Employers face soaring health-care costs
Business owners might be forced to make tough decisions about the health care plans they offer to employees this year. Employers nationwide are preparing for their third consecutive year of double-digit increases in health care costs, according to industry consultants and analysts.

The sharply higher costs — an increase of about 12 to 15 percent in 2003 — could lead many employers to offer fewer health plans, reduce coverage or shift more costs to employees.

Costs for some employers will rise even higher. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, announced that premiums for the health maintenance organizations it uses would increase an average of 25 percent and premiums for other plans would rise around 20 percent.

Some other large employers are being asked to pay as much as twice what they had been paying, and increases of roughly 25 percent are common, according to Hewitt Associates consultants.

Small companies probably will face some of the largest increases, according to health-care experts.

The steep increases could lead many employers to shift a greater proportion of health-care costs to their workers, some of whom might not be able to afford the higher premiums and co-payments.

Consultants suggest employers reduce the number of plans they offer, as long as they do not force too many of their employees to find new doctors.

Many health care experts predict that employers could experience double-digit increases for the next several years.

The last time annual increases of more than 10 percent were common was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before managed care took hold.

For more information on health care costs, visit the Hewitt Associates Web site.

Businesses recruit new hires as economy recovers
U.S. businesses started adding jobs in February for the first time in several months, helping push down the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent. Economists now have declared the yearlong recession over, though the unemployment rate still could rise before leveling off; some analysts say it could rise to 6 percent or more.

Temp firms were hit especially hard during the recession, as they lost almost 500,000 jobs. Demand for workers in health care, finance and manufacturing started picking up in February.

Business contractors might be interested to know that most of the jobs added in February include: Retail — 58,000; services, including hotel, medical and education — 40,000; and construction — 25,000.

The end of the recession and payroll increases do not mean job-seekers are in the driver’s seat. Economists say companies will remain skittish about hiring back workers until a full economic recovery has appeared, possibly at year’s end or next year.

Government, especially local, and defense and domestic security areas also should see growth.

Education is another field that will be adding jobs at all levels.

Amusement and recreation companies, hotels and airlines also are starting to rebound.

Product Stewardship Program Focuses on Safer Products
Product Care, the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) has launched a new product stewardship program designed to encourage the production and distribution of safer formulated products for commercial, institutional and industrial customers, and the environment.

The voluntary program, launched in March, provides guidelines for developing, manufacturing, distributing and marketing safer products made by CSPA member companies.

Steps to make products safer to users and building occupants include risk assessment of ingredients and products, labeling for safer use, poison-control services and customer inquiry services.

Mergers&Other Moves

  • Johnson Wax Professional has completed its acquisition of DiverseyLever, formerly Unilever’s institutional and industrial market. Johnson Wax specializes in floor care and housekeeping, while DiverseyLever covers warewashing, laundry and food-processing sanitation. As part of the consolidation, the newly formed company is changing is name to JohnsonDiversey Inc.
  • Essential Supplies of Highstown, N.J., recently merged into Spruce Industries, a janitorial and sanitary supplies distributor of Garwood, N.J. Don Reynolds, formerly president of Essential Supplies is now vice president of Spruce Industries.
  • Brownyard Group, Inc., a national program insurance administrator based out of Bay Shore, N.Y., launched its new Web site in March. The newly designed site at www.brownyard.com offers information specifically for janitorial and maintenance companies.
  • P&R Paper Supply Co. Inc. of Redlands, Calif., recently joined Network Services Co. P&R Paper Supply is a family-owned distribution company that sells food-service disposables, janitorial products and retail and industrial packaging to customers throughout southern and central California, as well as Arizona.
  • The May issue of Good Housekeeping, in its “Savvy Consumer” section, offers a feature on The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). In an article headlined “What to know before calling a pro,” the author provides the magazine’s readers tips for selecting a carpet cleaner and information on the IICRC referral line and Web site.