Health costs hurting the Irish
Steep rises in health insurance premiums are crippling small Irish businesses and putting workers’ health at risk.
“We were trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat every year,” says Sean Keogh, originally from Templeogue in County Dublin.
Keogh runs an IT consultation and repair firm in New York, Computer Solutions Provider, Inc. “It literally went up 15 percent or 20 percent a year. It was monstrous.”
In the past five years, the situation has got worse. Keogh has had to drastically downgrade the insurance plan available to his employees, and he leaves it up to them to pay for it.
Co-pays went up, services were trimmed. His firm saved some money, but workers’ medical coverage suffered.
As the U.S. government debates ways to improve the health care system, small Irish firms are struggling to insure their employees. To cope with mounting premiums, they pare down what their plans offer, dropping eye-care and dental, and providing basic coverage only.
The deductibles are high, and more of the costs fall to the employee. Yet the benefits stay the same or are less.
The rates of increase in insurance fees vary, but regardless of provider, they tend to be big.
“The last raise was 10 percent,” says Larry Sullivan, president of an electrical and lighting company in Long Island City called Conserve Electric. The company pays insurance for managers, while a union covers employees. Every six months, the premiums go up.
“They’re getting ridiculous, the charges,” Sullivan complains. He is meeting a new broker next week to see if he can get a better deal.
“It couldn’t be much worse. It’s getting tougher and tougher and tougher for small businesses to survive,” he adds.
Health insurance is becoming a bigger issue all the time, according to Gerry O’Donoghue, a certified public account and financial planner based in Mt. Kisco, New York. He gives advice to businesses and individuals, and says about a third of his clients are Irish.
“It’s gotten worse in the last five years, at a faster rate. I believe it’s only a matter of time before some of my clients don’t offer the benefit,” he says.
Businesses’ inability to offer good healthcare also puts a strain on relations with workers, who blame their bosses when their co-pays increase. But with insurance premiums running at between $500 and $800 per month for individuals, and double that to cover families, there’s often little that bosses can do.
“It’s not because they’re trying to pocket more profit for themselves,” O’Donoghue says. “They’re trying to survive.”
Hardly any of the small firms he knows can afford to pay insurance costs for all their employees, Sullivan says. But few of those contacted would speak on record. Their silence is because of shame, Keogh suggests.
“People are embarrassed. They think they’ve failed their employees. If you grew up in Ireland, you’re used to having nearly a national health service,” he continues. “People feel real bad about it.”
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