Sequent: How dropping health insurance benefits may not save you money Featured

12:00am EDT October 27, 2013
William F. Hutter, CEO, Sequent William F. Hutter, CEO, Sequent

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At first glance, dropping health insurance for employees and sending them to the exchanges sounds like a win for everyone. Companies can give raises to make up the difference for employees, who then buy insurance for less, and everyone saves money.

But that’s not the result when you factor in all of the numbers, says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.

“Drop your health insurance and give employees the same money is the mantra we keep hearing. It is not a simple decision and should not be treated as such for middle-market companies,” Hutter says.

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about the costs associated with this decision, and its potential impact on your business.

Would companies rather not worry about health insurance because of its volatility?

Companies are tired of thinking about health insurance; it’s becoming another distraction away from their business. Of course, that’s just considering cost and not taking into account the cultural issues involved with the perception of whether you’re taking care of your employees.

For example, a client was advised that it could save money by sending everyone to the exchange and just giving employees raises. That has proven to be a fallacy. When you review all of the numbers, the savings are not there.

The company has 109 employees, and 79 are covered by the health plan. It has a high deductible, so the company contributes to a health reimbursement account (HRA) for employees.

Basic costs of the plan are:

  • Total insurance premiums — $653,000.
  • Company share — $522,400.
  • Employees’ share — $130,600.
  • Company HRA cost — $200,000.
  • Total cost to company — $722,400.

Dropping insurance and giving those employees $7,500 in raises each  — a total of $592,500 — would appear to save the company $129,900. But you have to consider the total cost impact, including deductible burden, taxes and penalties.

What are the tax implications under this scenario?

Because of the loss of the pre-tax deduction, employees and the company both pay more in taxes on the $592,500 in raises — $199,937 by employees and $73,395 by the company.

There’s also an Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalty of $114,000 the company would be required to pay because it would no longer be a health plan sponsor. And now the employees also are paying all of the plan deductible, so that’s another $158,000, assuming a $2,000 deductible.

When you consider all of those factors, the total cost is $779,894, or about $57,000 more to not offer health insurance. When shown the entire picture, the client was blown away.

Are there other variables to consider, even if dropping health insurance for employees made financial sense?

In addition to how it would be perceived by employees, there’s a concern about making a decision based on the short term. Organizations need to think more strategically, rather than looking just at how to fix a current problem.

No one knows how the exchanges are going to shake out. They are getting a tax subsidy for the first two years in the form of a $62 annual tax on every employee covered by an insurance carrier outside of the exchanges. In theory, that provides a pool of money carriers can draw on until the exchanges find their own balance regarding enrollees, costs and risks. That could result in a significant increase in premiums in two years when the subsidy goes away.

Also, you want to be cautious about dropping insurance and giving up the tax advantage of sponsoring a plan because it’s difficult to go back. That’s really the objective of the ACA — it’s a revenue enhancement bill rather than a health care bill. That goes back to the 2005 study by Sens. Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley, which flowed right into health care reform.

This analysis and case study is a dramatic illustration of how the changes written into health care reform are really about closing tax loopholes. Companies may be better off keeping the tax advantage of health care for themselves and their employees by providing access to predictable health care coverage.

William F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

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