Posts Tagged ‘National Business Group on Health’

Healthcare Costs Starting to Slow Down

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The increase annually in healthcare costs appears to be slowing.  According to Sandra Block of Gannett News Service, “If there’s any good news to be found, it’s that the increase in overall costs of providing healthcare to employees has slowed.  Tower projects an increase of 5.9 percent in 2012, which represents a significant change from 7.6 percent in 2011.  Mercer, another human resources consulting firm, predicts that employee healthcare costs will rise 5.4 percent in 2012.  That’s small consolation, though, to employees whose income hasn’t kept pace with the rise in healthcare costs.  In August, personal income fell 0.1 percent from July, driven by a decline in wages and salaries, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

There’s bad news for Americans whose healthcare insurance is provided by their employer.  According to Towers Watson, a human resources consultant, employers will pass on cost increases primarily through higher employee premium contributions.  Towers Watson says that 66 percent of firms will increase employees’ share of premiums for single-only coverage in 2012; 73 percent will increase the share of premiums for dependent coverage.  A survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) found that 53 percent of employers intend to increase employees’ share of premiums, while 39 percent plan to increase in-network deductibles.

The yearly survey by NBGH, a not-for-profit alliance of 83 of nation’s largest companies — employing more than million workers — expect healthcare costs to continue rising significantly faster than inflation because of medical inflation and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  “This is an unsustainable model for our country,” said Helen, Darling, the NBHG’s president and CEO, referring to the financial strains caused by the ongoing increases.  Some believe that the rising healthcare costs stemmed from components of the 2010 federal healthcare law, including its mandate to cover the offspring of workers up to age 26 and its coming bans on caps for annual benefit limits.  Employers said a variety of cost-saving moves to counter the rising cost of their health coverage, including encouraging employees to use centers of excellence for transplants and other procedures.  “Even if they spend more on the initial admission, they spend less overall due to less need for readmission or re-treatments,” Darling said, in reference to incentivizing employees to seek treatment at highly rated hospitals.

At the time of year when open enrollment begins, employers want their employees to be healthier as a means of controlling costs.

Employers also will encourage their employees to choose high-deductible plans — with lower premiums – and persuade workers to be savvy healthcare shoppers.  Some employers will require significantly higher premiums for employees who do not agree to monitor their own health and address problems.  At a time when both employers and workers are weary of paying more for health coverage, experts say it’s important this year to closely study new wellness programs — as well as all the other options on the table — to take advantage of any savings.  “Healthcare costs are going to continue to grow significantly and for your own health and your own wealth and financial good, you need to get fully engaged in understanding what your choices are,” said Tony Holmes, a partner with Mercer.

Holmes said employers expect to pay 5.4 percent more for health plans in 2012 — about a half percentage point below the typical increase over the past 10 years.  Nearly one-third of employers plan to increase premiums for employees, according to Holmes.  Charges to cover a spouse or children are even more likely to climb; more than 40 percent of large employers plan to increase the costs for dependents.

Some businesses are moving away from co-pays, where employees pay a fixed dollar amount for healthcare services and the plan picks up the rest. Instead, they’re charging workers a percentage of the total costs.  That has the goal of making consumers more aware of the total cost of the healthcare they use.  “We are clearly seeing a march toward a more aggressive consumerist system,” the NBHG’s Darling.

Mercer also found that utilization of healthcare services has slowed in 2011. The difficult economy, higher deductibles and other forms of increased employee cost-sharing, may impact utilization, Mercer said.  “Because employees have less disposable income and are working longer hours, they are less likely to seek non-urgent care.”  Additionally, utilization may be slowing because of employer programs aimed at earlier detection of health problems, Mercer said.  “Earlier risk identification and health education, along with improvements in drug therapies and medical technology, are keeping people with health risks and chronic conditions away from the emergency room,” Susan Connolly, a partner in Mercer’s Boston office, said.  The findings are based on responses from almost 1,600 employers.  In the end, approximately 2,800 employers are expected to respond, with the results — including the actual average healthcare plan cost increase for 2011 — to be released this year.

