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August 24, 2011

A majority of large employers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) said they plan to require employees to contribute a higher percentage of health care premium costs in 2012, according to results of the survey released by the NBGH Aug. 18.

Speaking the same day at a briefing discussing the results of NBGH’s annual midyear survey of large U.S. employers, Helen Darling, president of the organization, said U.S. employers continue to struggle with health care costs, with the estimated per-employee cost in 2012 hitting $11,983. To combat the ever-rising costs, employers are turning to cost-management techniques such as increased cost-sharing and focusing on health improvement initiatives, Darling said.

According to the report, Large Employers’ 2012 Health Plan Design Changes, 53 percent of employers plan to increase the percentage of premium costs that employees pay, but most employers said they plan to increase the contribution amount by less than 10 percent.

Two provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that employers anticipate having the most impact on plans in 2012 are the requirement to extend dependent coverage to children up to age 26 and the restrictions on annual benefit limits, Darling said.

Of the 83 employers surveyed in the NBGH report, 59 percent said they do not plan to make any changes to their annual benefit limits for 2012, but 27 percent said they will make changes to their annual limits for wellness and preventive services.

The restrictions on annual benefit limits are being phased in until 2014, when they will be banned.

While PPACA continues to affect health plans, Darling cautioned against linking new health care law requirements with rising health care costs.

“We have serious health care cost problems completely independent of the Affordable Care Act,” Darling said. “We have to solve these problems no matter what the impact of health care reform is. No matter what happens with the Affordable Care Act, we are still going to struggle with this massive problem.”

Among other key findings of the June survey of large employers, NBGH reported that:

• Employers budgeted for 2012 a median increase of 7.2 percent in the cost of health care benefits, compared with a 7.4 percent budgeted increase in 2010.

• 73% of employers plan to offer at least one form of a consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) in 2012, with the most common CDHP offering being a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account.

• Asking employees to pay a higher percentage of the cost of health insurance premiums was ranked by employers as the most effective cost-sharing strategy (25 percent). The second- and third-ranked most effective cost-sharing strategies for 2012 were offering CDHPs (23 percent) and implementing wellness initiatives to improve employee health (17 percent). 08-22-2011. Bureau of National Affairs.

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