Quarterly Business Survey

Health care spending weighs on Idaho executives

adutton@idahostatesman.comJuly 16, 2014 

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KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

See what Idaho CEOs had to say about health insurance

If you ever want to get business leaders talking, just ask them about health insurance.

A dozen Idaho executives and business owners told Business Insider that they're worried, heartened, frustrated, encouraged and financially stressed by the Affordable Care Act.

The law's mandate for midsize and larger employers to offer health insurance to workers hasn't even kicked in yet, but other provisions are directly affecting their businesses, the survey found. In some cases, the law has made life easier for the executives' workers. In others, the law would have proved beneficial to their businesses if not for Idaho lawmakers' resistance to big parts of it, such as expanding Medicaid to all poor adults.

Many companies are offering their workers high-deductible insurance plans paired with health-savings accounts - a model that shifts more financial risk onto employees, while offering them an option to set aside pre-tax money to cover any bills they do incur.

Several business leaders said their health-insurance costs went up in the past year, something they attributed to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

"To date, we have not changed the benefits available or passed any additional costs we have incurred on to employees. We hope this remains the case," said Bill Gilbert, co-founder and managing director of the Caprock Group Inc. "However, if we experience a significant change in health care costs moving forward, we may have to revisit those decisions."

Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Co., said his business is using HSAs so employees better manage their health care costs. Gardner and several other businesses also are offering wellness programs to give workers an incentive to stay fit, eat right, stop smoking, lose weight and reduce their risks of needing a doctor or costly treatments or surgeries.

Jim Cleary, president and CEO of MWI Veterinary Supply Inc., said his company has "a variety of initiatives" to encourage employee wellness, such as health-club and exercise-class reimbursements.

If some executives' responses are any indication, more changes and new models of employee health benefits are on the horizon.

"We have to shift the costs and decision making back to the employee and their families. MSAs, higher deductibles and high copays are a must," said Bob Lokken, CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics. Lokken and fellow survey respondent Bill Whitacre, of Simplot, are on the board of the St. Luke's Health System.

"In the future, we will be aligning with delivery systems that can deliver value at cost - and not just more volume," Lokken said.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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