United Benefit Advisors Insight and Analysis Blog

Employers and Employees Teeter on Healthcare Cost and Coverage Tightrope

By Elizabeth Kay, Compliance & Retention Analyst
AEIS Advisors
A UBA Partner Firm

  Nov 21, 2016 12:08:52 PM

2016 UBA Health Plan SurveyOver the past few years, we have seen the cost of health care steadily increase – a trend supported by the latest data from the 2016 UBA Health Plan Survey. During the recession, employers implemented health plans with higher copays, higher deductibles, or offered multiple plans with a variety of deductibles and pushed the cost of the lower deductible plans onto employees in an attempt to keep their costs for offering coverage at the same rate or less.

We also saw the introduction of high deductible consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), some that also offered the option of depositing money on a tax-free basis into a health savings account (HSA) that could be used to pay for qualified medical expenses.

The HSA plans were very attractive, as many offered 0% coinsurance once the $2,000 or $3,000 deductible had been met and were priced well below other more traditional health plans. The expectation being if the consumer was paying all of their medical costs for the first few thousand dollars, they would be less likely to actively consume health care unless necessary.

It was also a way for employers to reduce premium costs by offering a high deductible plan, and fund an HSA account that an employee could use to pay for qualified medical expenses and essentially self-fund most of the up-front costs to the employee for the medical plan. In many cases, employers were able to offer a richer medical plan by combining the medical plan with HSA contributions, and still save money over their current traditional health plan costs.

What the insurance carrier actuaries did not realize was the impact this funding of the health plan consumer costs was going to have on the utilization of the health plans by the plan members. These low premium health plans were essentially "blown up" with heavy utilization, and the premiums went up so that the carriers could cover the cost of the claims and services being provided.

The insurance carriers are trying to do everything they can to keep premium costs from rising while still keeping the plan benefits within the confines of what the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) says must be covered. It is a balancing act, and one that is not moving in favor of the employees and their dependents.

Plan copays for office visits are holding steady, but deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums are on the rise as are prescription drug copays, which are shifting more and more of the costs to employees and their families. Some carriers are dramatically changing their prescription drug formulary lists, deleting many of the drugs they covered previously, adopting more tiers of prescription drugs, implementing co-insurance instead of copays for higher-cost specialty drugs, and raising copays in all tiers.

Furthermore, the 2016 UBA Health Plan Survey has also shown a reduction in employer funding toward HSAs for employees this past year, and employers are asking employees to take on more and more of the insurance premiums, which again translates into higher costs for employees.

For complete findings within the 2016 UBA Health Plan Survey, download UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary.

Topics: consumer-driven health plan, Elizabeth Kay, UBA Health Plan Survey, health care cost, benefits cost control, group medical benefits