A majority of large U.S. employers are planning to change their 2011 health care benefit programs in the wake of both health care reform and expected large health care cost increases, according to a new survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).

NBGH, Washington, found that 53% of employers taking part in its survey were still planning to make changes to their benefit plans despite uncertainty about how to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Another 19% are going to scale back changes they had planned to make, while an equal number are making no changes. Remaining respondents were still undecided as they continued to review the final regulations.

Among employers that said they would be making specific changes to their health benefit plans to comply with the new law, 70% said they would remove lifetime dollar limits on overall benefits, while 37% said they would change to annual or lifetime limits on specific benefits.

Also, 26% would remove annual dollar limits on overall benefits, while 13% would remove pre-existing condition exclusions for children.

The survey, covering 72 of the nation’s largest corporations with more than 3.7 million employees, was conducted in May and June.

Health care reform has forced employers to assess their health care benefit strategies and decide whether to comply with the law or lose grandfathered status, said Helen Darling, president of NGBH. But they are still mindful that controlling rising costs is among their highest priorities.

“They have to foot the bill, not the government,” Darling commented.

Surveyed employers estimated their health care benefit costs would rise an average of 8.9% next year, compared with an average increase of 7% this year. To help control those increases, 63% plan to boost the percentage employees contribute to the premium, up from 57% who did so this year, while 46% plan to raise out-of-pocket maximums next year, compared with 36% this year.

Other survey findings:

–61% will offer a consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) in 2011.

–64% will offer is a high-deductible plan combined with a health savings account.

–Among employers offering a CDHP, 20% will move to a full replacement plan in 2011, from 10% this year.

–5% plan to drop retiree health coverage in 2011, while 60% are considering doing so.

–41% offer premium discounts for completing health assessments, while 22% offer premium discounts for participating in stop-smoking programs.

–25% plan to raise the copay or coinsurance for retail pharmacy prescription drug benefits, while 21% plan to do the same for mail-order pharmacy benefits.