few pounds, and you won’t cost your boss big health care bucks if you can avoid diabetes or heart disease.
There’s nothing more frustrating for a journalist than not getting a straight answer to a question, especially when the question is asked of a bureaucrat that is paid to answer the public’s questions.
And this problem is even worse when it involves people’s lives.
My COBRA column, the first in a two-part series on the healthcare coverage for the jobless, ran this week. It was supposed to answer questions about a relatively new COBRA discount put in place by the Obama administration. The subsidy has been riddled with misinformation and many unemployed individuals didn’t even know they were eligible for it.
Officially known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, COBRA allows workers to remain on health insurance plans offered by their former employers by paying 100 percent of the cost, plus 2 percent in administrative fees. But for many, COBRA insurance is too expensive, costing thousands of dollars annually.
A new law called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, (ARRA) signed by President Obama on Feb. 17, was supposed to change all that by offering a 65 percent discount.
I was hoping to inform readers about the discount, but I think it opened up more questions than it answered.
Since it ran on Tuesday I’ve been flooded with questions from readers.
Some wrote me about the spousal coverage exemption. Basically, if you can get health insurance through your spouse you won’t be eligible for the COBRA subsidy, even though you are eligible for regular COBRA.
One reader named Hal complained that his wife’s health coverage is just too costly for them to afford so they need get the subsidized COBRA instead. He even contacted the Department of Labor to try and appeal his case.
A labor department officials told him to “not even bother appealing my case. He was very callous and I resented his attitude toward the ARRA and anyone needing assistance.” He was also told by a COBRA administrator to “lie on the form where it asked you if you are eligible for any other health care.”
Hal sounds like a nice guy trying to play by the rules. He refuses to lie but he just doesn’t get the sense behind who and who is not eligible.
There is no sense behind this, and the worse part is even the government “experts” don’t know what’s going on.
An IRS official told me workers who had their hours reduced and lost their health insurance, were not eligible for the COBRA subsidy because they were not “involuntarily terminated.” I got this answer after a few days of back and fourth.
Then, after my column comes out a nice woman named Karen sent me an email telling me she indeed had her hours cut but was able to get the COBRA discount.
In March of this year, my fulltime job was cut back to 20 hours per week. As I had surgery for uterine cancer in 2007, I was most worried about losing my healthcare benefits and having a pre-existing condition. Fortunately, the Americans Recovery and Reinvestment Act had just been enacted, and I was told by my employer that, instead of paying the usual 100% of my monthly premium under COBRA, I would now only have to pay an additional 10% over the usual 25% of the portion my employer pays for my monthly premium. What a relief! I actually had a fighting chance to make it financially while working on a part-time basis.
She was worried, based on my story, that they may pull the plug on her discount and she’d have to retroactively pay back the money she had saved. This would be a hardship because she couldn’t afford COBRA without the subsidy and would be in trouble if they wanted the money back.
So, I put my COBRA sheriff’s hat on and headed back into the bureaucratic gun fight.
Yesterday morning, I sent an email to the IRS guy who initially told me only those who were terminated qualified for the subsidy. I haven’t heard back yet.
Maybe I should get Will Smith on this.
UPDATE: Still no answer on my COBRA questions from the IRS. They’re looking for the right person, maybe a lawyer, who can clear things up. Based on my experience, I feel sorry for unemployed people who are desperate for health coverage trying to find out how this all works.
I get pretty emotional during debates. This morning I was on a Michigan radio show called Barnaby & Friends and I know I got a little fired up when I was talking about how Paula Abdul’s lack of a good raise showed the acceptance of pay inequity for women in this country.
Unfortunately, if you get too fired up, too angry, too pissed off, you lose every chance of having a civil conversation. When you treat people with respect they will listen to you. And forget about workplace productivity…nothing gets done.
In many cases of workplace bullying, whether it’s a manager or a rank-and-file employee, the people around such a person shut down, and will look for the next opportunity to get as far away as possible.
Many of you write me about the loss of civility in the workplace, and I’m all about doing something about it.
But what type of example are we setting for our future workers and leaders, aka our kids, if we can’t even be civil during town hall meetings going on now all over the country?
This is a serious issue folks, health care. So many hard-working Americans are worried about their future coverage in the face of escalating premiums, deductibles and copays. And still millions more are worried about what happens when their unemployed. (Check out my first in a two-part series on COBRA on MSNBC.com.)
