Employers, as they have for decades, remain the best hope for reform as they can negotiate with health carriers, leaving the pricing of health care and ancillary benefits up to the private sector and market forces. That is, by far, the best way to secure a fair price for coverage and treatment.
Whether companies decide to offer their employees more benefits or less, is up to the employer. Employers who want to recruit the best talent are going to have to up their game in terms of their benefit packages. More power to them.
Employers who can't afford Cadillac packages are going to have to make do with the "Chevy" package, and there's nothing wrong with that, whether that means trimming the benefit package or increasing the copayments.
Companies all over the country belong to the Chevy segment, which is simply a reflection of what the employer can afford. If workers want all sorts of perks that their employer's group health plans don't offer, then employees can pay for those benefits out of their own pocket. If that's still not enough, then workers can just go work for another company offering more complete group health benefits.
Health care costs are increasing faster than we'd all like, there's no question about that. But the other variable in the equation is that the U.S. labor market is becoming a bargain again, as big companies renegotiate union contracts and the cost of doing business abroad in markets like China becomes more expensive.
With lower labor costs, it's easier for U.S. employers to afford health benefits and attract the kind of talent employers find most valuable to make and market the products their customers want.
But employers who reap the benefits of attracting a skilled labor force should also bear the cost, which gets us back to why employers are in the best position to negotiate and push back against escalating health care costs.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court's decision will affect President Obama's health care plan, or whether we believe we're in a new era of health benefits, employers remain the best vehicle for changing the way health care is delivered.
It's important to remember that employers are the buyers of group health services. Employers buy coverage from insurance carriers, and it is the responsibility of buyers to press for better service, especially since they pay for it.
In the end, employers big and small, flush with cash or thinly-capitalized, conservative and liberal, have the power to make changes that will assure better and more efficient delivery of benefits no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules, or whoever wins the White House in November.
CYRIL TUOHY is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at email@example.com.
June 1, 2012
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