The 2018 Transamerica Center forHealth Studies study found employers are offering benefits at thehighest level since 2013, the first year the study was conducted.(Photo: iStock)

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A new survey underscores the concern thatAmericans feel about possible changes in the health care landscape, but also offers aglimmer of hope:  whatever happens, employers remaincommitted to providing health benefits.

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The Transamerica Center for Health Studies (TCHS) survey is anannual study of employer decision-makers; it included results from1,350 respondents in its latest report. The survey findsmany of the same issues that the business community has struggledwith in recent years: challenges with keeping health care costs in line, employees who worryabout losing health coverage, efforts to create a healthier work force, and concerns about policychanges and regulations on the state or federal level.

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Related: Employers shifting focus from cost-sharing to caremanagement

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“With ongoing uncertainty about health policy in Washington andstate capitols, employers are consistent in their commitment toemployee health coverage,” said Hector De La Torre, executivedirector of TCHS. “Employers also acknowledge the cost burden, butare finding ways to maintain health insurance for their workers asa key employee benefit.”

Health care offerings increased

The 2018 TCHS study found employers are offering benefits at thehighest level since 2013, the first year the study was conducted.The survey says that 85 percent of employers report offering healthbenefits to their full-time employees. In addition, 36 percent ofemployers report they added health insurance or added other healthcare benefits (32 percent). On the other hand, 11 percent say theyreduced or eliminated company contributions to cover costs forhealth care benefits other than health insurance, and nine percentsay they did the same for health insurance costs.

Keeping an eye on Washington

The politics of health care remains a concern for employers. Thesurvey found that 61 percent of employers say their company isextremely or very aware of the potential changes to health carepolicy coming out of Washington D.C.

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When asked how they would like their company to respond if thefederal employer mandate is removed (which has been proposed aspart of repealing or reforming the Affordable Care Act), 25 percentsaid they would not make any changes, but 24 percent said theywould re-evaluate their options. Sixteen percent of respondentssaid they would expect their company to increase coverage. Fiverpercent said they would reduce coverage as much as possible.

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Employers are aware of how concerned their workers are aboutpossible changes to health care policy—72 percent of respondentssaid that employees have expressed at least some fears with respectto changes in health care policy; most commonly, the possibility oflosing their health care due to pre-existing conditions (27 percent).

Managing rising costs

The survey found that most employers are concerned about costs;80 percent of respondents said their company is taking steps tomanage their health care costs. Seventy-three percent of companiesare concerned about the affordability of health insurance for theiremployees, a similar number, 72 percent, report being concernedabout employees being able to afford their out of pocket healthcare expenses.

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The strategies for holding down costs are varied, the mostcommonly-reported strategies are comparison shopping for the besthealth insurance options and finding ways to reduce premiums (bothat 36 percent).

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Wellness efforts seem to be popular, according to the survey,but there is still less-than-universal adoption of such programs.Respondents say that wellness programs have positively impacted jobsatisfaction (77 percent), workers' commitment (73 percent),turnover (61 percent), and absenteeism (59 percent). In addition,close to 80 percent say wellness programs have had a positiveimpact on workers' health, productivity, and performance. And 71percent say these programs have had a positive impact on companyhealth care costs.

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However, the survey found that more than one-third of employers(36 percent) say they do not offer these types of programs to theiremployees.

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What else should employers expect in the newyear? 

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