Unemployment rate declines to 7.8%
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ tally for September shows non-farm payroll rose by 114,000, as the official unemployment rate fell from 8.1% to 7.8%.
The 7.8% unemployment rate is the lowest since January 2009.
The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.7%, after edging down in the prior two months. The overall trend in the employment-population ratio for this year has been flat, according to the report released Friday morning.
Employment in construction and retail trade showed little change over the month, according to the bureau.
Clone of family health plan premiums near $16,000
Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $15,745 in 2012, up 4% from 2011, with workers on average paying $4,316 toward the cost of their coverage, according to the not-for profit Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET)’s 2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey report.
Premiums for worker-only health coverage increased 3% in 2012 to reach $5,615 annually. Workers on average pay $951 toward this coverage.
The 2012 premium increase was moderate by historical standards but outpaced the growth in workers’ wages (1.7%) and general inflation (2.3%). Since 2002, premiums have increased 97%, three times as fast as wages (33%) and inflation (28%), according to the annual survey.
“In terms of employee insurance costs, this year’s 4% increase [for family coverage] qualifies as a good year, but it still takes a growing bite out of middle-class workers’ wages, which have been flat or falling in real terms,” Kaiser president and CEO Drew Altman said during a conference call with the media. (Altman also authored a commentary on the survey results.)
Cost expectations for 2013
In addition to the comprehensive survey conducted in the spring of 2012, employers were asked in August 2012 whether they had information about plan year 2013 cost increases for their current health plan with the largest enrollment. The average increase reported by employers who had received information for their current plan was 7%.
These early reports may not match what employers and workers ultimately end up paying in 2013, as firms can raise deductibles or otherwise change the health benefits they offer to lower premiums. In 2012, for example, more than half (54%) of employers who offered health benefits reported they had shopped around for new coverage. Of that group, a significant portion switched carriers (18%) or changed the type of plans they offer (27%).
Employers also must decide whether the portion of cost increases directed to family coverage premiums will be greater than the portion borne by those with individual-only coverage.
High-wage vs. low-wage firms
The KFF/HRET survey revealed significant differences in 2012 regarding worker contributions toward family premiums between firms with many lower-wage workers (at least 35% of their workers earn $24,000 or less a year) and firms with many higher-wage workers (at least 35% of their workers earn $55,000 or more a year):
Workers at lower-wage firms on average pay $1,000 more each year out of their paychecks for family coverage than workers at higher-wage firms ($4,977 and $3,968, respectively). This occurs even though the average total premiums cost (employer plus employee paid) for family coverage at firms with many lower-wage workers is lower (for instance, due to less comprehensive coverage) than at firms with many higher-wage workers ($14,694 and $16,427, respectively).
Workers at lower-wage firms are more likely to face high deductibles than those at higher-wage firms. Specifically, 44% of covered workers at firms with many lower-wage workers face an annual deductible of $1,000 or more, compared with 29% of those at firms with many higher-wage workers. Across all employers, one-third of covered workers (34%) face a deductible of that size, including 14% with deductibles of at least $2,000 annually.
Healthcare reform and employers
The KFF/HRET survey estimated that 2.9 million young adults were covered by employer plans in 2012 as a result of a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allows young adults up to age 26 without employer coverage of their own to be covered as dependents on their parents’ plan. That’s up from the 2.3 million in the 2011 survey.
The survey also found that 48% of covered workers were in “grandfathered” plans as defined under health care reform, down from 56% in 2011. Grandfathered plans are exempted from some health care reform requirements, including covering preventive benefits with no cost-sharing and having an external appeals process. To retain this status, employers must not make significant changes to their plans to reduce benefits or increase employee costs.
Average co-payments in 2012, according to the KFF/HRET survey, include the following:
For in-network physician office visits, covered workers’ average co-pays were $23 for primary care and $33 for specialty care.
For emergency room visits, average co-pays were $118.
For drug plans with three or more tiers, average co-pays were $10 for generic drugs, $29 for preferred brand-name drugs, $51 for nonpreferred brand-name drugs and $79 for specialty drugs.
Among firms offering health benefits:
28% provided coverage to part-time workers in 2012, up from the 16% reported in 2011 but similar to the 25% reported in 2010.
Large firms — those with 200 or more workers — were more likely than smaller companies to offer health benefits to part-time employees (45% versus 28%). In 2010, only 39% of large firms offered health insurance to part-time workers.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employees working 30 or more hours per week will be considered full time and must be offered employer-based health coverage. Businesses with 50 or more employees that don’t offer coverage will have to pay a $2,000-per-worker penalty.
The survey also revealed findings related to:
Domestic partner benefits. In 2012, 31% of employers offered health benefits to same-sex domestic partners, up from 21% three years earlier. In 2012, 37% of firms offered such benefits to unmarried opposite-sex partners, up from 31% in 2009.
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and pretax premiums. Large employers were more likely than smaller ones (those with under 200 workers) to allow workers to pay their share of premiums with pretax income (91% for large employers vs. 41% for small employers) and to contribute pretax dollars to FSAs (76% vs. 17%).
The KFF/HRET survey was conducted between January and May of 2012 and included 3,326 randomly selected, nonfederal public and private firms with three or more employees (2,121 of which responded to the full survey and 1,205 of which responded to a single question about offering coverage).
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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Craftsman launches its own comic book
Craftsman Tools, in partnership with DC Entertainment, has published a custom comic book to showcase its new, modular power tool system. “Craftsman Bolt-On System Saves the Justice League," which debuted at New York’s Comic Con on Oct. 1, can be viewed and downloaded at CraftsmanComic.com, where fans can submit their own suggested plot for the hero.
"We loved working with the Craftsman brand team on this project," said Hank Kanalz, senior VP digital, DC Entertainment. "In the new, custom comic book we spotlight how tools play an important behind-the-scenes role in this Justice League story, from tuning up the Batmobile to getting the Invisible Jet back up and running after an epic battle. It’s a unique angle, one that we don’t get to see in the normal course of our stories."
In the inaugural edition, the Craftsman Technician acts as the handyman to the Justice League, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash. The Technician finds himself at the center of the story when a villain, The Key, tries to steal records from The Hall of Justice while the Justice League is away. The Technician’s quick thinking and Bolt-On tool help save the day.
"Accomplishing a DIY project can make you feel like a superhero in your home, and the tools you use are a big part of that," said Michael Castleman, president, Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard, and senior VP Sears Holdings. "With the switch of an attachment, the bolt-on tool system can transform into nine different tools to tackle any task. With this comic and our presence at Comic Con, we want to show DIY to a new generation of tool users."