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New lobbyist group in Kansas plans to combat employers' rising costs for health care

A new lobbyist group in Kansas aims to advocate for affordable health care plans on behalf of employers and employees.

Andrew Wiens, who had been a lobbyist for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce until August, will serve as executive director of Kansas Employers for Affordable Healthcare. "Businesses have been concerned with health-care costs for a long time, and we just felt like it was a good time to launch an organization that is focused exclusively on health care and trying to ensure that health care remains affordable for employers, their employees and their families," said Wiens, who is now director of government relations at Dugan Consulting Group.

The launch comes as employers nationwide brace for rates to climb in the coming years. U.S. employers expect health benefit cost per employee to increase an average 5.6% in 2023, according to a Mercer poll published in August. That's higher than the 4.4% increase projected for 2022, yet below the overall inflation rate, which is running at 8%. Analysts suspect the reason for the lag is that multi-year contracts with health-care providers haven't been renewed yet, and that inflation-driven cost increases will be felt over the next few years.

Wiens said health coverage affordability matters now because the employee benefit market is as competitive as ever amid the current labor market.

"If our state falls behind in that area by passing more mandates or things that raise the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance, and health care, we could lose out on some of these highly talented workers to other states. We don't want to see that happen," Wiens said. Wiens said the advocacy group plans to build a coalition of Kansas employers of all types, including private business, unions, associations, school districts or local governments — whether they offer fully-insured plans, in which employers pay a premium to a health insurance company, or self-funded plans, in which an employer uses its own funds to provide health coverage.

Wiens said the group plans to look out for mandates or red tape introduced in the Kansas Legislature that would require employer-sponsored health insurance to cover items that they don't have to cover today, "whether that be some type of illness or disease or something that would raise their cost," he said.

"I think one of our efforts is to encourage the Legislature and policymakers to count the costs as they pass those bills," Wiens said. "Maybe there is a legitimate public policy interest for what they're trying to do. But what we're trying to do is remind them that these things can cost money, and I think oftentimes that can that can be easily forgotten.

For self-funded plans, especially, Wiens says a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision has called into question federal protections for self-funded health plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

"That's another reason for starting up this organization, is that's a potential red flag for any employer at all who's got health-care benefits they offer employees, but particularly for an employer who's got a self-funded ERISA," Wiens said.

Jan 18, 2023, 2:53pm CST

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