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McCaleb: Health care conversation not going away

File this one under stories that fly under the radar during busy news weeks:

American families pay an average of $15,745 a year on health insurance premiums, according to an annual survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

That’s up 4 percent from 2011.

And while that increase is down from the 9 percent that premiums increased in 2011, the cost of health care is getting to a point where more and more families are having to do without, particularly when wages largely have been static in recent years. Just three years ago, American families paid an average of $13,345 annually, a $2,400-a-year difference from today.

While much of the campaign focus has been on the nation’s $16 trillion debt, 9 percent unemployment and high taxes, the rising cost of health care – even after President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court – is a growing concern.

A few other details from the report:

• Workers at lower-wage companies (defined as at least 35 percent of workers earn $24,000 or less a year) pay about $1,000 more a year for family coverage than workers at higher-wage firms (at least 35 percent of workers earn $55,000 or more a year).

• Workers at these same lower-wage companies are much more likely to face annual deductibles of $1,000 or more.

• 61 percent of employers offer health benefits, about the same as last year.

Suzanne Hoban, executive director of the Family Health Partnership Clinic, a local nonprofit that serves the uninsured and underinsured in McHenry County, said the report shows that rising health care costs are hurting lower-income families more than any other.

“This is significant, because this means that those who can least afford it are paying a much higher rate for insurance,” Hoban said in an email exchange. “This cost difference may cause lower-wage workers to decline coverage because it’s too costly.”

Hoban also noted that we all pay for those who are uninsured.

“I think it’s critical for people to understand that even if you’re insured, you are paying for those who are not,” Hoban said. “You pay through your insurance premiums and through your taxes.”

Regardless of whether you support Obamacare, the cost of health care needs to continue to be a part of the national dialogue.

Even the staunchest supporters of the Affordable Care Act must realize that we haven’t figured it out yet.

• • •

Great idea: Castle Bank hosted a reception Thursday night at Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills where guests could meet a number of community leaders.

The leaders on hand were D. Scott Brown, president and COO of Sage Products; Pam Cumpata, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp.; Patrick Maynard, president and CEO of Pioneer Center for Human Services; Susan Milford, senior vice president of marketing at Centegra Health System; Mary Miller, chairman of the McHenry County College Board of Trustees; Vicky Smith, president of McHenry County College; and Dan Plote, president of Plote Construction.

Each of the guests of honor gave a brief presentation about him/herself and what he/she does, but most of the night was dedicated to mingling and pleasant conversation. It was a great way for folks from different professions to get to know one another.

Thanks to Brenda Bono, branch manager of Caste Bank’s Lake in the Hills location, for sending me the invite. Bono and I serve on Pioneer’s board of directors together.

• • •

More from the Capitol: The Capitol Building in Springfield, that is. You might have noticed a couple of new columnists appearing in Northwest Herald pages last week.

We published Doug Finke’s column on Illinois’ public pension debacle on Wednesday’s Opinion page. Finke covers state government for the Springfield Journal-Register and its parent company, Gatehouse Media.

On page A2 on Tuesday, we published Rich Miller’s column on the difference in polling numbers in Illinois in the presidential race this year and four years ago. (Obama still holds a lead, but it’s smaller than in 2008.) Miller also covers state government. He publishes Capitol Fax, a subscription-based daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Finke’s and Miller’s commentary on issues facing the state and Illinois state government will become a weekly staple in the newspaper.

We also plan to add a weekly column from Scott Reeder. A veteran statehouse reporter, Reeder is journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit, conservative think tank.

These three additions will greatly improve our coverage of state issues.

• • •

Smells good: If you haven’t already, you’re going to want to get your tickets soon for Thursday’s Taste of Home Cooking School at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn.

The pre-show starts at 3:30 p.m. Local vendors will be on hand showing off their goods and services, and the Holiday Inn is preparing a tasty buffet for $15.95.

The main event kicks off at 7 p.m. Hosting this year is culinary specialist Guy Klinzing, who puts on a great show. For just $16 a person, you get live cooking demos, a goody bag with $25 worth of merchandise, prizes, giveaways and so much more.

Tickets are limited, so if you haven’t bought yours yet, you should do so soon. See our order form on page D6 today, or call the Northwest Herald at 815-450-4040 during business hours Monday through Thursday this week.

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NWHeditor.

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