Employers Focused on Increasing Engagement in Wellness

Avoiding the ACA excise tax and using preventive services are also top health benefits goals.

An annual survey of 119 employers by the non-profit Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) finds employers are implementing a number of strategies to make sure they get the most value from their health benefits spend.

While the vast majority of employers (76%) are focusing their health benefit strategies on avoiding the 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA) excise tax, a greater number indicated that increasing employee engagement in health improvement programs (81%) and using preventive services (77%) are priorities for 2016 and 2017. For the past three years, managing specialty drugs (61%) and creating a culture of health (60%) were noted as employer priorities.

Fifty-four percent of employers will make high-deductible health plans available to employees. But, employers still believe health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) will remain viable because they want to support employees that are in lower salary tiers.

A majority of employers (80%) are not yet sure if increasing cost share for employees will be higher or not by 2017, and 21% have indicated they plan to remain at 70/30, with only 6% moving to a higher cost share of 50/50.

Telemedicine, viewed as a means of increasing access and reducing unnecessary absences in order to get care, will be a priority for 46% of employers. By 2017, more than half of employers (56%) plan to contract directly with a center of excellence, while 47% expect to offer narrow, high performance provider networks to their workers. Nearly 50% of self-insured employers identified outcomes-based incentives as a priority.

NEXT: Avoiding the excise tax

Asked about their expected excise tax timeline, 47% of MBGH survey respondents indicate they will reach it beyond 2019, while only 18% expect to reach it in 2018 when the tax is set to begin.

Top strategies employers currently have in place to avoid the excise tax include increasing the availability of wellness programs, offering high deductible plans, adding or expanding incentives for employee wellness programs, and increasing employee cost share. Employers indicated they also plan to optimize networks for best providers and reduce benefits.

Employers largely indicated that they will not consider offering private exchanges to workers through 2016 (79%). However, the percent of employers who say they won’t consider this strategy decreases dramatically in 2017 and 2018 to 44% and 29%, respectively.

When asked if they plan to offer benefits in 2025, 60% said yes and 40% said they don’t know. This will be influenced by peer company actions (75%), government mandates (71%), and labor market pressures (61%).

A summary of survey results can be found here.