Health insurance is something we don’t like to think about until we need it. And then we want it to pay for what we need. Unfortunately, life is much more complicated than that. Health insurance premiums have become increasingly prohibitive for many businesses and individuals, while deductibles and co-payments continue to rise. how did we get here
The United States stands out from the developed world by relying on private health insurance to cover the working-age population. This happened because of a historical quirk: During World War II, employers weren’t allowed to raise wages, so they offered health insurance as a perk, and it became an expectation. But as health care evolved and people turned to more services, their costs rose faster than inflation. Health insurance companies and service providers nationwide began to consolidate and raise their prices without the quality of care increasing accordingly.
Letting people go without health insurance is a gamble. Life comes with unwelcome surprises like a car accident or a cancer diagnosis. Medical expenses are a leading contributor to bankruptcy. In a tight labor market, companies that offer health insurance have an advantage in hiring and retaining talent and enjoy the benefits of contributing to a healthy and productive workforce. However, some companies are under financial pressure to offer this benefit.
To meet this need in our community, the Local First Foundation has partnered with the Peak Health Alliance to provide more affordable health insurance options to businesses and individuals in Southwest Colorado. Peak is a not-for-profit shopping cooperative that empowers our local communities and helps us keep our dollars local. With the participation and support of healthcare providers, including Centura Health and Animas Surgical Hospital, our efforts have saved nearly $4 million for residents of Southwest Colorado and contributed to a stronger local economy.
The state of Colorado has also taken steps to make health insurance more affordable. A state reinsurance program lowered premiums for individuals and families who may also qualify for state premium subsidies (extended tax credits) under the Affordable Care Act by enrolling through Colorado’s health insurance exchange, known as Connect for Health Colorado.
Businesses can take advantage of the government’s reinsurance program by offering individual health insurance arrangements. Through an ICHRA, employers put money into accounts that their employees can use to purchase health insurance of their choice. Unlike traditional group insurance, where the business owner selects a health insurance plan for everyone in the group, an ICHRA allows employees to select the plan that works best for them.
It’s not too late for local businesses to offer their employees an ICHRA. Peak Health Alliance has certified several local preferred brokers who can educate business owners on the best option for their situation. Businesses that already offer traditional insurance coverage may want to consider the ICHRA option to offer their employees more affordable, flexible benefits.
You should buy health insurance like any other product. Compare your options at Connect for Health Colorado. Open registration for individuals and families begins November 1st. Those undergoing a “life changing event” can enroll immediately. Learn more on the Peak Health Alliance website (www.peakhealthalliance.org) or contact me at [email protected]
Doug McCarthy is a healthcare advocate and interim executive director of the Local First Foundation.