The cost of employer-provided health insurance is set to increase 5.7 percent next year. That's on top of a 6.1 percent hike in 2011.
Fortunately, Utah's own Sen. Orrin Hatch is trying to do something about the seemingly endless rise in the cost of health care coverage.
A bill under consideration in the Senate co-sponsored by Hatch and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., would repeal billions of dollars in new taxes levied on health insurers by the federal health reform law. Not only will the measure yield lower health insurance premiums, but it will also help stimulate the American economy. Utahns should rally around the senators' efforts.
Starting in 2014, health insurance companies must pay a tax based on their net annual premium revenue. In essence, the larger an insurer's market share, the bigger the tax it has to pay.
The purpose of this new tax is simple, to raise revenue. It's expected to generate $87 billion for the federal government in just the first five years of implementation.
Slapping insurers with taxes may be politically popular. But they won't be the ones who ultimately shoulder the burden of the levy. Consumers will. As an analysis from former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin put it, the costs of this new tax will "be largely passed through to consumers in the form of higher premiums for private coverage."
Once the tax has kicked in, health premiums are going to jump an estimated $135 billion over the next decade, according to Holtz-Eakin's report.
What does that mean for the average American? A study from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that over the next 10 years this tax could raise the cost of an individual health plan by as much as $2,400 and the price of a family policy by up to $5,700.
So millions of American families will face higher insurance premiums. Many are still struggling to pull themselves out of the recession. This is absolutely the worst time to ratchet up their health insurance expenses.
The health insurance tax will also cause coverage costs for Utah's businesses to jump. It's estimated that the new levy will engender nearly $300 billion in additional expenses for the private sector in America over its first two decades.
Firms will compensate for higher health costs by cutting down on other expenses. One survey from Towers Watson found that 90 percent of American businesses plan on cutting labor costs because of the tax.
This cost-cutting will involve, in part, reductions in employee wages. Holtz-Eakin found that the average employee with a family insurance plan through work will see his take-home pay drop $5,000 over the next decade because of this new tax.
Some parts of the private sector will respond by slashing jobs. Eliminating positions may be the only way for many firms — particularly small ones with less wiggle-room in their budgets — to stay afloat amidst spiraling health care costs.
In fact, the National Federation of Independent Businesses estimates that the health insurance tax will cause American firms to slash between 125,000 to 249,000 positions over the next 10 years. Over half of those job losses will occur in small businesses.
The harm to smaller firms is actually more damaging to the economy than bigger firms. According to U.S. Census data, small businesses create more than 90 percent of net new jobs nationally. These are the agile, innovative private enterprises whose growth policymakers should be encouraging to reinvigorate the job market. But this new health insurance tax will do precisely the opposite.
Utah's unemployment rate is 7.4 percent. That's lower than the national average but still well above what's healthy. The job cuts sure to be delivered by this insurance tax couldn't come at a worse time for this state — or the country at large.
Hatch is right to call for the repeal of the health insurance tax. If it's allowed to stand, then Utahns and Americans will face a future of skyrocketing premiums, sluggish economic growth and dwindling job opportunities.
Ryan Thorn is the former president of the Utah Association of Health Underwriters.