MADISON, Wis. (9/7/10)--Workers in the U.S. likely will experience a 14% increase in the cost to insure their families, according to CNNMoney.com. Credit unions are taking a proactive approach to keep health costs down for their employees. Roughly two-thirds of credit unions provide some type of health insurance to employees. One-third of credit unions with health care plans reported making changes for 2010, according to the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Credit Union Staff Benefits Report 2010. Among credit unions that made changes to reduce their 2010 health care plan costs, 41% increased employee cost-sharing for health care coverage, 37% increased/enhanced communications to employee on health issues, 34% studied health care data for cost of utilization patterns and 32% added use of their wellness program. Most credit unions that changed their 2010 plan increased the deductibles, employee cost-sharing of premium costs and co-payments. Among credit unions that made changes, about 45% increase employee deductibles for single coverage and family coverage, while 34% increase employee contributions to the annual premium for single and family coverage, said the CUNA report. Also, roughly 30% increased co-payments for prescription drug coverage, office visits and emergency room visits. About 10% to 15% changed insurance providers, changed the type of health insurance plan offered to employees, and set up health reimbursement accounts. Looking ahead to 2011, Meritrust CU, Wichita, Kan., has redesigned its employee health insurance plan for the next year. The credit union “married” the benefits of its health insurance with a wellness program that it launched five years ago, said Byron Stout, vice president of human resources. “We’re positioning ourselves for health care reform,” Stout told News Now. Meritrust has “unbundled” its plan with separate medical, dental and vision providers. It also implemented a mandatory generic drug policy, meaning that if employees choose to buy a name brand drug when a generic is available, they will pay the difference. The credit union added preventive care so employees are covered 100% for yearly doctor, dental and eye exam visits. The added benefits have increased premiums by about 8% on average for its three-tiered insurance program, but Meritrust anticipates a significant return. Of Meritrust’s 190 full-time employees, about 140 participate in its insurance program. The insurance is structured at 50-50, meaning that employees pay half until they hit their co-insurance limit, when coverage moves to 100%. Employees’ monthly premiums increased, but employees seem to be happy with the new plan. “There’s a lot of angst,” Stout said. He added that the credit union is aware of other companies that have had to increase premiums by 20%. Meritrust’s wellness program takes a holistic approach, allowing employees to earn points for wellness activities--including physical, mental and financial health. Employees who don’t have health insurance through Meritrust are eligible to participate in the wellness program. Credit unions need to be proactive with their health plans, and do their homework. Stout advised them to seek the help of a broker--but only brokers who will go above and beyond by providing them with more than just what they’re paid to do. “You know it’s the right broker if they provide you with other services,” he said. For example, Meritrust’s broker has connected the credit union with partners for its health plan. Credit unions also need to communicate with their employees on the cost of insurance, Stout said. “The first thing we did was tell them what the credit union pays out of pocket [for their health coverage],” Stout said. “The response was, ‘Wow.’ We do our best in educating and communicating to [our employees.]” Denver (Colo.) Community FCU said it isn’t sure what will happen with its health plans for next year, but its deductibles and co-pays on employee plans went up for 2010. However, the credit union was able to maintain a 2% increase, said Barbara Rash, human resources manager. “The employees were very understanding,” she said. “There’s tough news out there with the economy.” Keesler FCU, Biloxi, Miss., also is monitoring the health care situation. It isn’t sure yet what premiums will look like until after Jan. 1, as its renewal date for insurance is in May, but said it would let its employees know as soon as possible what kinds of changes to anticipate. “We will be communicating things as soon as we get our changes from our medical provider,” said Debbie McVadon, Keesler vice president of human resources. Employees have not voiced their concerns about healthcare yet, she added. Like Meritrust, the credit union has a wellness committee that plans regular activities, and Keesler is involved with the American Heart Association’s Start Walking program. Employees are encouraged to walk on their breaks, and participants can wear jeans and casual shoes on Fridays, she said. Employees can log the number of steps they take and those with the highest number of steps are eligible for prizes, she said. Keesler also will become a tobacco-free workplace Nov. 1, which means that employees, members and other visitors will not be able to smoke on the credit union’s properties. The credit union is hoping that it will deter people from smoking and reduce healthcare claims.