Are employers finally getting a grip on that line item marked “health care?”
A Mercer study released Tuesday shows that companies expect to bump up their budgets for health benefits for 2014 by 4.8 percent.
The data was extracted early by Mercer from some 2,000 responses to a major employer survey that will be released in its entirety later. Last year, Mercer said, health benefit cost per employee increased by 4.1 percent over 2011 — a 15-year low.
“The recession has been one factor behind slower cost growth, by dampening utilization,” said Beth Umland, Mercer’s director of research for health and benefits. “But employers have made fundamental changes in their health benefit programs in recent years that have put the brakes on unsustainable cost growth.”
The fact that employers are actively reexamining their plans to hold down costs comes through when they are asked how much costs would increase “if they made no changes to their current plans.” The answer: about 7 percent.
Among strategies employers reported they are using to control healthcare costs: consumer-directed health plans, which give employees financial incentives to be more careful about how they spend health dollars.
Employers also are turning to wellness programs to manage costs, Mercer affirmed. Wellness plans continue to grow in popularity as employers embrace the concept that healthier employees don’t use their health insurance as often.