28% of U.S. employers made changes to health benefits in 2018: survey

About a quarter (28 per cent) of American employers made changes to their employee health-care benefits in 2018, according to a new survey by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies.

The survey, which polled 1,350 U.S. business decision-makers, found the most common changes were to health insurance (36 per cent) or the addition of other health-care benefits (32 percent). Only one per cent of respondents that currently provide health insurance said they’ll no longer provide employee health coverage in two to three years.

Read: Fewer plan sponsors offering wellness programs in 2018: Sanofi survey

“With ongoing uncertainty about health policy in Washington and state capitols, employers are consistent in their commitment to employee health coverage,” said Hector De La Torre, executive director of the Transamerica Center for Health Studies. “Employers also acknowledge the cost burden, but are finding ways to maintain health insurance for their workers as a key employee benefit.”

Three-quarters (72 per cent) of survey respondents reported their employees express fear about changes in health-care policy, most commonly referring to losing their health care due to pre-existing conditions (27 per cent) followed by a reduction in medicare for seniors (19 per cent). If the employer mandate was to be removed by the federal government, employers would like their company to react by not making any changes (25 per cent), evaluating coverage options (24 per cent), increasing coverage (16 per cent) and reducing coverage as much as possible (five per cent).

The vast majority (80 per cent) of survey respondents said they’re taking action to manage their overall health- care costs. These actions include offering a variety of preferred provider organization plans (29 per cent), health maintenance organization plans (28 per cent) and encouraging the use of generic medications (28 per cent).

Read: Benefits plan sponsors continuing to focus on cost management

However, 25 percent said they’re extremely or very likely to reduce their contribution to health insurance in the next 12 months. Of those employers that have changed health-care benefits in the past year, 11 per cent said they reduced or eliminated their company contribution to cover the cost of health benefits (other than health insurance) and nine per cent said they reduced or eliminated their company contribution to cover the cost of health insurance.

The survey also found the majority (89 per cent) of employers who are concerned about the affordability of health care are taking some action to combat the cost. The most common actions are comparison shopping for the best health insurance options (36 per cent) and finding ways to reduce premiums (36 per cent).  That said, there are still those that don’t or can’t offer health insurance. The top reasons include the company not being big enough (50 per cent), concerns about cost (28 per cent) and the employer mandate not applying to them (28 per cent).

Read: Employee satisfaction with benefits plans on the rise in 2018

More than three-quarters (79 per cent) of respondents also indicated wellness programs have had a positive impact on their workers’ health (79 per cent), productivity (77 per cent) and company health-care costs (71 percent). At the same time, 84 per cent said leadership is committed to improving the health of their employees, but only 40 percent said they feel the same way.

“Workplace wellness also remains a significant component of employee health benefits, with employers believing their wellness programs improve their workers’ lives and in turn, the company bottom line,” said De La Torre.