By Carol E. Potaczek, J.D.
Nearly four in five employers (78%) project moderate to significant changes in their health plan designs and vendor strategies over the next four years, according to a survey of U.S. employers by Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory, broking and solutions company. These changes are intended to manage health care costs and improve plan value. Employers also anticipate cost increases in 2016 to be around four percent (for the second consecutive year), the smallest increase in 15 years but more than twice the Consumer Price Index, says Willis Towers Watson.
Four hundred sixty-seven employers responded to the Willis Towers Watson 2016 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey, which was fielded in January and February 2016. The 467 employers that responded represent 12.1 million employees and are midsize to large companies across a variety of industries.
The survey also found that more than two-thirds of employers (70%) said the two-year delay in the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s excise tax on high-value health plans will have a small or negligible impact on their health care strategies for 2017. Section 9001(a) of the ACA imposes a 40% excise tax on high-cost health plans, based on the total cost of health coverage, including costs borne by both employers and employees.
“Employers are motivated primarily by the desire to manage cost growth and improve the value of the plans they deliver,” said Randall Abbott, senior health and benefit strategist, Willis Towers Watson. “As they consider a wide range of options, they are implementing changes that not only lower the rate of cost increases but also achieve better health outcomes and improve the patient experience.”
Following are some examples obtained during the survey of options employers are adopting in greater numbers:
- Telemedicine. Electronic physician visits are rapidly becoming ubiquitous: 67% of employers offer them today; by 2018, that number could increase to 90%.
- Centers of excellence. The utilization of medical providers that specialize in particular clinical services is growing dramatically: 31% of employers are using them today; by 2018, that number could grow to 73%.
- High-performance provider networks. Networks of providers that partner with employers and health plans to offer lower premiums and better value offered alongside broad networks are becoming more popular: 13% offer the option today; by 2018, that number could rise to 56%.
- Onsite or near-site health centers. Employer-owned or -sponsored workplace health centers remain appealing: 22% of employers have one or more today; by 2018, that number could grow to 40%.
- Technology to improve employee engagement. Decision-support tools and other engagement technologies are growing in popularity: 52% of employers currently use technology to enable employees to make better plan selections; another 37% could follow in their footsteps by 2018.
“No single action employers can take will achieve all of their organizational health care goals,” said Trevis Parson, senior consultant, Willis Towers Watson. “Instead, employers are continually evaluating a broad range of existing and emerging strategies to achieve optimal outcomes in any given year.”
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