Employer survey: Health care costs increase 8 percent on Western Slope

Western Colorado employers pay an average of 8 percent more for health care insurance compared to last year, according to the latest results of an annual survey.

While employers continue to pick up most of the cost of health benefits and insurance premiums constitute a growing proportion of payrolls, employees are paying more for benefits, too.

“It’s an ongoing struggle, because health care really is a benefit that workers expect,” said Patty Goodwin, director of surveys for the Mountain States Employers Council (MSEC) in Denver. “I think we’ll see employers continue to find ways to offer coverage while working harder to contain costs.”

According to the results of the 2011 Health and Wellness Plans Survey conducted by the MSEC, the cost of providing health care coverage has increased 8 percent over 2010 levels in Western Colorado. That’s down from an increase of 10 percent the previous year.

Statewide, employers responding to the latest survey reported an average increase in health plan costs of 10 percent for a third consecutive year. Employers in Northern Colorado reported that largest year-over-year increase in health care costs at 12 percent.

Despite rising costs, employers continue to pay for most of the costs of health insurance: 84 percent of the premiums for employee coverage and 67 percent of the premiums for family coverage.

Meanwhile, the cost of health insurance as a proportion of total payroll has increased to 10.7 percent, up from 9.6 percent in 2010.

To control costs, employers have raised deductible and co-pay levels as well as employee contributions for health insurance. Statewide, the average monthly premium for single coverage paid by employees is $91.47, up from $82 in 2010. The average monthly premium for family coverage paid by employees is $462.55.

Statewide, employers pass along an average of 38 percent of health insurance costs to employers. In Western Colorado, that proportion is lower at 22 percent.

Such consumer-driven health care plans as Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Accounts are gaining ground with employers.

According to the latest survey results, 39 percent of employers offer such plans and 25 percent expect to offer those plans in the future. In Western Colorado, 36 percent of employers responding to the survey said they offer an HSA or HRA, while 15 percent said they would consider offering such plans.

The MSEC serves 3,000 member employers with a variety of employment law, human resources and training services. The 2011 survey results are based on the responses of a total of 629 employers in Colorado and Wyoming.