Hikes In Employees’ Health Premiums To Outpace Raises Again

From NPR:

“These cost increases, while stable, are both unsustainable and unacceptable,” said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a coalition of very large employers that got responses from 133 companies.

Employers are changing tactics to address the cost trend, slowing the shift to worker cost sharing and instead offering video or telephone links to doctors, scrutinizing costs of specialty drugs and steering patients to hospitals with records of lower costs and better results.

Most employees at large companies should expect a 5 percent increase in their premiums next year and, in contrast to previous years, “minimal changes” to plan designs, NBGH said.

The portion of employers offering high-deductible health plans next year — 84 percent — is essentially unchanged from 2016, according to the NBGH report. So is the percentage of companies offering high-deductible plans — 35 percent — as the only choice for workers and families.

Patients with high-deductible coverage pay thousands of dollars in medical costs before the insurance kicks in.

The idea is that sharing the pain makes employees smarter shoppers, prompting them to forgo unneeded tests and find the best price. But critics say available tools to shop for care are grossly inadequate.

Counting cost-control measures, companies responding to NBGH’s survey expect their net health expenses to rise by 5 percent next year. A survey of hundreds of employers by consultants Willis Towers Watson showed similar results.

“This is well above the cost-of-living increase,” said Julie Stone, health care practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. To control costs, “our clients are willing to do things that a few years ago employers might have been reluctant to do,” she said.

For what it’s worth, 5 percent or 6 percent is moderate compared with medical-cost growth in the early 2000s, when annual percentage increases reached double …

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