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Mercer

While it’s far from clear where the incoming administration and Congress will land on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” with regard to the Affordable Care Act, they are signaling interest in promoting the use of health savings accounts by expanding eligibility and allowing funds to be used for more purposes. High-deductible HSA-eligible plans already feature in many employer health benefit programs. In 2016, 21% of all covered employees were enrolled in an HSA-eligible plan. Enrollment has been rising over the past decade as employers -- especially large employers (500+ employees) -- have added HSA-eligible plan choices to their health programs. The threat of the excise tax was a big motivator for employers to move employees into lower-cost plans; while the excise tax may go by the wayside, there is now discussion of capping the individual tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage, which could still drive cost pressure on employer-sponsored health plans.

 

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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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A plethora of Federal, state and local leave laws and regulations has made employer compliance and leave administration increasingly complex. It’s not surprising, then, that improving FML administration is the top priority for employers’ absence and disability programs. Employers are increasingly relying on outside vendors or licensing software to administer and manage these leaves and attempt to keep up with the ever-changing leave landscape. We’re seeing the fastest growth in outsourcing leave administration among small and mid-sized employers.

 

FMLA OUTSOURCING

EMPLOYER SIZE

2007

2010

2013

2015*

All respondents

14%

25%

38%

40%

100 – 999 employees

5%

13%

13%

19%

1,000 – 4,999 employees

11%

29%

37%

48%

5,000 or more employees

25%

37%

57%

60%

 

*Co-sourcing was included as an option in the 2015 survey and results for both co-sourcing and outsourcing are included in the overall outsourcing figures

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Click here to see the full infographic

 

We’ve been tracking the growth of consumer-directed health plans in our national survey for years.  Now policymakers in Washington are signaling interest in liberalizing health savings account rules, intensifying the focus on high-deductible plans that would be eligible for an HSA. While the majority of large employers already offer CDHPs – among the largest they are nearly ubiquitous – most often they are offered as a choice, not as the only medical plan. Building enrollment in a CDHP offered as a choice has proven to be challenging, but it can be done. In this infographic, we present survey findings that should be of interest both to employers thinking about a full replacement strategy and to those committed to offering a CDHP as a choice but looking to encourage more employees who could benefit to make the move. 

 

 

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Just a few days after the dramatic collapse of efforts to pass the House GOP’s American Health Care Act, more than 1,300 folks with an interest in employer-sponsored health benefits joined a Mercer webcast* to learn a) what the heck just happened, b) now what, and c) what does this mean for employer health benefits? A team from our Washington Resource Group aced the first question and gave as good a look into the future as possible without a crystal ball. 

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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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Way up there on the list of things not to like about the U.S. healthcare system is the extreme variation in prices charged for the same service from one provider to the next – variation that is very often unrelated to quality of care. While employers are tackling this problem in a few different ways, there isn’t a ton of data to show how well any of these strategies work. So I jumped on the recent New York Times article reporting on one mega-employer’s attempt to achieve more standard pricing while still allowing members to choose their providers – reference-based pricing. The employer in question is the California Public Employee Retirement System, or Calpers for short, and the experiment included 450,000 of its members.

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A couple of weeks ago (feels like ages) we launched a brief survey to find out where employers stood on specific provisions in the House GOP repeal-and replace-bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). We closed the survey on Thursday with more than 900 responses.  As I was reviewing the results on Friday, the bill was apparently dying -- but now House leaders and President Trump are signaling that it may be revived. Either way, the health reform debate is far from over, and many of the provisions introduced in the AHCA will likely remain part of the discussion.

 

The survey asked health benefit professionals how key provisions would affect their organization’s health benefit program, employees, and business success -- as opposed to how they might affect the individual market or people without access to employer-sponsored health insurance. They could also respond that the provision would not affect their organization one way or the other. 

 

HSA changes, repeal of employer mandate seen as positive

We didn’t ask for an overall opinion of the bill, but employers’ reactions to individual provisions added up to a less-than-ringing endorsement. To start with what they liked: 66% said that liberalizing HSA rules -- such as allowing higher contributions -- would have a positive effect on their organizations. That’s in the ballpark of the percentage of large employers nationally that offer HSA-eligible plans (53% in 2016). If you don’t offer an HSA-eligible plan and don’t intend to, or if you do offer one but none of your employees are likely to hit the maximum account contribution, you might not believe this provision would have much of an impact, like 29% of our respondents. 

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More employees moving into lower-cost medical plans contributed to one of the smallest increases in total health benefit cost per employee in decades: 2016’s average increase of 2.4% is the lowest since 2013 and, before that, since 1997. According to Mercer’s survey, total health benefits cost averaged $11,920 per employee in 2016. This cost includes both employer and employee contributions for medical, dental and other health coverage, for all covered employees and dependents. Small employers (10-499 employees) again reported lower cost -- $11,271 -- compared to $12,288 for large employers with 500 employees or more. 

 

While many factors contributed to the low cost increase, including general inflation hovering around 1%, one that is drawing attention is the accelerating movement of employees into high-deductible consumer-directed health plans (see this article in the New York Times). CDHP enrollment has been rising for a decade and in 2016 jumped to 29% of all covered workers, up from 25% in 2015.

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Early results from a Mercer survey made headlines this week with the news that employers are projecting that per-employee health benefit cost will rise by an average of 4% next year after they make planned changes. That’s in line with the moderate cost increases we’ve been seeing over the past few years. What was more eye-opening was finding that underlying cost growth -- the change in cost employers would see if they made no changes -- has slowed to just 5.5%. That’s a gap of just 1.5 percentage points -- the smallest we’ve seen yet.

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When employers are working on strategies to manage health benefit cost, behavioral health benefits aren’t often top of mind. After all, only about 4% of claims are related to treatment for behavioral health problems.  But what’s missing from that picture are claims for comorbid conditions – other health problems that go along with the mental illness or behavioral health issues.  According to one analysis, together these account for 22% of total medical spend. [1]

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