Big firms see hike of 5%

Rea­sons for jump: Spe­cialty drugs, peo­ple’s pricey care

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Carolyn Y. Johnson

WASH­ING­TON» Large em­ploy­ers say the cost of health-care plans will grow 5 per­cent next year, to an av­er­age cost of more than $14,000 per em­ployee. The in­creases, re­ported in a new sur­vey of 148 large com­pa­nies, were at­trib­uted largely to ex­pen­sive spe­cialty drugs and in­di­vid­u­als with high med­i­cal costs.

The av­er­age 5 per­cent hike is mod­est in com­par­i­son to the dou­ble-digit pre­mium in­creases that in­sur­ers that sell plans in the Af­ford­able Care Act mar­ket­places have been re­quest­ing, cit­ing the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges of the marketplace and threats by the White House to dis­con­tinue fed­eral sub­si­dies.

“It’s the fifth year in a row that em­ploy­ers are say­ing their costs will rise 5 per­cent. It’s not great, be­cause it’s still mul­ti­ples of wage in­creases and gen­eral in­fla­tion, ... but it’s not the volatil­ity you’re see­ing in the pub­lic ex­changes,” said Brian Mar­cotte, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Busi­ness Group on Health, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion whose mem­bers are large em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing 72 For­tune 100 com­pa­nies.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, em­ploy­ers will shoul­der ap­prox­i­mately 70 per­cent of those health costs, leav­ing em­ploy­ees on the hook for an av­er­age of $4,400, through pre­mi­ums, out-of-pocket costs and con­tri­bu­tions to health sav­ings ac­counts.

The sur­vey found that an on­go­ing shift to­ward high-de­ductible plans will con­tinue, with 40 per­cent of em­ploy­ers of­fer­ing one as the only plan op­tion next year — an in­crease from last year. Ninety per­cent of em­ploy­ers will of­fer at least one high-de­ductible plan in 2018.

The av­er­age de­ductible in such a plan was $1,500 for an in­di­vid­ual and $3,250 for a fam­ily, although the em­ployer of­ten makes a con­tri­bu­tion to a health sav­ings ac­count that sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces the cost to in­di­vid­u­als.

Mar­cotte said much of the cur­rent de­bate over health care has been about the ques­tion of ac­cess: whether peo­ple have health in­sur­ance.

In the em­ployer-spon­sored health plan world, where there is greater sta­bil­ity, the fo­cus is largely on con­tain­ing costs. Com­pa­nies are in­creas­ing their use of cheaper telemedicine con­sults, with nearly all em­ploy­ers of­fer­ing plans that al­low phone and video­con­fer­enc­ing with doc­tors if it is al­lowed in their state. More em­ploy- ers are open­ing on-site health cen­ters. There’s also a grow­ing push to­ward health plans that re­ward em­ploy­ees for ac­tiv­i­ties that re­sult in more ef­fi­cient care, such as re­duced pre­mi­ums when they ac­tively man­age chronic dis­eases.

Not all cost-con­tain­ment ef­forts may suc­ceed. A study by the RAND Cor­po­ra­tion found that, in­stead of re­plac­ing vis­its that would have oth­er­wise taken place in per­son, most telemedicine was made up of com­plaints that would never have trig­gered a visit to the doc­tor.

An emerg­ing con­cern for em­ploy­ers is the cost of spe­cialty drugs, ex­pen­sive med­i­ca­tions that can cost thou­sands or tens of thou­sands of dol­lars a month. A quar­ter of em­ploy­ers cited spe­cialty drug costs as the big­gest driver of spend­ing in 2017, and 80 per­cent ranked it in the top three con­trib­u­tors to ris­ing costs. In contrast, three years ago, it was only cited by 6 per­cent of em­ploy­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.