Health Insurance Costs Up, Coverage Down
A recently released national report brings bad news regarding health insurance premiums at a time when many businesses are struggling to maintain employee benefits.

According to the report, health insurance premiums across the country rose by 12.7 percent — almost eight times the 1.6 percent overall inflation rate — in the 12 months ending this spring.

The report, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust, says the hike in premiums was the largest one-year increase since 1990.

Small businesses had even higher premium increases. Employers with fewer than 50 workers faced increases exceeding 14 percent. Many small-business owners abandoned coverage as a result. The number of employers with fewer than 200 workers offering health coverage dropped from 67 percent in 2000 to 61 percent this year.

Acknowledging the need to protect small businesses, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) started a program in August to help employers protect their workers when purchasing health insurance.

The DOL also released tips to encourage small businesses to exercise caution by comparing coverage and costs, checking with state insurance commissioners, and asking for references of other employers enrolled with a health provider.

California Legislators Approve Paid Family Leave
Employees in California who need to take time away from work to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or severely ill relative would benefit from the state’s paid family leave program.

More than 25 states introduced paid family leave measures this year, but most died in committee due to tight budgets. If Gov. Gray Davis signs SB 1661, California would be the first state in the nation to offer paid family leave. Currently, paid family leave bills are pending in Congress as well as New Jersey and Hawaii.

Current federal law grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers. Workers are eligible to receive partial paid leaves to have children and or to recover from off-the-job injuries. Under the new California bill, employees who take paid leave would receive income from the disability insurance fund to which they already devote a portion of their paychecks. Employees would finance the cost of the program through a $2.10 monthly payroll deduction.

The employee-funded program would pay 55 percent of wages, up to $490 a week, for up to six weeks. Employers are allowed to require that employees use two weeks of their vacation time if they take family leave.

The bill awaits approval by Gov. Davis, who has not publicly stated his position on the matter.

Mergers&Other Moves

  • ProTeam Inc. and the American Lung Association have formed a three-year partnership in a national effort to help people understand the issues surrounding indoor air quality. The joint educational campaign will focus on increasing awareness of the importance of clean air.
  • Geerpres has formed a business relationship with the FAST Co., a division of IVAC. Geerpres will add FAST products to its product line and FAST will add Geerpres items to sell in Europe.