In the Human Resources spectrum, one of the most challenging issues in the past few years has been the steadily rising cost of health care. Not just affecting our fellow employees and their families, our credit union members are also wrestling with the exact same problems. Many of us have grown up in a business environment where adequate health insurance was a ‘given.’ As the health care landscape shifted, consumers became increasingly more responsible for crafting the best coverage from a menu of options at the optimal price point.
Your pay stub serves as a vivid reminder of that costly responsibility. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, employer health insurance premiums increased by 6.1 percent in 2007. While this number is already two times the current national rate of inflation, it is only the average figure. Even more alarming is the fact that many small businesses have been dealing with double-digit increases for three-to-five years…and counting.
This past November brought the startling annual reminder to many of the ongoing siege on our pocketbooks: the launch of the typical “open-enrollment” period for annual benefits elections. If your experience reflects current trends, you reviewed your options to find a decrease in types of coverage available, coupled with increased costs.
An Advocacy Role for Credit Unions?
The role of the credit union is more than just to be a financial institution. In a society where our shopping/banking/service experience is peopled by faceless corporate entities, credit unions are trusted advisers, helping our members and neighbors. Sometimes, we’re the only one helping when everyone else has turned away. The fact that the current economic maelstrom has been largely devoid of credit union failures reflects a keystone principle of credit unions: instead of only looking to make a dollar in our community, we are looking out for each other.
There is no reason that concern for community cannot extend into the health care arena.
For example, as a microcosm of your community, your credit union can play an advocacy role for the adoption of the health savings account (HSAs). Created in 2003, HSAs help individuals save for qualified medical expenses on a tax-free basis. Although HSAs must be linked with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), the premium cost of these HDHPs is significantly lower than other managed-care plans.
Take the time to research the varied member components that comprise your credit union’s community. If you have a sponsoring group for your field of membership, ask their human resources department if they have considered offering the type of plan that is coupled with an HSA option.
You can also hold the same discussion with your local small business owners and fellow credit union staff to see if this is an option that they would find beneficial, given their individual health care needs. Of course, HSAs are just one option, appealing to bottom-line issues. I encourage you to take up the mantle of the cooperative spirit and broaden your advocacy beyond the bottom line.
Ratchet up Community Cooperation
Your advocacy within the health care continuum can include:
- If your credit union has branches in retail locations with in-store pharmacies, explore opportunities for partnerships or cross-promotion marketing. Many retailers now offer low-cost generic prescription medication. Wal-Mart has set the standard of the $4 prescription, which many other groceries and large-scale retailers have met.
- Prevention! Sponsor a health fair, offering simple tests like blood-sugar analysis, cholesterol readings, and blood pressure for members in your branch offices. And then supplement these preventative activities by partnering with local sports clubs or health organizations (Curves gyms, Weight Watchers programs) to offer co-sponsored, discounted memberships.
National health care reform was one of the top issues in our recent presidential campaign. However, the credit union community should not wait for our leaders in Washington to come up with solutions for us. Heightened involvement in local health care issues and solutions represents another avenue to prove that credit unions are the best option for the American consumer. And, another opportunity to take the lead when nobody else will.