The Cadillac tax may have been postponed until 2020 but that doesn’t mean employers have put healthcare cost containment measures on the backburner. In fact, new research shows 90% of employers are planning myriad measures to control rising healthcare costs.

The 2016 Medical Plan Trends and Observations Report, released today by DirectPath and CEB, highlights top trends in employers’ 2016 healthcare strategies. Overwhelmingly, employers are continuing to shift a larger share of healthcare costs to employees, often through high-deductible health plans, according to the report.

The use of telemedicine, meanwhile, continues to grow, with almost two-thirds of organizations offering or planning to offer such a service by 2018 – a 50% increase from the previous year.

“Employees often say that they go to the emergency room because it's hard to get a doctor's appointment. With telemedicine, you've got 24/7 access and you don't necessarily need an appointment,” notes Kim Buckey, vice president of compliance communications at DirectPath. “That's certainly a huge driver of avoiding those visits to the emergency room or even the urgent care clinic because telemedicine is typically less expensive than an urgent care visit, as well.”

Buckey says it “makes sense” for employers to investigate telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via phone calls, email and/or video chat – because employees are increasingly accepting of virtual access to just about everything.

“How many employees now are just grabbing their phones, iPads, or computers when they need information? That's something that people are comfortable with using and they don't have to leave their house to get quality care,” she says.

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“People don't understand basic concepts like deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, let alone how to make a decision about what plan to choose."

Spousal and tobacco surcharges are also expected to grow, according to the CEB data. Twelve percent of employers surveyed already have spousal surcharges in place, while 29% expect to introduce them in the next three years. Twenty-one percent of employers already have tobacco surcharges in place, while 26% expect to implement them in the next three years.

“I think we're going to see more and more of those, particularly as employers focus more on wellness initiatives,” says Buckey, adding that a robust communications plan is needed before implementing tobacco or spousal surcharges.

“People don't understand basic concepts like deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, let alone how to make a decision about what plan to choose, or frankly, what's the best way of receiving care,” she says. “As more and more of these provisions are added to plans, they have the potential of being even more confusing and off-putting to employees, so having a robust communications plan in place that addresses all of these issues [is important]. ... There certainly will be cases where these surcharges aren't going to apply to a large percentage of the population. You just want to make sure that the folks who are affected, understand how they're affected and why.”

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