Employer health plans are expensive in Massachusetts

If you work for a Massachusetts company, it’s likely your employer offers health insurance. But it will cost you.

Survey results of 806 employers released Thursday by the Center for Health Information and Analysis found that 74 percent of Massachusetts firms offered their employees health insurance in 2021, compared to 59 percent of companies nationally.

But that insurance was expensive. The average monthly premium for single coverage was $715, compared to a national average of $645. Nearly half (46 percent) of employees were enrolled in a high deductible health plan, one where a single person must pay at least $1,400 out of pocket and a family must pay $2,800 before insurance begins to cover their costs.

The latest CHIA data, from a survey conducted between May 2021 and January 2022, reflects a struggle Massachusetts residents have faced for years. Since Gov. Mitt Romney signed the state’s universal health care coverage law in 2006, Massachusetts residents have generally been more likely than their counterparts in other states to be able to obtain health insurance. But Massachusetts has perennially struggled with costs that are some of the highest in the nation, despite policymakers’ efforts to contain them.

The survey found that Massachusetts has a strong culture of businesses offering employees health insurance, with virtually all companies that have over 200 employees and 73 percent of smaller firms offering insurance. On average, 76 percent of a company’s workers were eligible for the insurance (part-time workers, for example, are often ineligible) and about 70 percent of those eligible used it, leading to just over half of workers (53 percent) actually getting health insurance from their employer. That is a smaller percentage than those who get employer-based health insurance nationally, which could be because Massachusetts makes it easier to get health insurance outside the employer-sponsored model.

Employers who offered health insurance tended to do so because it helped with employee retention and recruitment and because business owners felt it was “the right thing to do.” Employers who didn’t offer insurance most often said their workers received coverage elsewhere or the cost of health insurance was too high.

The report found that the insurance plans generally carry high costs. In 2021, 70 percent of companies offered a high-deductible health plan, and at 55 percent of firms, that was the only plan offered. (Some of those companies did offer a health savings plan option, where employees can set aside money pre-tax to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.) Among all plans with deductibles, the average annual deductible for single coverage was $1,660.

Overall, Massachusetts workers are contributing more than the national average to pay for insurance, both because of higher premium costs and because employers expect workers to pay a larger portion of the cost. Average monthly premiums are as high as $1,956 for an employee with a spouse and dependent children, and employees paid an average of 28 percent of this cost themselves, nearly $550. For a single person, the average monthly premium was $715, of which an employee paid on average just under $180.

Sixteen percent of employers said they increased member contributions this past year to control costs.

The survey also asked how workplace benefits changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that 9 percent of businesses furloughed or laid off employees, and 21 percent had employees who left voluntarily. Those who chose to leave were most likely workers with children (38 percent) and those with underlying health conditions (34 percent), followed by part-time workers, older workers, and women. The most common change to health plans since January 2020 was that 49 percent of firms expanded access to telehealth.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Overdoses on rise: Opioid overdose deaths rose last year by 9 percent, a “devastating statistic,” according to a Department of Public Health official. The rate of opioid deaths among Native Americans was astronomically high. Read more

Vote by mail: The Legislature moves toward adopting vote by mail on a permanent basis, but leaves out same-day voter registration, apparently because of opposition in the House. Read more.

Hunting for engineers: The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is seeking authorization to spend $20 million on pay raises and bonuses to attract more engineers. Read more.

OPINION

Sports betting compromises: Daniel Wallach and John Nucci set out a calibrated roadmap to compromise for the House and Senate on sports betting. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Advocates continue to urge lawmakers to ban electric shock therapy, a tactic used at the controversial Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton to change the behavior of people with disabilities. (MassLive)

The House overrides Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill granting driver’s licenses to immigrants without legal status, sending the bill to the Senate. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the city’s police unions appear to be on the same page in wanting provisions in new contracts that will ensure speedier internal affairs investigations. (Boston Globe)

Columnist Jack Spillane says New Bedford’s city council, in a nod to local public sector unions, continues to stubbornly reject adopting a state-authorized change in municipal health care coverage despite Mayor Jon Mitchell’s urgings and claims that it could save the city budget millions of dollars. (New Bedford Light

A Springfield church plans to melt guns and turn them into gardening tools as part of a protest against gun violence. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Shields Health is hit by a cyberattack that may have compromised personal information of 2 million people. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Survivors of mass shootings, including an 11-year-old girl who told how she smeared herself with the blood of a slain classmate in Uvalde so that the gunman there would think she was dead, urged Congress to take action but don’t seem to have changed minds of any Republican lawmakers opposed to any new gun controls. (New York Times)

A provocative new TV ad promoting gun control says you need a license to hunt animals but not to kill children. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, a conservative who has said he’ll bring fiscal responsibility to state government, is the lone candidate for governor who is opting into the public campaign financing system, which could allow him to draw as much as $1.5 million in taxpayer funds for his campaign. (Boston Globe

Salem will be required to provide election ballots in Spanish, beginning this year, now that the city reached a federal threshold for the size of its Spanish-speaking population. (Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has sanctioned the leaders of a camp for failing to follow up on allegations of inappropriate behavior. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

EDUCATION

Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said he will step down next year, ending what will be a five-year run leading the university. (The Crimson

A former professor at Springfield Technical Community College sues the school after she is fired for refusing the COVID vaccine on religious grounds. (MassLive)

The Boston Public Schools will drop their mask mandate beginning on Monday. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The commission tasked with certifying new police officers adopts standards after a long discussion about how to determine “good character” and fitness for employment. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Gannett is scuttling daily editorial pages at its regional newspapers. (Poynter)