One of the great drivers of success for organizations in today’s economy is attracting and retaining a talented workforce. Organizations have the task of putting together a total compensation package that fairly compensates employees while balancing the demand for financial sustainability. This can be difficult for human resource professionals, especially in today’s evolving health insurance market.

To the surprise of few, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hasn’t fixed everything from a cost perspective. While it has made insurance more accessible to many previously under-insured members of our community, the cost of coverage keeps rising. If this a concern for your organization, you aren’t alone.

Data from the 2015 M3 Insurance Trend Report shows the average increase for health insurance costs for an average plan enrollee in Wisconsin is $12,811 with an increase of 7.1 percent. In Northwest Wisconsin the message is mixed: the rate of increase has dropped to 4 percent, but the average plan expense is higher than normal at $15,904.

These average trends and costs are reflective of data from multiple studies and plans offered in the federal health exchange, which is also known as the Marketplace.

Wisconsin has traditionally seen higher than average costs than other states for health insurance costs.

This has correlated with a higher quality of care. The Northwest Wisconsin region happens to be blessed with top-quality medical providers, and a big part of the area’s health insurance rates are based upon these providers’ charges.

Thankfully there are things employers can do to control costs! Experts in employee benefits can help identify strategies that meet an organization’s goals and appetite for risk. Plan design, plan offers, plan types, employee contributions, wellness and funding mechanisms are all strategies which organizations should be talking about to curb the costs of coverage while still offering employees high quality health insurance.

An example of an emerging health plan strategy is “self-funding.” Organizations that are willing to take on some risk often explore the possibility of self-funding their health insurance plan. Essentially this means that an employer utilizes a third-party administrator to handle their health claims, but ultimately the employer is responsible for paying the bills rather than a carrier.

This is a different approach than the traditional fully-insured health plan, but there can be distinct fiscal advantages. In 2015, the average self-funded plan saw a 2.7 percent increase versus the 7.1 percent statewide rate. The key is determining the right strategy for your group.

There is a lot of complexity in determining the right plan for an organization’s insured employees and their dependents. It’s the job of an insurance broker to help employers identify the right plans to fit their unique needs. Like most challenges in life, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution and insurance is certainly no different.

Ultimately, employers need an insurance partner who can advise on options and solutions to meet their specific needs and situations. This partnership is integral to an employers’ ability to attract and retain the right employees to help make their operation successful. The right plan at the right cost can be vital to an organization remaining competitive in the market.

Kristin Schmidt is an account executive specializing in employee benefits for M3 Insurance. M3 Insurance is the largest privately held broker of health insurance in Wisconsin. Kristin is based in M3’s Eau Claire office.

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