Proposed legislation: The ‘Prescription for Pennsylvania’ Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Choosing benefits plans for employees is becoming a bigger issue by the day. The cost of employee benefits continues to rise at a rate that outpaces the cost of living. At the same time, companies must offer the widest range of desirable benefits to retain the highest number of employees.

“Consultative services can only go so far in helping employers balance the needs of employees with budget demands,” says Sam Weber, president of the Chambers of Commerce Service Corp. “A unified business community involved in reform of the health care system is imperative as we seek long-term solutions.”

Smart Business talked to Weber about current issues and the potential for solutions.

How do employers handle rising employee benefits costs?

Most employers condense premium costs by increasing plan deductible and co-payment amounts. A growing number of employers utilize qualified high-deductible health plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

Is shifting costs to employees a good solution?

Cost-shifting is not necessarily good or bad. The issue is that employers and the industry shield employees and consumers from the true costs of benefits. Personal responsibility for costs in the form of higher deductibles and co-pays creates discriminating shoppers and the absolute need for information transparency.

Are rising costs felt more by small or large businesses?

Businesses of all sizes feel the crunch. Right now, you read more about large businesses feeling the effects as the first baby boomers approach retirement age.

The imminent flood of baby boomers into the Medicare system promises to create enormous pressure on the federal budget.

Is this a federal or state problem?

Politicians and activists of all stripes have announced reformation plans. On Jan. 17th, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell announced the ‘Prescription for Pennsylvania’ to increase access to affordable health care coverage, improve the quality of care and bring costs under control.

How do you feel about Gov. Rendell’s plan?

We welcome the opportunity the governor has created for us to engage in the debate on how to create a sustainable system.

His proposal is comprehensive, but it contains a number of concepts that trouble the business community and other interest groups.

All segments of society have played a part in creating today’s system. Dealing with today’s problems and building the foundation for addressing tomorrow’s difficult issues will require significant involvement from a unified business community.

Why is it important for businesses to be engaged in reform?

The business community is the only viable counterweight to the array of competitive interests.

And businesses pay the lion’s share — premiums plus taxes — and that is how the system is funded. So the business community must have a seat at the table.

Are you optimistic about finding solutions and reform in PA?

Success depends on the way we approach the process. Compromise is crucial to stabilizing the system. Reform is not about demonizing doctors, hospitals, health plans, employers or other stake-holders.

All of the stakeholders involved with the current system need to be willing to adapt and to change behaviors.

The road to reform will be difficult to travel with significant stakes. Our system is too deeply embedded in the economic and social fabric of communities across Pennsylvania for failure to be an option.

SAM WEBER is president of the Chambers of Commerce Service Corp. For more information about plans offered by CCSC, visit the Web Site www.chamberchoice.com. Reach Weber at (800) 377-3539 or sweber1323@aol.com.