The chart below displays how the burden of paying for medical care for those covered by Outagamie County, Wisconsin has grown in the past three decades. Similar patterns exist for shorter periods time. In each case the county’s share of medical care expenses for those it covers has grown more rapidly than the county’s levy and much more rapidly than median household income for the residents of Outagamie County. Furthermore, these data do not include the share of the burden (through premium or out-of-pocket payments) borne by the employees of Outagamie County.
While the median household income of Outagamie County residents (Med HH Inc) increased by 82% over the 1991-2017 period, the County Levy increased by 215%, and healthcare expenses (HC$/Contract) by 522%. Thus, many county residents, who cannot afford the healthcare benefits offered to county employees, continue to pay the increasing cost of county benefits through property taxes. For the 1999 to 2017 period, median household income grew by only 24% while medical care costs per employee of Outagamie County grew by 332%. Even for the most recent period (2010 to 2017), medical care costs per employee of Outagamie County grew by 37% while median household income grew by only 10%. The cost of providing health benefits to county employees accounted for $1.8 million of the $2 million increase in the levy for 2019. In other words, virtually the entire reason for an increase in the county levy in 2019 was the cost of providing health benefits to county employees.
The county Is to be commended for sharing this data. The results above are likely very similar for municipalities and schools as well. They are cause for concern because they create: (1) high burdens in premium and cost-sharing for county employees, (2) reductions in services and/or increases in taxes for county taxpayers and residents, and (3) pressure on county executives and boards to address what is clearly an unsustainable trajectory. When are we going to knuckle-down and address these runaway costs in a way that is equitable to both employees and taxpayers? The time for action is NOW.
PS to this story: We met with the Appleton Superintendent of Schools Judy Baseman and HR Director Julie King on March 13. While the school district has not yet provided data similar to what the county provided, Ms. King commented in our discussion that the school district data were similar to the county experience.