Monday, July 23, 2007

Torinus Swings and Misses Again at Healthy WI

Serigraph CEO, WMC board member, and Journal Sentinel business columnist John Torinus took his second swing at the Healthy Wisconsin plan yesterday using the same misleading argument he did a few weeks ago.

In his July 1 column, Torinus compared the premium costs of his company's high deductible health plan (HDHP) with the premium costs of the state's traditional comprehensive health plan; the latter is similar to the plans that would be offered under the HW plan.

As I pointed out at the time, the trouble with such a comparison is that HDHPs are premium light and deductible heavy, while traditional plans are premium heavy and deductible light (or deductible non-existent, as is the case with the state plan).

According to a report in the April 2007 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, the average traditional comprehensive health plan has an average family premium of $11,090 per year and an average family deductible of $646 per year. The average family HDHP, on the other hand, had an average premium of $7,909 and an average family deductible of $4,070.

So, in other words, each plan costs about the same in relationship to the benefits that are offered. The only difference is how the money is being paid (and who's doing the paying, since the bulk of premiums are typically paid by the employer while the bulk of deductibles are typically paid by the employee).

Torinus never mentions this in the July 1 column, or when he trundled out the same argument yesterday by comparing the premium cost of a HDHP offered by the company KI in Green Bay and the premium cost of the average traditional plan in the state. The cost of the HDHP offered by KI, according to Torinus, is less than $6,000 per employee, which, expectedly, isn't as much as the $11,000-$12,000 premium for the average traditional plan.

Of course, there's another little wrinkle in Torinus' argument since he claims the total cost of covering the 1,429 KI employees who get insurance through the company is $8.8 million per year, which comes out to $6,128 per employee (a little over $6,000 per employee, not a little under). This is important because unless all of KI's employees are under a family plan, the $6,128 figure is going to be skewed low by everyone who is on a less expensive single plan.

But even setting that wrinkle aside, the fundamental point Torinus tries to make for a second time is simply off the mark. If we're going to have an honest debate here, why not also share how much the employee is paying into the premium and how much is being paid through the annual high deductible?

With two down, hopefully the JS is keeping track of Torinus' swings because he really shouldn't have that many left.


Side-Note: I won't have access to my home computer for most of the week, so postings probably will be sparse. In fact, unless something big or frustrating happens -- the column by Torinus is an example of the latter -- this may be the only post for the week. Next week I'll be back to my typical 3-5 posts per week.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other important note about any great health plan for an employee. The KI employee only has a wonderful plan until the moment he or she stops being a KI employee... so, like any job good or bad, your great health plan can make you a hostage to a bad job. I know there's COBRA coverage and so on, but the point is this: why should this whole health reform discussion be tied to a particular job. Let people pay a tax (assessment, whatever) for having permanent coverage. Let employers pay an assessment for the security of never having to go insurance shopping again and having a covered workforce. (It's very fair to debate the level of that assessment and how the plan is administered.) I do admire Torinus' passion for a healthy workforce, but it seems every hour a CEO spends on employee health coverage is an hour not being spent doing whatever it is the business is supposed to do.

July 23, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

You raise a really good point about employers no longer needing to take the time (or spend the money) to shop around for health care plans. That's not a cost that's typically calculated when considering the economic impact of the HW plan, but perhaps it should be.

And your point about giving employees the freedom from feeling that they need to stay in a job they don't like because of health coverage is the main reason I support the HW plan on a personal level. As a state employee, my health care costs will go up pretty significantly with the employee assessment and the cost-sharing that's part of the plan. But what I'd get in return is the knowledge that I could leave my job and not risk losing good health coverage for my family. I happen to really like my job and don't have any plans to leave it, but if something better comes up in the future, I'd hate to be tied to one place simply because I fear losing good health care benefits; I imagine I'm not the only one in that boat.

July 23, 2007  

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