A Maine firm’s $48,000 spring pain

Posted April 28, 2010, at 6:15 p.m.

Spring came early to Brooklin this year as evidenced by the crocuses, grass awaiting the first mow and boats getting a fresh coat of paint. It can be a hopeful time of year.

But it’s also the season for health insurance renewals, which is always looked upon here with dread. We dread these increases more as the years go by, as the amount we are continually asked to pay grows faster than our ability to make money. The last two years have been particularly challenging as the economy has sputtered and we have had to pinch our pennies a little harder.

I paid close attention to the national debate about health care and felt one half of our congressional delegation worked to craft something better than what we now have, while the remainder balked due to their problems with the “process” on one hand and the adverse effect the legislation might have on small businesses on the other.

The current unregulated “process” back here in Maine and its effect on this one small employer is a story that never gets the attention it should.

Our small company is composed of 33 staff members who have health insurance, as do 17 of their spouses and 17 of their children. In total, we have 67 lives on our Anthem insurance policy, and before the latest renewal, had spent $284,000 per year in premiums. Of that amount, WoodenBoat pays for 68 percent and the employees the balance.

Most people down this way say we as a company do “what’s right” by our dedicated staff. We became the first and only Maine company in 2008 to submit to Anthem staff health questionnaires and to record our physical activity and nutrition patterns in exchange for a 2 percent discount on our premiums. We did the same in 2009 and 2010 and now earn $10,000 annually in discounts.

We added a voluntary health program administered by Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Our staff is given an annual check-up by an RN, who works with staff to develop positive goals, and they meet regularly to monitor their progress. This program does not influence our premium costs but was developed to help staff adopt healthier lifestyles. We believe in investing in the health of our staff.

We will experience a 17 percent increase in premiums this year, which is an increase for the company and staff of $48,000. Frustratingly, there is nothing to be learned about why this is, nor are there any reasonable choices for us to offset these increases. We are part of some larger unidentifiable group and process and, as this group requires medical attention, the rates go up. It’s pretty much Anthem up this way and when they decide on a new price or require more profit, it’s a “take it or leave it” offer.

We all hope that better legislation and care is coming, and we only need to make it till 2014. History will judge whether this legislation is truly “better” that than the mess we now have. But for now, it’s three more years of crocuses, green grass and uncontested renewals before we get something better.

Jim Miller is general manager of WoodenBoat Publications Inc. in Brooklin.

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