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NH worker health costs top U.S. list

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 17. 2014 8:57PM

New Hampshire’s average monthly premium cost for state workers is 1 1/2 times that of the national average, according to the first-ever analysis of how much state governments pay to insure employees.

A study released last week by Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation, two nonpartisan research organizations, reports premium costs are highest in New Hampshire, followed by Alaska, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Vermont and Maine. The lowest premium costs are found in Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and South Dakota.

The national average monthly premium in 2013 — the total cost covered by the state and its employees — was $963, compared to $1,512 in New Hampshire, according to the report.

New Hampshire covers 94 percent of the tab; employees pick up the remaining 6 percent. The national average for the state-employee split is 84 to 16 percent.

State Employees Association President Diana Lacey said many variables play a part in the cost of health care plans.“The report touches only upon a few of those factors,” Lacey said. “In New Hampshire, state legislators have considered the provision of a responsible employee health plan a matter of good public policy due to the market impact the workforce and their families can have in this rural state. There is a limited health insurance marketplace in New Hampshire, and that’s why state employees committed to improve the overall health-care marketplace more than 10 years ago.

“Other factors that contribute to the cost of health care for workers in New Hampshire include our aging population, higher incidences of autoimmune diseases, and the regional impact of top quality medical schools and teaching hospitals, and research centers.”

Marie Schiff, the project’s director, said researchers found “sharp differences across the states.”

For example, state employees were responsible for an average 13 percent of their premium for the plans that covered the employee only and 20 percent of the premium if the plan covered the employee and his or her dependents.

But in New Hampshire, the employee’s responsibility was significantly lower. Here, state employees pay an average 7 percent of their monthly premium to cover only themselves and an average of 6 percent of the premium for plans that cover both the employee and dependents.

The report indicates New Hampshire has one of the “richest” plans among the 49 states, with only Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oregon and North Dakota paying a higher percentage of the premium.

Overall, New Hampshire spent $181.5 million on health care for its approximately 15,000 employees and their dependents in 2013, $175.5 million in 2012 and $175.6 million in 2011.

The report’s authors warned against comparing costs state to state because many factors can drive up the cost of premiums.

The number of employees enrolled and their ages, the variety of benefit plans, and the regional differences in doctors’ practice styles complicate attempts to rank and compare states, Schiff said.

Lacey said the report relies on outdated information.

“New health plan changes were implemented in January that increased the shared investment employees and the state have in the health plan,” Lacey said. “There is a greater emphasis on employee wellness, consumer-driven cost impact, employer incentives for employees to reduce long-term health care costs, and employees have a shared stake in health care savings achieved.”

In January, changes made to SEA members’ HMO and POS health benefit plans included the introduction of a $500-per-person in-network deductible, up to $750 per family in calendar year 2014 and $1,000 per family in 2015.

Lacey added: “The report fails to address the fact that health insurance coverage is a popular component of employee compensation due to its ability to lower employer and employee tax liabilities while still providing an important value-added benefit to employees.

For public-sector employers, the investment in the employee health benefit also serves to reduce employee wage growth and somewhat insulate taxpayers from the volatility in wage growth experienced by the private sector. In other words, it’s a highly effective way to avoid paying public employees as much money as their private-sector peers make.”

The study includes data from every state but Pennsylvania, which does not publicly release its public employee benefit costs.

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