Thursday, August 21, 2014

Workplace insurance: Bad news and good

If Walmart turns out to be a trendsetter,  the Affordable Care Act may be driving up the number of people who have workplace insurance,  New York Times writer Margot Sanger-Katz reports.

"In an earnings call last week, Walmart announced that its workers were signing up for health insurance en masse,"  Sanger-Katz posted yesterday on The Upshot.  "The news was bad for the company’s shareholders, since the added $500 million it will cost to cover them will eat into expected profits. But it also means that many more low-income families have health insurance now than did last year."

Walmart hasn't changed its insurance,  which already comes with low premiums,  she reports.  Instead,  workers may be reacting to the threat of a tax penalty for being uninsured.  It's a trend that showed up when Massachusetts launched a similar program in 2006.

"This increase,  if it is permanent,  is going to cost employers money,"  Sanger-Katz writes.  "But it illustrates how the Affordable Care Act is set up to build on the country’s existing insurance system rather than tear it down.  The law doesn’t just create new public insurance programs.  It also includes incentives designed to get more people enrolled in employer health coverage."

Meanwhile,  the National Business Group on Health reports that employers expect the ACA and rising health-care costs to drive insurance costs up by 6.5 percent in 2015.  The survey of 136 employers showed many plan to shift some of those costs to employees.  Expect to see more cost-sharing and reliance on "consumer-directed health plans,"  or health care savings accounts.  The NBGH report echoes what speakers told the audience at the Charlotte Chamber's health care summit last week.