Healthcare waste helps keep wages flat, widening economic inequality and fueling voter anger and frustration.
Everybody talks about how insanely expensive healthcare and health insurance are. And there’s lots of talk about how wages have barely kept up with inflation for at least eight years.
But nobody’s really talking about how those two things – surging healthcare costs and stagnant wages – are directly connected. New research by HCMS Group, a healthcare reform company based in Cheyenne, Wyo., dramatically shows the link.
For a substantial cross-section of private employers and the people they cover, healthcare costs rose more than 10% in 2014, the study showed. Worker pay climbed just 4.1%. For those making less than $30,000 – predominantly women – wages inched up 0.5% while their healthcare costs jumped almost 17%.
What’s the connection? Well, employers lump wages and benefits together in their budgets for worker compensation. As healthcare expenses drain progressively more money out of total compensation budgets, there’s less available to put in people’s paychecks. Many employers try to limit their healthcare costs by raising premiums, copays, out-of-network charges and deductibles. But that just takes even more money directly out of people’s pockets, without improving health.
The study spotlights one of the biggest but least discussed economic effects of runaway health benefit costs. Flat wages widen economic inequality – one of the things fueling voter anger and frustration this election year.
“The key to resolving wage stagnation is to reduce healthcare waste and funnel those dollars into wages,” said Dr. Hank Gardner, the CEO of HCMS Group.
Healthcare waste is at the center of the problem. Waste is overtreatment by medical providers and overconsumption by patients, with risky narcotics at the top of the list. Waste accounts for 30% of national healthcare spending. The current healthcare benefits system encourages waste and does little to improve health.
The HCMS study of wages and healthcare costs was based on the company’s unmatched Research Reference Database, which includes healthcare, compensation and paid time off data for almost 4 million Americans whose benefits are provided by more than 300 employers.
In 2014, average wages in the healthcare costs study group of more than 140,000 people rose 4.1% to $81,371. Average health plan costs – including those paid by employers and directly out of employees’ pockets – jumped 10% to $10,263 a person. Among people earning less than $30,000, wages increased $124, or 0.5%, while their health plan costs surged $797, or 16.6%.
People in higher income brackets had higher raises – 4.3% for those making $30,000 to $80,000 and 4.2% for salaries higher than $80,000. Meanwhile, their healthcare costs rose substantially less than expenses for people in the under $30,000 group. The data show how the costs of healthcare waste fall disproportionately on those with lower incomes, contributing to economic inequality.
“This shows the power and importance of real healthcare reform,” Gardner said. “We need to put more money in people’s pockets. People with the lowest incomes – notably women and single mothers – wind up paying the most for healthcare waste in the form of forgone wages.”
For self-insured employers HCMS Group offers offer comprehensive, REAL healthcare reform solutions to reduce healthcare waste and costs while improving health. Please contact us at HCMSgroup.com or call (877) 883-5786.
— Bob Simison on behalf of HCMS Group data analytics.