For 20 years, U.S. businesses have reported that healthcare is their top concern, and every year the picture looks more dismal.
Healthcare is now the fastest-growing cost of business, with the average annual premium paid by most small businesses at $3,733 per employee and $7,756 per family, according to the 2006 Keiser Family Foundation's annual survey on employer health benefits. (Employees are now paying an average of $515 in annual premiums for individual coverage and $3,550 for family coverage.) The National Coalition on Health Care estimates that unless something changes, "health insurance costs will overtake profits by 2008."
The Keiser survey also found that only 60 percent of companies with fewer than 199 employees offer health benefits. No wonder the number of uninsured in this country has risen to 46 million; in Sarasota and Manatee counties close to 130,000 people are uninsured. The cost to hospitals-and taxpayers, eventually-of caring for these people in emergency rooms in our region was more than $150 million this year.
Like the majority of Americans, I believe healthcare should be a basic human right, and in a better world-one in which politics and profits did not dictate who gets treatment and for how much-we would all have access to quality care. Until then, companies can take advantage of some new strategies to help them offer coverage at lower costs. Beth Luberecki reports on some of those strategies in this issue (page 38), and the one that made most sense to me-because I also believe we bear responsibility for our own health&151;is employee wellness programs.
Charles Bens, president of Sarasota-based [email protected], sets up these programs all around the country. He helped Sarasota County government with its wellness plan and, most recently, worked with the Florida Heart Research Institute. Basically, employers pay an upfront cost-it could be as little as $75 an employee-for their staff to learn how to eat, exercise and reduce the stress in their lives. Some employers offer incentives for employees to stop smoking, to control their diabetes through diet and exercise rather than medicine, and to lose weight. At my company, we all get a family membership to the YMCA. It's a huge perk-one that I, my husband and my children have used for years. I feel grateful that my company cares about my health, but I think the company benefits as well: I'm far less stressed after I've worked out in the morning, I hope that I'm sharper mentally-and I hardly ever get sick.
Bens says such perks save companies money: less absenteeism, better morale, and fewer doctors' visits and medical complications. The Wellness Council of America estimates employers can save $3 for every $1 they spend.
"Seventy percent of illness and disease are preventable," Bens says, "and yet 95 percent of all healthcare dollars are spent on treatment and only 5 percent on prevention. It doesn't make sense.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Give Us Credit
The Florida Credit Union League, representing Florida's credit unions, is not surprised that the Florida Bankers Association objects to more consumers choosing to join credit unions ("Face-Off", September 2006). Bankers simply believe, and have believed for decades, that credit unions are not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as banks.
From their beginning, credit unions have been not-for-profit, democratically controlled, member-owned financial cooperatives. Every penny earned by a credit union, minus operating expenses and legally required additions to reserves, is passed back to its members in the form of lower rates of interest on loans and higher rates on savings.
Your article suggests that credit unions were given a tax exemption "to help blue-collar and marginalized groups get loans and financial services." Wrong. Credit unions were given a tax exemption then, and maintain it today, for the same reason: their structure. No matter the size of the credit union or the services a credit union offers, the fact remains that the tax exemption was granted and continues because a credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative that is democratically controlled by its members.
Meantime, bankers continue to seek their own tax breaks. Currently, in Florida, 76 banks, representing over $17 billion in total assets, pay no corporate income tax.
The bottom line: Banks want credit unions to go away. That has been their belief for more than 70 years. All of this because of the bankers' desires to have the entire financial services field to themselves and be able to charge whatever they want for services, choose whom they will serve, and dictate terms to any consumer who seeks a better life for their family and business.
Credit unions are proud of the service they provide to their members. Credit unions are an example of one government directive that truly accomplished even more than its originators dreamed.
Guy M. Hood
Florida Credit Union League