With health reform moving full steam ahead, most employers will continue to offer employee coverage, but will make alterations to how they provide it, said a speaker at the Workplace Benefits Transitions conference Tuesday.

An overwhelming majority of employers plan to stay in the health care business, said Cheryl Larson, vice president of the Midwest Business Group on Health, whose members represent senior HR benefits professionals who annually spend more than $4 billion on health care. Her group’s research shows that only 4% of members plan to drop health coverage. They will stay in the game for three main reasons, she said, as they:

  1. Don’t want to deal with the penalty for not offering coverage;
  2. Don’t want to “gross up” employer salaries to allow them to buy coverage on their own; and
  3. Need to stay competitive.

Speaking in the opening keynote at the conference co-sponsored by Employee Benefit Adviser in Chicago, Larson noted, however, that there will be some key differences come 2014, including an exit strategy of dropping coverage for retirees (53%) and part-time employees (33%), according to a National Business Group on Health survey.

In practice, it will be interesting to see what employers actually do, Larson said. While they say publically they are not walking away from providing health care, privately “in the boardroom they will say, ‘If so and so goes, so will we.’ That’s scary,” she said.

Larson also predicted an increased focus on consumerism and wellness. “Ten years ago, that was not important to employers,” she said. “I’ve been a real passionate person about engaging employees and their families with knowledge and information. We’ve forgotten about teaching people how to deal with navigating the health care system.”

An MBGH survey further found that employers of all sizes plan to offer consumer-directed health plans, such as an HSA/HRA option. Of those surveyed, among small group employers – 200 or fewer employees – 50% plan to offer a form of CDHP, for large groups – more than 5,000 — that increases to 100%. Further, employers of all sizes will be shifting their dental and vision coverage to a voluntary offering by 2017-2018. Specifically, 59% of small and 49% of large employers plan to do so.

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