600,000 Young Adults Already Taking Advantage of Healthcare Reform Law Provision

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

More than 600,000 young American adults are taking advantage of the healthcare law provision that allows people under 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans, a pace that appears to be faster than the government expected.

WellPoint, which insures 34 million Americans, said the dependent provision was the reason why 280,000 new members were enrolled.  That was approximately one-third of its total enrollment growth in the first three months of the year.  Other large insurers have added thousands of young adults.  Aetna added approximately 100,000; Kaiser Permanente, about 90,000; Highmark Inc., about 72,000; and Health Care Service Corporation, about 82,000.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) believes that about 1.2 million young adults will sign up for coverage in 2011.

The (college) coverage will probably end in August, but students should check the date,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of the Young Invincibles,  a Washington-based non-profit healthcare advocacy group for young adults.  “It’s an important piece of information.  They could have a gap in coverage.”  The group has created guidelines to help new grads understand their health insurance options.  Thanks to the ACA, young adults can remain on their parents’ health insurance until their 26th birthday, even if they’re in school, financially independent and even if they’re married.  The sole exception is if they have health coverage through their own employer.  In those situations — even if the policy is bad — they can’t remain on their parents’ plan.  Young adults have one of the lowest coverage rates, estimated at as much as 30 percent.  The healthcare reform overhaul has helped make a dent in that figure.

Adding young adult coverage increases the average family premium by approximately one percent, according to federal estimates.  Unfortunately, graduating students who are currently uninsured don’t get a special enrollment opportunity under the law, says Smith, and must wait until the next annual enrollment period to sign on with their parents’ plan.

Not surprisingly, some employers are concerned about having to pay for additional coverage for their employees’ offspring.  Helen Darling, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, which represents more than 300 large employers, said employers generally don’t like adding anything to their health costs.  “I don’t think anyone is eager to spend more money,” Darling said.  “This is not something employers would have done on their own.”

According to insurers, the growth in young-adult enrollment comes as the industry began reporting 1st quarter earnings shows better than expected profits.  Carl McDonald, a Citigroup analyst, said that the higher profits aren’t related to the new enrollees but rather because most of the increase in young people’s enrollment has occurred among self-insured employers; in those firms, insurers act as administrators and assume no financial risk.  McDonald said the majority of insurers’ profit increases is due to their customers using fewer health services, particularly hospital care.

“We are pleased to see the embrace of this key provision of the Affordable Care Act,” said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for HHS.  “Young adults are more than twice as likely to be uninsured than older adults, making it harder to get the health care they need, and putting them at risk of going into debt from high medical bills.”

Do Corporate Healthcare Incentives Work?

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Healthcare insurance incentives are somewhat successful, according to the National Business Group on Health, which says approximately 68 percent of its members either offer their employees discounts on premiums if they quit smoking or start eating more healthfully or begin exercise programs.  The companies have a vested interest in these programs because they keep healthcare costs down and add up to fewer sick days.

The impetus for healthcare incentives is the Safeway Amendment that is one part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform legislation.  The amendment lets companies reimburse employees as much as 20 percent of their insurance premiums if they take part in wellness programs.  This percentage rises to 30 percent in 2014 and to 50 percent with special governmental approval.  The amendment is so named because of the support of Safeway CEO Steve Burd, who wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in 2009 about how his company’s Healthy Measures program proved that incentives can slash healthcare costs by as much as 40 percent.

According to Harald Schmidt, a health policy expert and Harkness Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, “In principle, I think wellness incentives are a good idea.  But it all depends on how they are implemented.  If the focus is on just reducing the cost of healthcare rather than improving health, then you may have a problem.  The second issue is, we must make sure everybody has a reasonable chance of benefiting from incentive programs.  We really have a problem if some find it much harder than others, and especially if we hold people responsible for things that are in fact beyond their control.”

Kevin Volpp, a physician and director of the Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, offers a slightly different perspective.  “The reality is that we have a healthcare financing system that pays to treat people once they are sick.  There’s a growing recognition that health behaviors are a major driver of premature mortality and healthcare costs.  We need to rigorously test approaches that can better align incentives for patients with other interests of the health system, such as employers and insurers, so that resources go to keep people healthy.  Wellness incentives are a piece of that and can be used in ways that provide positive feedback to patients.”