Employers Predict Big Changes to Health Plans in Near Future

They want to implement changes that achieve better health outcomes and improve the patient experience.
Nearly four in five employers (78%) predict moderate to significant changes in their health plan designs and vendor strategies over the next four years, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2016 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey. These changes are intended to manage health care costs and improve plans’ value. Once they are put into place, employers anticipate cost increases in 2016 to be around 4% (for the second consecutive year), the smallest increase in 15 years but more than twice the Consumer Price Index.

The survey also found that 70% of employers said the two-year delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s excise tax on high-value health plans will have a small or negligible impact on their health care strategies for 2017.

“Employers are motivated primarily by the desire to manage cost growth and improve the value of the plans they deliver,” says Randall Abbott, senior health and benefit strategist at Willis Towers Watson. “As they consider a wide range of options, they are implementing changes that not only lower the rate of cost increases but also achieve better health outcomes and improve the patient experience.”

Employers are adopting many new options including telemedicine, onsite health centers and technology to improve employee engagement. Today, 67% of employers offer telemedicine, or electronic physician visits, and that number is predicted to increase to 90% by 2018. Specialized medical providers are also becoming more popular—31% of employers are using them today, and by 2018, that number could be 73%. Networks of providers that partner with employers and health plans to offer lower premiums and better value offered alongside broad networks are becoming more common: 13% offer the option today; by 2018, that number could rise to 56%.

In addition, employer-owned or sponsored workplace health centers remain appealing: 22% of employers have one or more today; by 2018, that number could grow to 40%. Decision-support tools and other engagement technologies are also growing: 52% of employers currently use technology to enable employees to make better plan selections, and another 37% could use it by 2018.