A Process Snapshot: Health Insurance Shopping

The seemingly constant rate of change in health care laws, coverage types and cost drives us to do the challenging annual work of researching the best-fit health insurance offering for Atomic. So, every November a recurring to-do pops onto my task list: Shop — but not the fun kind of shopping. In my experience, the motivation to dig into the shopping task intensifies in relation to the size of the rate increase we get from our current carrier. This year’s was a doozy (25%) even though nothing particularly unusual or bad happened to our group.

We take our health insurance decision seriously. Not all companies our size offer health insurance to their employees, but here at Atomic, we have always believed that doing so is one important way to attract and retain the best and the brightest Atoms.

Currently our company’s health care plan supports almost 70 people, counting employees, their spouses and kids. That’s a lot of people to do right by, and at the same time find an economically viable option for the company (which is good for everybody, given our profit sharing plan and growing employee ownership).

We spent a lot of time analyzing data and asking tough questions

  • What are the relevant changes in health care law?
  • When comparing plans, carriers and networks, are we comparing apples to apples? Do we understand all the options within each plan? Are there hidden costs? What are the worst-case scenarios?
  • How do we strike the sometimes difficult balance between employee costs vs employer costs? Transparency is really important to us. Our Atoms know a lot about how the company is run and how it’s doing financially. One way we strengthen our bottom line is by doing things like containing costs. But, we also want to offer sufficient coverage to protect our employees from the extreme financial hardship associated with serious medical conditions and huge bills.
  • If, in the search for lower premium rates, we change insurance carriers, will we create personal disruption for our families, by causing them to change networks and/or doctors?
  • Will a low cost carrier provide decent customer service?

Our 2012 Priorities

  • Maintain the same insurance carrier to eliminate provider change disruption
  • Maintain our approach of Atomic Object covering 100% of insurance premium
  • Shield our employees from catastrophic expense
  • Continue to utilize Health Savings Accounts as a key part of our plan
  • Get a better match to our demographic (e.g., accessible deductibles)

Mike and Carl paired with me in the slog through a sometimes complex and tedious cost-benefit analysis. We got expertise and good advice from our agent Beth Wierenga. She helped us decipher the myriad of carriers, plans, premiums, deductibles, benefit options, Rx co-pays, out-of-pocket maximums etc.

I’m confident we’ve selected the best available (though not perfect) health insurance plan for next year. And it still requires both the company and our employees to share some of the pain of the inevitable health insurance cost increases.

Conceptually, I sometimes wonder why employers are in the seemingly silly business of shopping for (and buying) health insurance for whole groups of individuals with really diverse situations and needs. Shouldn’t people be able to decide for themselves? That’s a bigger issue, not solved here.

In the end, we’re glad we can save 30+ individuals/families the time and hassle of solving their health insurance puzzle. And I’m happy this to-do will not appear on my task list for another twelve months.