Employee health insurance to rise 8 percent in Colorado, survey says

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The cost of employee insurance plans will go up 8 percent next year, a new survey of Colorado employers says.

That’s slightly lower than this year’s increase of 10 percent, a Lockton Benefit Group survey says, but still in line with the state average for recent years. An 8 percent rate of increase means rates are going to double every nine years, Bill Lindsay, president of Lockton Benefit Group in Denver told “Colorado Matters” on Wednesday.

“The issue, I think, that most employers have is that this trend is becoming very difficult for them to be able to continue to afford,” Lindsay said.

Most Coloradans--about 60 percent--get health insurance through their employers. The remainder buy insurance through the Colorado Health Exchange.

Colorado’s rate increases have been higher than the national average, Lindsay said. But he’s not sure why.

“That’s the big question, and no one really knows the answer,” Lindsay said. “One would think that with an average age lower than many other places in the country, and with a healthier population, very active population, our costs ought to be lower. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

One possible reason for the higher costs is that Coloradans tend to seek more care than the national average, Lindsay said. Another is that as health care technology improves, the cost of it grows.

Containing costs

The survey, which covered both large and small companies, included those that self-insure. In those cases, employers cut out insurance companies and pay for employee health care costs directly.

Such employers -- especially those in Colorado -- often offer wellness programs aimed at improving employees’ health because it can directly affect the bottom line.

The impact of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is still under review. Many of its provisions haven’t kicked in yet. But Lindsay argues that the main thrust of the landmark law was it made health coverage more available, not more affordable.

“There’s only a very small part of the law that dealt with cost,” Lindsay said, adding that those provisions focus on Medicare -- not commercial insurance.

In Colorado, Lindsay sees some reason for hope. The state Legislature in 2014 created a commission tasked with making recommendations to lawmakers and the governor for lowering health care costs. The Denver Post reported in August that the group has a “has a long, hard slog ahead.”