Photo: Associated Press

Although few employers are making significant changes to their health care benefits in the coming year, more and more are adding wellness programs that aim to prevent problems before they happen.

With the open enrollment season under way, the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute recently conducted a health benefits survey in conjunction with the Society for Human Resources Management. Most private and employers say expect to maintain the status quo for the foreseeable future. Although few plan to drop health benefits, they also don’t expect to trigger the Cadillac tax on high-cost benefits.

The most significant findings include:

  • Only 1 percent of plan sponsors expect to eliminate health benefits in 2015.
  • Nearly 36 percent of employers expect to add wellness programs. The use of rewards and penalties is increasing, possibly because of the combination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-allowed higher financial incentives and the 2018 excise tax on high-cost health plans. 
  • Employers may also be focusing on wellness programs because of the link to worker risks and behaviors, which drive chronic conditions and account for a large percentage of overall health spending.
  • Few employers are planning to make changes to eligibility for spousal coverage and part-time worker benefits, and few are moving toward tiered networks, private health insurance exchanges, value-based insurance design and reference pricing. Employers may be waiting for evidence from early adopters before making untested changes. 
  • Tiered networks will be offered by 3.6 percent.
  • A move to private exchanges is expected by 3.2 percent.
  • Value-based insurance design is anticipated by 2.6 percent.
  • Only 0.6 percent will adopt reference pricing.
  • Concerns about the excise tax on high-cost health plans eventually may result in accelerated adoption of tiered networks, private health insurance exchanges, value-based insurance design and reference pricing.

“We are in the middle of open-enrollment season, so we figured people would be interested to know what health-plan sponsors are thinking,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the report. “We found that very few employers plan to make major changes — at least for now — and most seem to be moving toward adoption of wellness programs.”