I write a lot about healthcare costs and get a lot of reader feedback on those columns. So, in my continuing pursuit of relevance, I’ll do it again.
Several instances of dealing, or failing to deal, with the reality of healthcare cost have crossed my path recently. In negotiating for a new job, a friend said that he would unhappily take a lower paying job because it included benefits, which he could not otherwise afford. Huh? Isn’t it all the same thing? The salary was lower by the amount of the health insurance cost. What’s the difference in taking the job you like and buying healthcare insurance in the market as opposed to taking a lower paying job that provides the same healthcare insurance?
The difference is self-discipline. One requires a conscious decision to deal with the situation while the other doesn’t.
Similarly, in one of Congressman Bennie Thompson’s recent interviews he said that he was determined to get jobs coming into the Second District that provided health insurance for the employees. That’s a laudable undertaking, for sure. The implication, however, was misleading. Health insurance costs what it costs. If a company offers health insurance for their employees then they, by definition, either pay lower salaries or take a hit on the old bottom line.
What’s really going on
Here’s the situation in a nutshell. Health care research has developed a lot of new stuff, both drugs and procedures that are extending life and improving the quality of life.
These technical advances are expensive and somebody’s got to pay. That somebody is the consumer. And, the American consumer has not reconciled himself to this change.
For example, if healthcare used to cost 7% of a family’s budget, it will likely cost 15% or more in the future. Now, that’s a tough nut to crack, for sure. However, what would you be willing to pay to extend your life a decade or two and to improve the quality of your life while you’re here? A lot, right? Well, that’s what it’s going to take. We’ve got to make some room in the old family budget to pay for the health care we want.
How will we do it? It’s simple to say, but hard to do. We’re going to have to give up some fluff to pay for healthcare. And, for some folks, it’s going to take more than giving up fluff.
After trimming the financial fat away, we’re going to have to cut into the meat. You can’t tell me what to cut out and I can’t tell you. Each must whack his own budget in his own way.
Better lifestyle choices
Now, having said that, there are ways to minimize the financial damage. Yes, you guessed it. We can live healthier. Some of us need to lose some weight, quit some unhealthy habits, and start some healthy ones. Yes, lifestyle choices like diet and exercise matter. They matter a lot.
For business owners, offering employees incentives for living healthier is a good investment. Healthy employees are sharper and take off less sick time. There’s also the prize of lower group healthcare insurance costs when employees take better care of themselves.
Some employers are offering cash incentives to employees who show measurable improvement in their health. Getting thinner for dollars could be a good motivator. Plus, it makes economic sense for employers to reward employees for improving lifestyle choices that increase productivity. In addition to weight loss, improved blood pressure and cholesterol statistics are other measurable goals that could be rewarded.
Regardless of whether our employers provide incentives for improving health or we just decide it’s the right thing to do, our healthcare costs will reflect our choices. And even though we can positively impact our healthcare costs, it’s still going to take a bigger bite out of the family budget than we’ve been accustomed to. Might just as well deal with it now as later.
Thought for the Moment
The best advice I can give to any young man or young woman upon graduation from school can be summed up in exactly eight words: Be honest with yourself and tell the truth. —politician and postmaster general James A. Farley (1888-1976)
Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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