The H1N1 influenza is the wild card on the list of the year’s top stories in the health, disability and group benefits markets.
As of press time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting a decrease in flu activity, and the H1N1 flu had not caused the emergency room-swamping catastrophe of risk forecasters’ nightmares.
But insurers such as UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn., and Aetna Inc., Hartford, say the flu was one of the main reasons ratios of medical claims costs to premiums were higher in the third quarter of 2009 than in the third quarter of 2008.
And, as of press time, there were still a few more weeks left in the year for the flu to make a comeback.
Here is a rundown of some of the other big group benefits and individual health and disability stories of the year:
2. The Economy. Few group health plan sponsors that survived as going concerns dropped their plans in 2009, but layoffs reduced head counts.
A group that had 20 workers before the slump began might have 15 workers today, says Jim Shepherd, an associate vice president at AlphaStaff Group Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a human resource outsourcing firm.
“I think everyone’s nervous,” Shepherd says. “There’s so much uncertainty.”
Some groups are shrinking because employers are eliminating family coverage options, or asking workers to pay a higher percentage of the cost of covering spouses and dependent children, says Thomas Mangan, president of Corporate Synergies Inc., Mount Laurel, N.J.
3. The economy drove up claim costs. So far, the recession has had little effect on disability claims, but it has increased health and dental claims.