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Mercer

While I spend most of my work days helping large employers with their health benefit programs, this past week I wore my Mercer health reform leader hat at my own personal version of health policy summer camp in Washington. I spent two days with the American Benefits Council’s policy board, took some meetings on Capitol Hill, and visited with Julie Rovner and Julie Appleby at KAISER Health News. 

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Earlier this week, we hosted a Mercer Select Briefing and asked participants to ponder changes they might make to their health benefits if the ACA’s employer mandate were fully or partially repealed. Of the 175 employers taking the poll, relatively few anticipate making any particular change. The largest number of respondents – 21% – said they would be likely to set higher employee contributions for individual coverage than currently permitted under the affordability requirement. Given that many employers have added lower-cost plans since the ACA was signed, most don’t have an issue with affordable contributions. Just 19% said they would be likely to resume a 40-hour work-week requirement for eligibility (rather than the 30-hour requirement under the ACA) and the same percentage said they would likely revisit lifetime benefit dollar limits. Fewer than one in ten employers thought they might impose pre-existing condition limitations, and almost none said they were likely to require more than a 90-day waiting period for benefits. 

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The anxiously awaited CBO score of the AHCA – reflecting the last round of changes made to the bill before it was passed – was released yesterday afternoon. The nonpartisan scorekeeping office forecast the AHCA would cut the federal deficit by $119 billion over the next 10 years, down from $150 billion in the prior score. From a process perspective, the bill still easily passed the test to save at least $2 billion to qualify for consideration under a reconciliation process that is filibuster-proof by requiring only 51 votes in the Senate, not the typical 60-vote threshold.

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While working women continue to earn less money than their male counterparts, the gap is narrowing when it comes to health benefits. Three years ago, we used data from Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans to examine the difference in benefits between large employers with workforces that are 65% female or more to those with workforces that are 65% male or more. Just under half of the mostly female companies are in health care and a quarter are in the services sector, while mostly male companies are found predominately in the manufacturing industry (52%). The percentage of employees in collective bargaining agreements has remained about the same for the two groups (13% for companies with mostly female employees and 15% for companies with mostly male employees). One workforce statistic has seen some movement since 2013, when the average salary for mostly female companies was about $10,000 less than when the workforce is mostly male; data from our 2016 survey shows the difference is now over $15,000. That’s right – the gap in the average salaries of companies with mostly female vs. mostly male workers has only gotten wider.

 

The health benefits at organizations with predominantly female workforces continue to be less generous than in those with predominantly male workforces. In addition, the employee contributions for these less generous plans are higher than those for the richer benefits offered to employees at mostly male companies. For coverage in a PPO, the most common type of medical plan, the monthly contribution for family coverage is 17% higher ($484 for mostly female companies and $415 for mostly male companies), which is down from a 31% difference in 2013.

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Republican senators will continue discussions this week on revisions to legislation narrowly approved by the House -– the American Health Care Act – to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Passing a bill out of the Senate may be an even tougher fight for Republicans, who can’t afford more than two defections.

 

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With all the uncertainties around healthcare legislation swirling, cost control of pharmacy spend remains top priority for employers. On one hand, employers obviously want their employees to have access to the medications they need: drugs like insulin, blood pressure treatments, and cholesterol blockers have long played a critical role in employees’ health. But now new specialty biotech drugs – some of them true medical breakthroughs – are flooding into the market, at costs much higher than previous therapies. Drug prices spiked by 9.8% between May 2015 and May 2016, and there are more sharp increases ahead. Drug costs are quickly becoming unsustainable, for both employers and, increasingly, plan members. Many high-cost brand name drugs may have rebates to reduce their net cost, but the member or patient typically does not see these rebates so their out-of-pocket cost is still high. And even the cost of some generic drugs has risen dramatically.

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The vote to pass the AHCA in the House – a first step on the road to repealing the ACA – has raised questions about how employers might respond if the ACA requirements affecting employer-sponsored plans were to be lifted. One way to approach that question is to look at how employer plans changed – and how they didn’t change – under the ACA. We went back to past Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans databases to find out.

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Well, it happened. House Republicans got the votes to send the AHCA on to the Senate. The bill will face tough challenges in the Senate, so this is far from a done deal. For now, it is business as usual under the ACA.

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House Republican leaders are working to win the votes needed to pass a revised version of their health care reform bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that aims to lower health insurance premiums for some individuals by letting states obtain waivers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) essential health benefits, community rating, and age banding requirements.

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It has been a month since the American Health Care Act was pulled because House Republicans lacked the votes to advance it to the Senate. Here’s a run-down of all that has happened since then, including our perspective on what it means to employers.

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With this post, we at the blog are officially kicking off annual planning for 2018. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be offering advice and check lists for 2018, including some special to-do’s for prescription drugs and time-off benefits. We thought a good place to start this year is with a list of best practices. The list below contains 25 health benefit best practices from the Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans. Each year we compare the performance of employers that use the most of these best practices with those using the fewest (the top and bottom quartiles). And each year we find that those using the most best practices have lower average healthcare cost increases. (In 2016, the two groups had average increases of 3.8% and 4.8%, respectively.)

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Offerings of HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans have more than doubled in the past five years. Our 2016 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans found that more than half of large employers (53%) now provide this type of plan to their employees, and nearly a quarter of employees (24%) are enrolled. At the same time, there has also been steady growth in offerings of onsite and near-site medical clinics, especially among the largest employers: About a third of employers with 5,000 or more employees provide a clinic for primary care services. An onsite clinic offers the maximum opportunity for control over quality, and more than half of the clinic sponsors in another Mercer survey said that their clinic is integrated with their population health efforts.

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