Majority of Large Employers Revamping Health Benefit Programs for 2012

August 18, 2011 ( – According to a new survey by the National Business Group on Health, large U.S. employers are planning to have workers share more of the employee health care benefits cost next year, as health care benefits are expected to increase more than twice the rate of inflation.  

The survey also found more employers are adopting consumer driven health plans and making other changes to their benefit programs as various components of the health care reform law take effect.   

According to the survey, employers estimate their health care benefit costs will increase an average of 7.2% in 2012. That is slightly lower than this year’s 7.4% average increase, but it is on a higher base and still sharply outpaces the economy’s anemic growth and business conditions.

To help control those increases and begin driving down costs to avoid the Cadillac tax, employers are planning to use a wider variety of cost-sharing strategies. More than half of respondents (53%) plan to increase the percentage that employees contribute to the premiums, while 39% plan to increase in-network deductibles. Additionally, about one in four employers plans to increase out-of-network deductibles (23%) and out-of-pocket maximums (22%) next year. The survey, based on responses from 83 of the nation’s largest corporations, was conducted in June, 2011.

Nearly three in four employers (73%) said they will offer employees at least one consumer directed health plan (CDHP) in 2012, up from 61% that offer a plan this year.  In addition, about two in 10 employers (17%) will have or move to a total replacement consumer directed health plan in 2012. The most common type of CDHP plan is a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account (75%). 

The NBGH survey also found more than half (57%) of employers provide employees’ spouses and domestic partners access to telephonic or online weight management coaches, while 54% provide access to online weight management tools. Approximately one-third of employers also make these programs available to employees’ children.   

Respondents were asked what changes they made or are planning to make as regulations from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continue to come into effect.  The survey found:   

  • Annual Benefit Limits:  The majority of employers (59%) are not making any changes for 2012, (full restrictions on benefit limits will be banned in 2014). However, more than one-fourth (27%) are making changes to annual limits for preventive and wellness services. Another 14% are making changes to annual limits for mental health and substance abuse services. 
  • Grandfather Status:  Nearly one fourth (23%) will have at least one benefit option that keeps its grandfather status in 2012, while 19% will drop grandfather status. About one half (49%) did not have any benefit option in grandfather status this year. 
  • Default Plan for New Hires:  More than one fourth (27%) plan to use their least costly health plan for employees as their default plan for new full-time hires as required. Slightly fewer (19%) plan to use the least costly plan for employers as the default plan.