The number of employers offering consumer-directed health plans and/or utilizing a private benefit exchange is expected to climb sharply over the next five years, just two of several healthcare related trends advisers should be tracking, experts say.

As a continued effort to stunt rising healthcare costs, more than one in four employees is now enrolled in a consumer-directed healthcare plan, according to the 2015 Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans. That number is expected to grow, Sander Domaszewicz, principal and senior consultant with Mercer said during the Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch in 2016 webinar hosted by the Healthcare Trends Institute on Wednesday. While 59% of large employers are now offering CDHPs, he said 75% will be offering them by 2018.

While most employers expect to be offering a CDHP in 2018, they also say it likely will be an option offered alongside other medical plans, but not a replacement.

“When you’re talking about jumbo employers, however,” he notes, “one out of four does plan to have only consumer-directed plans by 2018.”

The survey also found enrollment in CDHPs has grown over time. While 21% of eligible employees in 2013 chose an HSA-based CHDP plan when offered alongside another medical plan, 29% chose to do so in 2015.

While that growth may be due to plan changes, Domaszewicz says, “It’s also a level of familiarity with the programs from employers. Employees often want to see how Bob and Sally across the hall do with those CDHP plans before they’re willing to jump into those plans. It takes a little bit of a comfort level for employees to make that move.”

Exchange growth

Private exchange utilization, he said, is also forecast to increase, with 6% of large employers saying they will use them in 2017 for open enrollment and 27% saying they are considering using one within five years.

Employers are adopting integrators to coordinate trending cost-cutting strategies, including telemedicine, clinical and health management.

“Employers are adopting integrators to coordinate trending cost-cutting strategies, including telemedicine, clinical and health management. Private exchanges are one way that employers are addressing that. We see growth in that area and high interest. As those solutions start to mature and become more well-tested it’s going to be of greater interest to folks to consider adopting that, because it’s sort of one-stop shopping as opposed to buying everything one off,” says Domaszewicz.

He said the survey found good news, that many of the strategies employers have been and continue to employ to curb healthcare spending have been successful, including program design, care delivery and workforce health strategies.

Telemedicine, he said, is the fastest growing trend in healthcare delivery. While only 11% percent of large employers offered telemedicine in 2013, nearly a third (30%) did in 2015.

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