A new study suggests there may be some positive trends in terms of health care costs may be on the horizon.
The 2017 Medical Plan Trends and Observations Report released by DirectPath and CEB finds deductibles for employer-sponsored health plans will remain relatively flat in 2017 after years of steadily increasing.
The average deductible for an individual health plan is actually decreasing from $890 to $874, while the average family plan deductible will just barely rise, from $1,857 to $1,863. In contrast, between 2015 and 2016 the average individual deductible rose by $113 and the average family deductible went up by $264.
Similarly, the percentage of employees with what are considered high-deductible health plans ($1,300 for individual coverage and $2,300 for family coverage) has barely changed. The percentage of individuals with HDHPs has dropped from 28 percent to 26 percent, while the percentage of families under such plans has risen from 28 percent to 29 percent.
Employers are also contributing more to their workers’ health savings accounts. Employer contributions to individual and family HSAs will both increase by an average of 9 percent, to $571 and $1,138, respectively.
Employers can’t do much, however, to rein in the rapidly increasing cost of specialty drugs and employees will naturally bear part of the brunt. The average copay for a month’s prescription of a specialty medication has risen 31 percent, from $74 to $97.
Kim Buckey, vice president of client services for DirectPath, tells BenefitsPRO that most of the study’s findings were not surprising.
It confirms the growing realization among employers, she says, that high deductible plans are not a “silver bullet” and the cost savings achieved through HDHPs “may come back to bite them further down the line” if employees are forgoing necessary medical care due to cost.
Employers, she adds, could make things better by at least ensuring that their employees understand how their plan works.
“The lack of understanding employees have about these plans is just staggering to me,” she says. Some employees, for instance, mistakenly believe their deductible is the amount they must pay for every visit to the doctor.
The good news is more than half of the health plans examined include some type of “price transparency” tool to help employees better-understand what their insurance gets them and for how much.
The report also shows an increase in the use of wellness programs, rising from 50 percent to 58 percent of all employer insurance plans.
The rise in wellness programs is coupled with a decrease in surcharges for tobacco use, a fact that Buckley suggested was evidence that employers are increasingly embracing the carrot over the stick approach to getting employees to quit smoking.
Buckley says due to uncertainty in Washington surrounding the future of health care policy, the country may be looking at another year or two of “not much change” when it comes to plan design.
However, she notes, if the Affordable Care Act is ultimately repealed and replaced, and particularly if whatever comes after it includes an elimination or a reduction in the tax exemption for employer health plans, things could change dramatically.