I don’t care about the debate that there’s some sort of conspiracy behind the raucous behavior. If we can’t discuss the issues like grown ups we’re all doomed.
People want to pass laws for workplace bullying. Maybe we should start outside offices, factories and plants first.
If you’re already getting sick of news stories and commercials about the health care overhaul debate, you’re in big trouble this month.
Both sides are expected to launch major PR campaigns to promote their agendas.
President Obama wants to revamp the health care system, including a publicly run option. Republicans have balked at the cost and fear we could end up with a government takeover of health care, and what tax subsidies to help pay for coverage.
It’s getting ugly on both ends.
Advocates of Obama’s plan claim we’re in for a collapse of the entire system as costs skyrocket, and some claim detractors are in bed with insurance companies or just want to maintain a system that’s been lucrative for the medical profession.
Critics of the plan claim Obama’s vision will bankrupt the government, take away choice for most Americans and essentially be a big plunge into socialism.
And then we have the rest of us out there taking one side or the other based on our biases and ignorance, but not on health care facts.
One of the biggest issues for both sides of this debate are the working Americans who have pretty stable health insurance coverage from their employers.
But most of you don’t even know what you’ve got and how much it costs.
I’m working on a column right now for MSNBC.com on COBRA insurance, offering laid of workers 18 months of coverage after they’ve been laid off, and I’ve been amazed at how few workers knew how much their employers were paying for coverage.
COBRA is a great safety net, but it’s very expensive. Basically you have to pay the entire premium your employer was paying plus 2 percent for administrative costs. COBRA is not free. (I’m working on a column about a subsidy that is now available to help workers pay for a big chunk of the cost that will appear next week.)
Almost everyone I’ve interviewed for this story was shocked at how much their employer was paying. They’ve noticed their premiums climbing and their coverage getting less and less robust, but few took the time to see what the over all costs were.
If you’re worried about your premiums rising it might be a good idea to check out what the total cost is and how that’s rising so you can figure out for yourself if our health care system can sustain itself, and if you might someday get to the point where it’s too costly for you.
And, you should know what the total cost is just in case you’re laid off, or you suspect layoffs are coming. You may end up having to pay it yourself, and there’s nothing worse than being surprised at the cost of COBRA at a time you’re shocked over the loss of your job.
So how much are employers spending, and how much are you being asked to pony up and how’s that increasing? Here are some facts on health care costs from the National Coalition on Healthcare:
# The annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for a health plan covering a family of four averaged $12,700 in 2008. Workers contributed nearly $3,400, or 12 percent more than they did in 2007.2 The annual premiums for family coverage significantly eclipsed the gross earnings for a full-time, minimum-wage worker ($10,712).
# Workers are now paying $1,600 more in premiums annually for family coverage than they did in 1999.
# Since 1999, employment-based health insurance premiums have increased 120 percent, compared to cumulative inflation of 44 percent and cumulative wage growth of 29 percent during the same period.
# Health insurance expenses are the fastest growing cost component for employers. Unless something changes dramatically, health insurance costs will soon overtake profits.
# According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in the United States have been rising four times faster on average than workers’ earnings since 1999.
As the airwaves fill with health care rhetoric this week, let’s all take a deep breath and look at the facts and make informed decisions before we take sides. A little due diligence is a small thing to ask for something so important for all our futures.
Employers, aka Big Brothers, aka Richard Simmons wannabes, want you to drop and give them twenty.
Aaron Lefkove, who works for a publishing firm in Manhattan, gets periodic memos and emails from his HR department reminding him to walk more, and offering tips on staying fit and diet.
The notes haven’t really helped.
He knows he shouldn’t be eating the cheeseburger and curly fries special from the deli across the street from his office, but he does, often. The deal is $5 and it’s yummy.
“It’s a great stress reliever and the deal of the century,” says Lefkove, whose employer has gone through two rounds of layoffs, implemented a pay freeze, and added lots of extra work for everyone left behind.
Lefkove, 28, has gained about 12 pounds since October, and attributes most of that to on-the-job stress and being forced to buy lower-cost, fattening foods.
The recession has caused a lot of stress for employees and some have seen their healthy habits go right out the window as a result. In my MSNBC.com column today I report on how employers aren’t skimping on wellness programs even though the recession has caused them to hack and slash almost everything else.
You’re costing your bosses too much money when it comes to health care, and many believe the best way to stop you all from using medical care is the make you healthier.
