Blame it on an economy still on the mend or go so far as to credit Obamacare. Either way, there's fresh evidence of a slowing in health inflation in the latest survey of employers by Towers Watson and the National Business Group for Health.
The survey also affirmed a trend abundantly familiar to a growing number of working Americans: cost-sharing is on the rise.
The cost of providing employer-sponsored health care benefits, according to the survey, is expected to increase 4.4 percent this year, climbing to $9,560 per employee compared to last year's $9,157.
- 49 percent of respondents said they increased employee contributions for dependent tiers at higher rates than for individuals. Another 19 percent expect to make this move next year.
- 24 percent said they now use spousal surcharges of around $100 per month when other coverage is available to the spouse.
- 70 percent believe offering subsidized coverage for spouses is important today. But for 2015 and beyond, only 56 percent believe that subsidized health care for spouses will be very important.
- Employees’ share of premiums increased nearly 7 percent this year. The total employee cost share rose to 37 percent in 2014, up from 34.4 percent in 2011.
- Employees now pay over $100 more each month for health care compared with just three years ago.
- Account-based health plans are the top item these days, with three-quarters of respondents acknowledging that such programs are at least one component of their package. The most popular, the health savings account, is essentially managed by the company but funded by the employee. In its crystalized form, these employee-owned plans shift both cost and responsibility to the individual.
- 16 percent of respondents having adopted account plans as their sole health insurance option for employees, with nearly one-third of all companies indicating they may only offer these plans in 2015.
- Two-thirds of companies believe that private exchanges will offer a viable alternative to employer-sponsored coverage for active employees as early as 2015. Many also view the private exchanges as the future coverage for their retirees.
- Nearly two-thirds of employers that offer a sponsored plan today for retirees say they plan to send all of their pre-Medicare-age retiring workers to public exchanges.
- While the survey indicated that employer confidence in public exchanges is still low, it revealed that respondents are carefully watching the evolution of the exchanges as they weigh scrapping employee health insurance and helping them find exchange coverage.
“Most employers are taking a wait-and-see approach to gauge whether these models can deliver greater value for their active employees than self-managed programs,” said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the NBGH.
Photo: The NBGH's Helen Darling.
While two in five respondents cited the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as the primary driver of their health care strategy, the slow growth in health spending can mostly be attributed to the economy.