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    Health care costs weigh on Iowa's young professionals as they look to start their careers

    Company's health care benefits are a factor in their job decisions

    Molly Monk (left), assistant director of development with NewBoCo, meets Aug. 6 with Director of Development Kaitlin Dyers at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
    Molly Monk (left), assistant director of development with NewBoCo, meets Aug. 6 with Director of Development Kaitlin Dyers at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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    CEDAR RAPIDS — After Molly Monk, 25-year-old NewBoCo assistant director of development, began fainting up to 10 times a day, she was grateful she got health insurance through her employer while her dad was between jobs — just in case a medical situation like this one struck.

    She was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a nervous dysfunction more commonly known as POTS that causes an increased heart rate after standing, lightheadedness, fatigue, brain fog and heart palpitations.

    Three weeks of medical bills would’ve been about $5,000 for her as of mid-July. Thanks to insurance, she paid $80.

    The health insurance plan is a factor in why Monk is unlikely to switch companies in the foreseeable future.

    “Insurance allows me to live and work while I’m figuring things out,” she said.

    Going without health insurance may cause some young professionals to also go without the care they need, fearful of running up big bills if they get sick. So as the cost of health care continues to climb, young professionals just entering the workforce are looking through the plethora of insurance choices to find one that fits — even if it means a different career choice.

    For Sarah Hagedon, 28, of Marion, better health insurance was a strong enough reason to change jobs.

    When she had to leave her parents’ insurance plan, she signed onto one offered by her employer at the time. She had a choice of a plan with a high deductible that covered most things, or one with a low deductible that covered almost nothing, she recalled.

    While she didn’t have any major health issues, she said her health insurance became a big financial stressor.

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    Because of that and other reasons, she started looking for a new job with better benefits and moved to a position at GreatAmerica Financial Services.

    “If (the health insurance) would’ve been similar or only slightly better, I may not have left,” she said.

    Financial stresses

    Monk, who once worked as program manager for NewBoCo’s Iowa Startup Accelerator, saw how money worries affected entrepreneurs she recruited to the area.

    She said she personally wouldn’t consider going out to start a career on her own due to needing the health insurance provided by her employer for her condition.

    “Without insurance, you wouldn’t go figure things out. You wouldn’t get help, and that could be devastating,” she said.

    Starting a new business is a risk for anyone, she said. But those who need health care coverage may have to work part time at another job, rely on a spouse’s insurance or move in with family members to launch the start up.

    “Traditional” entrepreneurs often are thought of as men in their mid-20s, Monk said, who can remain on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 should they choose to start a business, taking out some of the start up risk. This leaves older “non-traditional” entrepreneurs, including women, people of color and people with more health issues, at a disadvantage and limits the diversity of the business world, she said.

    “We’re losing out on a wealth of ideas,” she said.

    Monk and Hagedon also noted how young professionals’ budgets are further stretched by having to pay off student loans. According to the most recent data from the class of 2017, the average student loan debt in Iowa is $29,859.

    Considering starting a family would be another financial stress. Hagedon said that, if she wanted to start a family while at her old job, she wouldn’t be able to do both — she’d either have to delay having children or find a different job.

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    The Iowa Workforce Development’s April 2019 Laborshed Analysis shows 95.9 percent of full-time employed Iowans receive health insurance. Of that group, 75.6 percent of employees said their employer shares premium costs; 11.8 percent said their employer covers all premium costs; and 12.6 percent either said their employer doesn’t help with premium costs or didn’t answer.

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    The analysis also shows that of the Iowans who are unemployed, 92 percent said health insurance was a factor in wanting a job. The state’s unemployment rate has remained at a low 2.4 percent for months.

    The Iowa Workforce Development’s 2019 Employer Benefit Analysis shows that not all Iowa businesses offer health care benefits. Of the 10,613 employer respondents, 77.6 percent of employers reported offering benefits — including benefits in insurance and paid leave categories — to full-time and part time employees. Of the employers who said they provide benefits, 78.1 percent offer medical insurance, 59.3 percent prescription drug coverage, 52.7 percent dental coverage, 34.7 percent vision coverage, 33.9 percent long-term disability coverage and 33.3 percent short-term disability coverage.

    Transparency in which benefits are offered is one thing that both Jason Smith and Kyle Mertz, TrueNorth president and principal benefits adviser respectively, said young professionals desire.

    Through the work TrueNorth does with its clients, the insurance company has been able to see what employees, including young professionals, want when it comes to benefits.

    Employees must be equipped with the right tools to make decisions about the best benefits for them, Mertz said. Staying on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, he said, delays thinking about potential financial stressors and what’s personally important in a health care plan.

    “Employers have some restraints” on what health care plans they can offer, Mertz said. “So, it’s up to young professionals to have an active role.”

    Using technology

    Smith said many young professionals go on high-deductible plans.

    A person in his or her 20s may not worry much about getting sick, he said, and premium costs are lower on high-deductible plans.

    Young professionals may not have enough savings to pay that high deductible, he said, but they should be aware of any voluntary insurance policy from their employer that could fill the gap and lower overall costs.

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    A few new things can help attract young professionals to a company when it comes to benefits, Smith said. For example, they like easier access to seeing and reviewing benefits. While companies still have staff meetings that detail employee benefits, he said, the choice to check on benefit information at any hour of the day is something young professionals want.

    He said new technology is being adopted that employees can use to see where the closest, cheapest options are to pick up prescriptions. Two different pharmacies may carry the same prescriptions, he said, but the price may be two or three times higher at one place over the other.

    This kind of technology would add another layer of transparency to help people control and track what they spend.

    Young professionals also tend to participate in health challenges within the workplace, Smith said, which is a way to promote healthy living and habits that could decrease personal medical expenses down the line.

    Employers must figure out how to best use their benefit programs to attract young professionals, he said, which also could include options for pet insurance or programs to help pay for student loans.

    “If I was a young person today, I would want to know — are my employers seeing my benefits as an investment or as an expense?” Smith asked.

    l Comments: kayli.reese@thegazette.com

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