Clearly the cost for such wellness programs are a drop in the bucket compared to health care costs.
Here are some numbers from Towers Perrin comparing the two:
For wellness programs, those that are identifying and mitigating lifestyle risks with health assessment and biometrics followed by coaching (telephonic, web, mail), the cost would be about $125-150 per employee per year. The cost of incentives is very variable and would be added on top of that. A full health management program with enhanced case management, disease management and gaps in care would range from $100-150 per employee per year. A comprehensive health management program would cost $225-300 per year.
Given that the total cost of healthcare per employee per year in the 2009 Towers Perrin Health Care Cost Survey (HCCS) ranged from $8,904 for high performing companies to $10,104 for low performing companies, the percentage of total cost for a comprehensive health management programs for a high performing company is 2.5-3.4%, and for a low performing company is 2.2-3.0%. For just a wellness program, as defined above, it is 1.4- 1.7% for the high performers and 1.2-1.5% for the low performers.
Implementing wellness programs make sense, but employers have to be careful of crossing the discriminatory line.
I’m sure there are companies out there that really care for employees, but let’s face it, the bottom line is driving this desire to make you healthier and that could lead to some overzealous managers.
Too much get-healthy pressure, makes some employee advocates uncomfortable, and there are strict federal guidelines employers have to follow when crafting such weight management programs.
It’s been very hard to read my emails lately. As you can imagine, I’ve been getting lots of heart-wrenching stories from people who have lost their jobs, their homes, their lives as they knew them.
But the one thing that many laid off workers say they’re worried about most is the loss of their health insurance coverage.
Many of you may be thinking, “that’s what COBRA is for.” COBRA, aka Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows workers who have lost their jobs and health coverage to buy into the group plan on a temporary basis to cover themselves and family members.
Turns out it’s too costly for many, even with a government subsidy that was part of the Obama administration’s stimulus plan.
Lots of people are now eligible for COBRA because so many workers are unemployed, but a shrinking percentage of individuals are actually signing up because it’s just too expensive, according to a report released last week by the Spencer’s Benefits Reports 2009 COBRA Survey. “While 16.87 percent of employees became eligible for COBRA in the 2008 plan year at companies covered by the survey, only 9.69 percent of those eligible actually signed up for coverage.”
With the stimulus subsidy, an employee would have to pay $320.60 for individual coverage, according to the Spencer report, put out by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. A huge sum if they are only relying on an unemployment check to make ends meet.
Without COBRA as an option, buying insurance on the open market may be even more costly and definitely more difficult.
A growing number of consumers will likely need to pore over such health-insurance details as out-of-pocket maximums and excluded benefits. After holding steady for several years, the number of people buying their own coverage rose to an estimated 18.4 million last year from 17.9 million in 2007, and is expected to grow to 19.6 million this year and 20 million in 2010, according to an analysis by McKinsey & Co. The consulting firm attributed the expected increases largely to lost jobs and employers cutting workplace benefits.
Consumers can find coverage on their own through an agent, or from one of the growing number of insurance-brokerage Web sites. Policies also can be purchased directly from insurers, but this doesn’t allow consumers to compare plans from different companies. Regardless of where you buy a plan, your premium for that policy will be the same.
Again, the issue of high cost is a big problem with plans people buy on their own, costing upwards of $1,000 a month for a comprehensive family plan.
This is one of the biggest issues of our time — how will hard-working Americans who may be out of work afford health-care coverage? And what about those who are employed? More and more employers are asking their workers to pay up a bigger share of premiums, or cutting medical coverage all together.
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the health care reform debate going on right now.
Dianne Feinstein of California joined Republicans in voicing reservations. Ms. Feinstein, who appeared on “State of the Union,” said that controlling the cost of a new health-care system “is a very major and difficult subject.”
Ms. Feinstein also said that Mr. Obama might not have the votes in the Senate to pass his legislation. “I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus,” she said.
Labor advocates are understandably upset that even pro-worker, Democrats are now back pedaling.
“Every day, families are losing their homes, piling up debt and filing for bankruptcy when they face a healthcare emergency. Those families cannot wait - they need comprehensive healthcare reform now,” says Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. “The longer we wait to fix healthcare, the worse it will get and more families will face financial ruin simply because they got sick.”
On Friday, a watered-down bipartisan bill is expected to be unveiled, but will it go far enough?