Survey: Employers shift rising health costs to their workers

As healthcare costs continue to rise, businesses are increasingly passing on the added burden to their employees.

Higher cost-sharing for employees is the primary way in which employers are trying to control their own healthcare spending, according to a new survey from the National Business Group on Health. The organization, which mostly represents large companies, said more than half of the employers it surveyed plan to make employees cover a greater share of their healthcare costs.

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Businesses are shifting away from co-pays, wherein employees pay a fixed dollar amount for healthcare services and the plan picks up the rest. Instead, they’re charging workers a percentage of the total costs. That can help make consumers more aware of the total cost of the healthcare they use.

“We are clearly seeing a march toward a more aggressive consumerist system,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

Darling said Thursday that shifting from co-pays to coinsurance is “a more subtle way to increase what the consumer pays.” She predicted that eventually, only governments and unions will keep offering fixed co-pays.

Employers are expecting their healthcare costs to rise by slightly more than 7 percent next year, according to the survey — roughly the same increase that businesses budgeted for this year.

Businesses are also looking ahead to figure out how they’ll need to adjust their policies because of healthcare reform. Especially generous plans will be taxed heavily beginning in 2018, and some of the law’s popular benefits will likely increase the cost of insurance.

Allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans through age 26 has added about 1 percentage point to employers’ costs, Darling said. But she said businesses have largely absorbed that increase themselves, rather than passing it on to employees.

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