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Joe the Plumber Doesn’t Need to Wait Any Longer

by Dustin Cortright

As American voters prepare to head to the voting booths for the upcoming November elections many small business owners are looking for relief with their health insurance premiums. Don’t expect a clear answer after the elections.  Don’t misunderstand me, health care reform change is coming- regardless of which party takes control of the House and Senate – but what change will look like and when it will happen is anybody’s guess. It may be subtle changes or it could be radical.

A new poll released on October 4th 2010 by Rasmussen Reports shows that 50% of likely voters favor repeal of the health care bill and 44% oppose repealing it. Even if the bills stay exactly as they are written today – true reforms don’t kick in until 2014. That certainly isn’t going to help Joe the Plumber’s small business who just got walloped with a 20% insurance increase effective January 1st and is trying to have an open enrollment this fall!!

So what does a business owner do? What should an HR professional suggest to the boss? Certainly not wait for the government to come to the rescue! Call your insurance broker or find a new one with creative ideas to help your business control these insurance costs. The group health insurance marketplace is coming out with new and creative ideas all the time. Joe the Plumber doesn’t have time to learn all about these programs, but his broker does – or he better otherwise Joe will find a broker who does understand them.

New prescription plan riders, creative hospital co-pays and dual option plan designs are simple approaches that many businesses have yet to implement. Consumer Driven Healthcare plans have been around since 2004. Have you taken advantage of the lower premiums and tax savings that come with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)? How about reducing your premium in exchange for sharing the cost of a deductible with employees by implementing a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)? Go further and explore self-funding your prescription plan or medical plan.

You say you have done all of these things and more, and still looking for relief? Conduct a “dependent eligibility audit” and identify dependents that are ineligible to still be covered. Increase your new hire waiting period to at least 90 days. Implement a section 125 FSA to mitigate the increased co-payments if you downgrade your health plan. Small businesses with fewer than 25 employees should apply for the small business tax credit – see www.irs.gov and search for Notice 2010-44. Get real ambitious and institute a wellness program at work – healthier employees means fewer claims!

If you need to increase the percentage an employee pays towards benefits or downgrade benefits, go right ahead. You are not alone. In fact, a survey by the National Business Group on Health indicates 63% of businesses plan to increase payroll deductions, 46% plan to downgrade benefits and 61% will offer a Consumer Driven Health Plan in 2011.

Although they make up a smaller portion of your employee benefit costs, have your broker work on the rest of your benefits like dental, life, disability, and vision…..the list goes on.

So don’t wait around for health care reform to fully kick in or get repealed – take action now. You have more control over your healthcare costs than you think!

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