Self-funding strategies Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Most CEOs are all too familiar with the nearly 15 percent average annual increases in the direct cost of health insurance and the subsequent impact on the company’s bottom line. It’s when companies begin expanding through mergers and acquisitions that the indirect costs and the inflexibility of most health insurance plans become apparent.

With vast regional differences among health plans and coverage provisions, health insurance issues often impact business expansion initiatives.

Mike Lutosky, employee benefit broker with Westland Insurance Brokers, says that there is no need for CEOs to become victims of the business cycles of the health insurers — a situation which has been further exacerbated by industry consolidation, causing average HMO premiums to double over the last few years. He says that what CEOs need is an effective strategy that provides an alternative to traditional health insurance.

“What’s your current strategy to control health coverage costs? If you are waiting until 60 to 90 days before your current renewal and then merely reacting to the increase that your health insurer dishes up, you aren’t strategically dealing with the issue,” says Lutosky.

Smart Business spoke with Lutosky about how CEOs can incorporate self-funding into their overall strategy for controlling the cost of health care.

What is self-funding?

Self-funding is an alternative to fully insured group health insurance plans. Instead of an insurance company collecting premiums and paying your claims, the company funds the program, sets the rules and has control over paying claims. More than 60 percent of U.S. companies offering benefits use a self-funded program.

What are the qualifications for offering a self-funded program?

Companies in any industry with as few as 50 employees should consider implementing a self-funded program. Frequently, CEOs who want to establish their firm as an ‘employer of choice’ prefer self-funded programs because they have greater flexibility in terms of plan design, claims payment thresholds and claims processing speed.

Because consumer satisfaction with health insurance is based upon personal experience, employee satisfaction is much higher when companies offer a self-funded program that avoids yearly swings in premiums and coverage limits. With greater consistency, employees feel more secure and have fewer reasons to look for new opportunities.

How can CEOs benefit from self-funding health coverage?

CEOs will regain an enormous amount of control with a self-funded program. Financially, there is an increase in cash flow through the ability to recapture the use of plan reserves, and the company will earn interest on the money held in reserve. Self-funded plans comply with federal guidelines instead of state-mandated laws, and there is a reduction in most of the state-imposed taxes. Not only are the administrative fees lower through a third-party administrator than through traditional health insurance plans, but with a self-funded plan you see where every penny spent on health care goes.

I worked with one company that wanted to make an out-of-state acquisition. There was a key employee in the new firm who was vital to the business, but because the plan offered here in California was more expensive and did not offer a comparable level of benefits, the acquisition was impacted. With a self-funded plan, this kind of scenario can be avoided. You have the flexibility with self-funding to design a separate plan for a group of key employees when merging or acquiring.

How can CEOs limit risk with a self-funded program?

We protect against catastrophic loss by purchasing reinsurance from an A+ rated carrier. Because the market is plentiful, there are numerous choices for CEOs when selecting a reinsurance company. With the average monthly HMO premium standing at $250 to $300 for each employee, self-funding your benefits program makes more financial sense than ever. In more than 20 years, we have only had a handful of employers move back to a fully insured program for financial cost reasons.

What are the steps to initiating self-funded health coverage?

Self-funding is a much more proactive way of dealing with the issues associated with providing employee health coverage than the reactive process of soliciting competitive bids 60 days prior to renewal. We start by educating CEOs about self-funding. Then we provide a financial analysis to see if it is financially viable for the organization to consider self-funding. Next, we design a comprehensive transition plan for the company and its employees.

Self-funding gives CEOs a strategy and a plan to better understand and deal with the financial impact of escalating health care costs. This strategy gives CEOs a large measure of financial control and understanding that does not exist in a fully insured program.

MIKE LUTOSKY is an employee benefits broker with Westland Insurance Brokers. Reach him at mlutosky@westlandib.com or (619) 641-3276.