Employers Shifting Health Care Costs To Workers, Survey Finds
U.S. employers' health care costs in 2005 increased at the slowest rate since 1998, in large part because of a shift of costs onto employees, according to a nationwide survey by Mercer Health & Benefits, the Wall Street Journal reports. Mercer surveyed 2,999 employers nationwide (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 11/21). According to the survey, employers' health care costs rose 6.1% in 2005, compared with 7.5% in 2004, 10.1% in 2003 and 14.7% in 2002 (Fitzgerald, Newark Star-Ledger, 11/21).
The average cost of company health plans increased from $6,679 per employee in 2004 to $7,089 per employee in 2005, the survey found (Wall Street Journal, 11/21). Employer spending on health coverage would have increased 10% in 2005 without the shift in cost to employees and changes to health plans, according to the survey (Rayner, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/21).
Many employers increased deductibles and copayments for medical services and prescription drugs instead of raising premiums, increasing costs for those who use health benefits most, the Journal reports. In addition, about 22% of the largest employers surveyed offered consumer-directed health care plans.
Only 2% of employers with fewer than 500 employees offered such plans. In addition, 58% of employers with fewer than 50 employees offered health coverage, compared with 63% in 2003 (Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
Overall, 63% of employers offered health insurance, compared with 66% in 2004, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/21). Employers also are trying to cut health benefit costs by eliminating the number of higher-priced plan options offered to employees.
According to the survey, 8% of all large employers and 31% of those with 20,000 or more employees reduced the number of plan choices (Cousineau, Manchester Union Leader, 11/21). In addition, employers said they plan to continue to address rising costs by expanding disease management programs, the Star-Ledger reports (Newark Star-Ledger, 11/21).
According to Barb Bailey, a consultant for Mercer, the 2005 survey began to show the effects of employer-sponsored wellness programs. She said, "Employers are investing in disease management and things like smoking cessation and obesity programs," adding, "Now, we're starting to see some return on those. People are taking better care of themselves" (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/21).
Michael Thompson, a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said employers are no longer simply shifting costs to employees, but fine-tuning their attempts to curb rising health care costs. He said, "Earlier approaches were blunter," adding, "The newer ones are trying to get it right" (Wall Street Journal, 11/21).