The relentlessly rising cost of health insurance is prompting some small Massachusetts companies to drop coverage for their workers and encourage them to sign up for state-subsidized care instead, a trend that, some analysts say, could eventually weigh heavily on the state’s already-stressed budget.
Since April 1, the date many insurance contracts are renewed for small businesses, the owners of about 90 small companies terminated their insurance plans with Braintree-based broker Jeff Rich and indicated in a follow-up survey that they were relying on publicly-funded insurance for their employees.
In Sandwich, business consultant Bill Fields said he has been hired by small businesses to enroll about 400 workers in state-subsidized care since April, because the company owners said they could no longer afford to provide coverage. Fields said that is by far the largest number he has handled in such a short time.
And the solution? Tightly restricting provider networks — which often means you don’t get to go the best hospitals when you need to. Wheee!
But I’m guessing (just call it a hunch) that the insurance companies will report record profits, anyway.
They’re “only” spending $119 a day! Good thing they have the New York Times to stick up for them (and hint what a bad idea it would be to raise their taxes).
It astounds me that so many of the people who are still employed, or somehow have enough money not to worry, are so downright oblivious to just how bad it is for everyone else:
Those opposed to another extension say the country simply can’t afford it. And some assert, as did Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, that the benefits encourage people to stay at home instead of looking for work.
Public-policy professor Carl Van Horn, Zukin’s coauthor, disagrees.
“In a strong labor market, when unemployment is low, having an unemployment benefit does contribute slightly to the unemployment rate,” said Van Horn, who directs the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.
But that’s absolutely not the case in this prolonged recession, he said, with nearly one in 10 workers out of a job and many more underemployed or discouraged.
Ward, who has been her family’s main breadwinner for the last 14 years, said she had been looking hard for work. She estimates that she and her husband have just a few hundred dollars left in savings, barely enough to squeeze out August’s mortgage payment.
If Congress had renewed the extensions before they expired in May, she’d be eligible for at least six more weeks, and perhaps up to 26 more, depending on how the legislation was crafted.
“It’s almost like the victims in Haiti and in New Orleans: They are forgotten,” he said. “For those people who are long-term unemployed, I think they think the nation doesn’t care any more.”
Meanwhile, getting by means being grateful that other parents in the Caln Little League donated used equipment so her children could play. It means relying on a neighbor’s generosity to repair the alternator in their car. “It would have cost us several hundred dollars if we took it to a mechanic,” Ward said.
It has meant food stamps, and milk and cheese through a federal program for mothers with young children. (Her youngest is 2.) When they visit her parents in Chinatown, they come home with a bag of food. And she’s been lucky enough to land an $11-an-hour part-time stimulus-funded job in her field.
“But that will end in a few weeks,” Ward said. Still, everything helps.
For the long-term unemployed, prospects are bleak, according to the Heldrich study, titled “No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment.”
Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people who were out of work in August, and then caught up with most of them again in March. Just one in five had found any job. For every hundred who had been laid off, only 13 landed full-time work.
“Even for those people, it’s a disaster,” Zukin said. “They took jobs they didn’t want to take, and they took them with salary and benefit cuts.”
More than half took a pay cut, with 7 percent of the group willing to work for less than half of what they previously earned.
Most of the long-term unemployed in the study tapped savings or, like Ward and her husband, went without health insurance. Many used food stamps. More than half borrowed from family or friends. One in four missed a mortgage or rent payment, and 6 percent declared personal bankruptcy. Many experienced depression, lack of sleep, strain in family relations, anger, depression, and helplessness.
Sue Kaiden, a professional career counselor and longtime volunteer with Joseph’s People, a support group for the unemployed, worries about their job prospects.
“Employers are saying, ‘We don’t want to hire you because you’ve been out of work so long,’ ” she said.
Her comments were buttressed by Peter Gioacchini, a senior director of talent acquisition at Cigna Corp., who said his company always looked for the best talent – and often those people are employed, not unemployed.