The crystal ball of health care benefits Featured

4:06am EDT July 30, 2006
If you had a real crystal ball would you be too scared to ask it questions? Some people prefer not to know the future. This fear is based out of the feeling that nothing can be done, so why get worked up about it. Regardless if the future is good or bad, the real value of knowing the future is preparing for it.

Do I have a crystal ball for health benefits? Well, as a matter of fact, I do. Look with me into the mist to see the future.

A return to major medical
The plan design of the future will be a $5,000 deductible, then full coverage. There will be no co-pays for office visits or prescription drugs. Employees will be responsible for the first $5,000 of health care.

Of course, there will always be options to have richer plans, but the $5,000 deductible, full-coverage plan is inevitable.

There are only two basic reasons a person should have medical insurance. The first is to prevent a financial catastrophe. People should not be forced to sell their home and liquidate all their assets if they have a major medical problem.

The second and most important reason to have medical insurance is to insure that treatment will be provided if you experience a major medical problem. Health care providers can refuse to treat patients who don’t have insurance. Most diseases can be controlled or cured, but if you have no medical insurance the consequences can turn grave when treatment is either delayed or denied based on financial hurdles.

Preventive care services like immunizations, cancer screenings and well-women exams will be covered in full or for very little out-of-pocket expense.

When: No later than five years. Although many employers have added high-deductible plans as options to their benefits package, most employees are still willing to pay more to hold onto low co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. It is similar to the cost of gasoline. Gasoline costs continue to climb at the same time more Americans are buying bigger vehicles with bigger engines that yield lower miles per gallon. As long as Americans have disposable income, they will continue to purchase what they want.

If you haven’t added a high-deductible plan yet, you should. Introducing these plans as an option versus a replacement will help ease your population into the plan of the future.

Health Savings Accounts
The HSA is the 401(k) of health insurance. HSAs will be as popular as 401(k) plans are today. Like 401(k) plans, the HSA programs will provide solutions that make it a no-brainer to enroll. Like a 401(k) plan, it will also be a challenge to convince young employees to take advantage of it while they are young. Education programs will play an important part of the success.

When: No later than five years. Although the HSA account has been available for several years, its introduction will go hand-in-hand with the introduction of high-deductible health plans. Once again, you should start adding these plans now as an option.

Corporate wellness programs
The obesity trend will start to ebb and eventually reverse. As high-deductible plans increase enrollment, employees will be more motivated to avoid the expense of getting sick. Although the numbers vary depending on who you talk to, 70 percent of all health expenses can be avoided or managed.

Wellness is the final frontier in controlling health care expenses. The return on investment is already too great to ignore, but employers need to invest time to implement and maintain a successful wellness program. Eventually, every Human Resources Department will also become a wellness center.

The good news is that successful wellness programs do not require a great deal of time nor money. Please note that they do not run by themselves. The best wellness programs are found when the corporate culture embraces wellness.

Employer-sponsored snack machines in the future will not have Ding-Dongs, Honey Buns and potato chips. They will have granola bars, nuts, fresh fruit and diet drinks.

When: This will take five years -- or a few years after high-deductible plans become standard. People will start living healthier lives when the costs associated with being sick sting a little more than today.

I hope this didn’t scare you too much. Your next move, if you dared to look into the crystal ball, is to prepare for it.

BRUCE BISHOP (bruce@kybabenefits.com) is director of marketing and managing partner of KYBA Benefits. KYBA Benefits provides consulting and administrative services to more than 400 corporate accounts, ranging in size from 20 employees to more than 7,000. Reach Bishop at (770) 425-6700 or (800) 874-2244, ext. 205.