0 Comments | Apr 01, 2010

HealthScare: Now What?

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Like most businesses, we’ve been watching healthcare bill developments with a great deal of interest, and there appears to be a single, somewhat predictable undertone to the discussions: you could buy a medium-sized continent for what this measure is likely to cost. The folks who pay for employee health insurance are more than a little worried that substantially more coverage inclusion will come at a nearly unbearable cost to businesses.

All politics aside, they have a point. Americans already spend a full 16% of our gross domestic product on healthcare – 63% more per capita than any other nation on earth – and costs have been exploding at double-digit rates for five consecutive years. To this mélange, the recent healthcare bill adds mandatory high-risk inclusion and significant short-term administrative overburden associated with electronic records conversion. Business owners feel a bit like parents of kids in a toy store: there are many “must-have” things to buy, but who foots the bill?

I’m not debating the merits of many of the bill’s provisions. The health insurance industry has been guilty of egregious abuses in the past, and industry executives have admitted openly in congressional hearings that they dropped coverage over policy technicalities when people became seriously ill, refused treatment options while dying patients appealed inappropriate payment exclusions, and retroactively excluded individuals who previously qualified for coverage precisely because the law allowed them to.

Big business has proven time and again that we often do have to legislate morality (I vaguely recall something about a small banking issue recently – too big to fail, too bad to fix, was it?). The healthcare bill is an attempt to move the gargantuan healthcare pendulum back toward center – an effort that is certainly overdue, but the bill arrives with all the usual clumsy and costly federal fingerprints. Which brings us back to the annoying fact that somebody has to fork over the funds.

Happily, though, not all provisions are prohibitively expensive. The bill mandates employer-funded employee wellness programs. While wellness benefits are clearly not free, there’s at least the promise of return on a wellness investment. Healthier employees miss less work, spend less healthcare money, cost less money to insure, and produce more and better work. Employee wellness is a smart business investment; let’s just hope that as we learn more about the healthcare bill’s implementation specifics, it doesn’t turn out that we’ve been served another soup sandwich.