West Michigan Health Attitudes Differ

September 28, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A survey produced for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce's 2004 Future Forum held in Ann Arbor earlier this month portrayed some surprising anomalies concerning the West Michigan business community's attitudes toward health-care costs.

The online survey was one of four distributed to West Michigan through the Grand Rapids Business Journal and to eastern Michigan by Crain's Detroit Business. The chamber also distributed the survey on a statewide basis.

Statewide, employers cite the poor health habits of their own employees as one of the two greatest challenges they face in managing health-care costs.

The finding is consistent with recent studies provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that show that employees' personal habits cost Michigan companies an extra $1,500 every year in costs associated with smoking and overeating.

The other challenge most often cited is the shifting of costs to the private sector for uncompensated health officials and institutions.

A notable incongruity arises between East and West Michigan between the top two concerns.

In West Michigan, 38.6 percent of respondents cited personal health habits as the No. 1 challenge; 25.7 percent listed uncompensated costs. That was reversed in the seven-county metro Detroit area, where 30 percent listed uncompensated costs and 23 percent personal health habits.

"Through all the surveys, basically all the questions came out the same across the state. For there to be such a large difference in opinion on that issue is surprising," explained Joe Ross, president of communications and research.

"There was an incredibly strong response to the question of what is driving state costs, and statewide uncompensated costs were No. 1. But in West Michigan it is personal responsibility."

Ross has conducted statewide research for over 12 years, and he believes that the recent research fits in well with what he has learned in that time about the West Michigan business community.

"It points to West Michigan employers and employees as being a little more self-reliant," he said. "This just confirms things I've seen from other research, a unique personal responsibility in that area. If you're going to solve an issue, you rely on yourself to do it. And that goes for employers and employees."

According to the survey, over the last three years, employers have seen health insurance rate increases averaging 17 percent to 18 percent annually.

Most employers say the premiums they pay for health insurance today are not reasonable. In fact, about one employer out of five goes as far as to characterize premiums as "totally unreasonable."

Statewide, the median monthly cost of health insurance per covered employee — the total amount borne by employer and employee together, excluding co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs — is $650. About one employer in five sees total costs of $800 or more.

Coverage appears to be slightly cheaper in West Michigan, where the median monthly total cost is $550 and only one employer in eight sees costs of $800 or more.

Employers say their go-to solutions for controlling rising costs have been increasing employee co-pays for insurance premiums and increasing or establishing co-pays for prescription drugs.

About one employer in four has reduced coverage to control costs.

Statewide, only 17 percent of employers reported requests from employees for insurance covering alternative health-care providers, while locally, 30 percent of employers reported such requests, marking this as a second time West Michigan went against the majority opinion.

Locally and statewide, chiropractic care was the most requested type of alternative health care by a wide margin.

Over 50 percent of the survey respondents were CIOs, CFOs or CEOs. Consistent with the average staff size of Michigan companies, more than half of those executives have 100 or fewer employees.

Statewide, the majority of respondents were from the manufacturing and service sectors. Locally, the vast majority (50 percent) was from the service sector.

Large portions of respondents were from businesses in the finance, insurance and real estate field (15.7 percent), as well as manufacturing (11.4 percent) and technology (10 percent).    

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