County employees’ premiums to rise despite new health care initiative

See today’s story in the Kitsap Sun (paper version) for an explanation of Kitsap County’s move to a self-insured health care program. A number of counties and cities around the regional have already made the switch in an effort to curb rising health care costs.

The new program, combined with other cost-saving measures, is expected to reduce the amount the county spends on health care by $12.5. But the “savings” will not mean a decrease in employees’ share of insurance premiums.

Employers nearly everywhere have responded to escalating health care costs by asking employees to shoulder a greater share of the burden through higher premiums and deductibles. So Kitsap County employees were not alone when they saw their premiums jump from two percent of the total cost in 2009 to eight percent in 2010. In 2012, the county pays 86 percent of the tab for premiums; employees pay 14 percent. In 2013, that’s expected to go up to 17 percent, according to Bert Furuta, director of personnel and human services.

Bear in mind that the county isn’t simply shifting the burden, said John Wallen of DiMartino Associates, the county’s health care consultant. The county’s own costs continue to increase, even as it leans harder on employees to foot their portion of the bill.

Nationwide, the proportion of employees’ share of premiums varies widely depending on the industry and region of the county. A recent Mercer survey that divides the county into four regions, showed that, among combined private and public sectors for the “West,” the percentage was 21 percent for single employees, 30 percent for families. At that rate, Kitsap County employees are still ahead of the game.

You may wonder — and I asked — why the county needs a health care consultant, at a current cost of just more than $40,000 per year. According to Furuta, the field of health care is so complex that it requires specialized expertise to navigate. The county tried to go without some years back and found it was not cost-effective, Furuta said.

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