Employers Looking for New Ways to Reduce Health Costs

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By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel

Aug. 9 — Employers are shifting their focus from how they design their health plans to how the benefits they offer are delivered, in an effort to reduce the cost of health care, according to a survey released by the National Business Group on Health.

Employers estimate that medical costs will increase in 2017 by 5 to 6 percent, something that is “unsustainable from a cost perspective,” Brian Marcotte, president and chief executive officer for the NBGH, said in a Aug. 9 briefing about the survey, which was released the same day.

Cost is “still the number one priority for what employers are focused on and it really threatens the long-term affordability of health care,” he said.

Because employers are looking at how they deliver benefits to their employees, there is an increased offering of accountable care organizations, high-performance networks and telehealth, Marcotte said.

Ninety percent of employers will offer telehealth services—medical care by physicians or other health care professionals via the Internet or phone-video system—in 2017 and 97 percent will offer them by 2019, the survey found.

Marcotte said while these can be more convenient health services for employees, they aren't meant to replace health benefits.

Though medical costs continue to increase, employer-sponsored health coverage is the still the most "effective and efficient" way for employers to provide affordable health coverage to their employees, Marcotte said. The cost of employer-sponsored coverage is considerably lower than coverage found on the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces, he said.

A survey from Willis Towers Watson, released Aug. 8, on expected health care costs for 2017 was in step with the NBGH's findings, with employers expecting total health care costs to increase by 5 percent.

“With employee affordability concerns paramount, in 2017 employers will focus primarily on changing coverage provisions for costly services to manage cost,” Julie Stone, a national health care practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, said in a news release about the survey.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at kknebel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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