With the previously forecasted annual increase of health benefit costs no longer a sure thing, many are revising their estimates in favor of a 7.4% increase due to the economic deluge, cites Mercer. The forecasted increase has confirmed fears that the recession would accelerate health cost increases.
In past recessions weve seen an initial cost spike driven by stress-related illnesses, laid-off workers using benefits before their coverage ends and employees who anticipate changes in benefits. Knowing that coverage could end or be significantly changed is an incentive to store up procedures and medications that could be unaffordable to an unemployed person, explains Linda Havlin, global intellectual capital leader for Mercers health and benefits business. At the same time, employers are trying to reduce operating expense to cope with a tough business climate. So the spike is usually followed by a steady decline as employers take aggressive action to lower cost. In the early 90s the decline was generated by managed care and point-of-service plans. And after 2001 employers began shifting more cost to employees.
Almost half of the 428 employer respondents (46%) report that they will make more cost-saving changes than usual to their health plans because of the economic downturn, according to the survey, conducted last month. In fact, 22% plan to adopt a consumer-directed health plan to help curb these cost increases.
For many employers, simple cost shifting wont be the silver bullet this time around, says Havlin. Last year, the average in-network individual deductible was $1,000. Survey results show that many employers are instead considering a consumer-directed health plan.
Currently, 14% of small employers, those who have between 10 and 499 employees, offer a CDHP and one-quarter of large employers, 500 or more workers, provide this type of plan, finds Mercers 2008 national survey. Survey results further suggest that the percentage of employers offering CDHPs could double in 2010.
Additionally, many employers are also turning their attention to vendors by auditing plans for appropriate payments and accurate dependent eligibility management (49%), going out to bid (46%), and renegotiating administrative-services only fees (39%).
Some plan sponsors say they will make some of the above changes to their 2009 plans. Employers are permitted to audit any time they like, but many other changes will have to wait until the next plan year.Related coverage:
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