Some U.S. employers want to go with cuttting-edge benefits ideas to hold down health insurance costs and increase the quality of the coverage — but many seem to hope they can find a way to keep offering the kind of coverage they offer now.

Analysts at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research supplied data supporting that idea recently when they published the results of a survey of 1,061 U.S. private-sector employers with at least three employees. The survey was performed with financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The team talked to employers from Aug. 19 through Oct. 8.

The survey team found that 59 percent of all employers surveyed offer health coverage; 35 percent offer dental benefits, and 25 percent offer vision benefits.

It’s not entirely clear whether all of the employers were interpreting the term “private exchange” the same way, but 16 percent said they already give employees funds they can use to buy health coverage through a private exchange. Half of the employers that say they offer this, say they provide $300 or more in private exchange payments.

The survey team found a large minority of employers are interested in other ideas for cutting the cost or improving the quality of health benefits — but only a minority.

For information about what the survey team found, read on. 

 

Mom with baby

1. A majority of employers want to keep employees’ dependents in the plan

About 66 percent of the employers that offer health benefits offer dependent coverage.

Only 11 percent of the employers that offer dependent coverage say they are extremely or very likely to drop dependent benefits in the next two years, and 70 percent say they are not too likely, or not likely at all, to drop dependent benefits in the next two years. 

 

Market

2. A majority of employers do not actually want to get their employees’ coverage from an exchange

About 3 percent of the employers said they are using a public health insurance to provide health benefits, and 16 percent said they provide money for use of a private exchange.

But only 20 percent of all employers surveyed said they are thinking about the public exchange system when they update their own health benefits.

A majority of employers said they are somewhat likely or very likely to consider some cost-control strategies used in exchange programs — putting many brand-name drugs in high cost-sharing tiers; charging smokers a premium penalty; and selecting a high-performance network — but a majority said they hate the idea of adopting a narrow provider network or making workers reach the plan deductible before getting help with paying for prescriptions.

 

Grades

3. Most employers are not even aware that plan rating programs exist, nor do they show interest in using those programs in benefits decisions

One topic the survey team looked at was employer use of health plan quality information programs, such as the HEDIS and CAHPs programs.

Only one-third of the employers said they had heard of the quality programs, and only 4 percent of the employers said they are using the plan quality ratings.

A majority of the employers said they would pay more for a higher-quality plan, and almost two-thirds said they would intentionally buy coverage from a lower-quality plan to save money.