Aug. 15—Large employers plan to reduce a projected increase in the cost of healthcare coverage in 2015 from 6.5 percent to 5 percent primarily by expanding the use of high-deductible health plans, a recent survey found.

The annual National Business Group on Health survey of 136 large employers found the share offering only high-deductible plans will increase from 22 percent to 33 percent. Such plans were cited as the leading cost-control step among surveyed businesses, which employ 7 million workers.

Large employers that plan to offer high-deductible plans as an option among several health insurance alternatives for their employees will increase from 72 percent to 81 percent.

Such plans, defined by the IRS as those with deductibles of at least $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for families, have drawn criticism for potentially discouraging policyholders from obtaining needed care. Others have praised the plans for dissuading unnecessary use of healthcare services.

Most of the high-deductible health plans offered were paired with health savings accounts, which allow covered workers to use pretax earnings to cover healthcare costs, according to the survey. Most employers also contributed to such accounts.

Another finding of the survey was that companies using high-deductible plans were more likely to offer price transparency to employees (77 percent, compared with 48 percent among other employers). Eighty-one percent of employers that offered only high-deductible plans provided a price transparency tool.

Other trends included an anticipated reduction (from 26 percent to 18 percent of high-deductible plans) in the use of a health reimbursement arrangement, which is an employer-funded account that workers can use for employer-specified healthcare expenses.

Provider Networks Narrow

The survey also found that 26 percent of large employer plans include a narrow provider network, with 13 percent offering reduced copayments or coinsurance or another price differential for employees who use a narrow network within their plan. A smaller share, 10 percent, offer plans with a narrow network alongside plans with a broader network, and only 3 percent reported that all of the plans they offer include a narrow network.

More popular with large companies were relationships with centers of excellence for transplants (63 percent) and other select conditions (57 percent). Telehealth also was popular, with 48 percent of employers planning to make telehealth options available in 2015 to employees in states where it is legal.

Relatively few employers are planning to contract directly with providers in 2015, but many are considering it for the future. Four percent of employers partner with a specific provider for transplants and 7 percent for other conditions or procedures, and 5 percent are contracting with ACOs.

Publication Date: Friday, August 15, 2014