By CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN
Kansas News Service
One Topeka engineering firm does what it can to fight the ballooning cost of health care for its workers.
Bartlett & West — owned by its 350 employees across seven states — is trying a slew of approaches.
has a wellness program. It tries to make preventive care easy to get.
It pays its employees’ medical bills itself, rather than buying coverage
from insurance companies.
And yet, year after year, its premiums climb.
fear is that the company will not be able to continue to absorb as much
of that cost,” Bartlett & West’s head of human resources, Kim
Walker, said at a forum this month on employers and health care, hosted
by the Kansas Health Institute.
“I envision that, unfortunately,
we’re going to have to reduce benefits,” she said, “and most especially
pass on more costs to our employee-owners and their families.”
Employers in Kansas struggle to offer affordable health insurance. It gets harder and harder.
A new report
finds premiums for health plans through private-sector jobs rose nearly
40% from 2010 to 2020. That’s twice as fast as general inflation.
yearly premiums in the state were nearly $12,000 as of 2020, the Kansas
Health Institute report says. That’s typical across the country, but it
takes a bigger bite out of paychecks here, where wages run below the
(The institute receives funding from the Kansas Health Foundation, a funder of the Kansas News Service.)
now shoulder a bigger share of their premiums than they did a decade
ago, too. Fewer are even bothering to enroll in their employer’s health
Phillip Steiner, a senior analyst at the institute, said premiums
could rise even faster now that we’ve moved out of a low-inflation
“If anything, it’s going up faster,” he said. “Now we’re in a very high-inflation environment.”
The more employees spend on premiums, the less they can sock away from their paychecks or put toward out-of-pocket costs.
A recent Commonwealth report ranks Kansas and Missouri in the five states where people with work-based insurance face combined premiums and deductibles that top $9,000 a year on average.
growing costs facing Kansas employers and employees illustrate the
stakes in U.S. health care, where annual spending grows much faster than
broader economic inflation.
Research pins much of the blame on plain old hikes in the prices that doctors, hospitals, labs and the pharmaceutical supply chain charge for their services.
hikes mean the health care sector consumes an ever bigger slice of
America’s economic pie. Public and private employers alike struggle to
get much leverage against the industry.
In 1980, U.S. health spending was 9% of gross domestic national product. By 2000, it hit 13%. In 2018, it was nearly 18%.
The upshot often comes in the form of higher deductibles.
Just this year, Bartlett & West added a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account, Walker said.
Currently, it’s just one choice
available to employees. But the goal is to help them get familiar with
the plan design — because high deductibles may soon become the only option.
think that that could be a future for all of our employees,” Walker
said. “And we don’t want to have to implement a type of plan like that
and not prepare them for what that is and what that would involve.”
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service. You
can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at [email protected]