Employers Report Dissatisfaction With Health Insurers Services

By Staff Report

Jan. 19, 2010

In most every respect, employers of all sizes are less happy than in previous years with the services provided by their health insurers, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report published Tuesday, January 19.

Overall, 59 percent of employers said they were satisfied with the job performed by their health insurer in 2009, down from 64 percent in 2008. And the smaller the firm, the less satisfied they were likely to be, though the level of satisfaction has remained steady at 52 percent. Employers are particularly dissatisfied with services intended to lower cost and improve employee health.

“I think in this economic time, [employers] are under significant economic pressure with their health benefits,” said Kathryn Stein, managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ health industries practice in Chicago and an advisor to the team that authored the report. “And they are looking to insurers to step up and help them deal with cost issues, access issues and affordability—all the things they need to do to manage their health benefits.”

Health care costs continue to widely outpace inflation. And employers believe that insurers are not doing enough to keep those costs under control, forcing employers to pass them on to employees. Despite the recession—or perhaps because of it—60 percent of employers in the study said they would increase health care cost-sharing for employees. Increasing the relative burden of health care costs among employees was the most prevalent cost-control strategy used by the businesses that were surveyed.

More employers want health plan members to have access to better personal health technology tools, but as the importance of such mechanisms grows in the eyes of employers, the less insurers are doing to adequately provide the services. Satisfaction with personal health records and online comparison tools actually dropped 10 percentage points among large employers since 2008, the report states.

The report also notes that insurers have not done enough to provide employers with “meaningful and higher-quality data to help them control costs and keep their employees healthy. Employers would like insurers to take an active role in waste reduction and are looking for consistency and transparency in their health benefit plans.”

Less than 25 percent of employers are satisfied with their insurers’ ability to prepare risk profiles for their plan members.

Wellness and disease management programs also are problematic areas. Insurers have successfully marketed these programs, with more employers offering them than in previous years in the belief that they are critical or important to their business, according to the report.

However, employers are less satisfied with the programs, citing declining participation rates among employees, in part because the impact of incentives such as cash and other rewards appears to be wearing off.

The report says more workers are completing basic health risk assessments without the need for incentives and that more employers are focusing on rewarding health behavior rather than participation in an employer wellness program.

Disease management presents a trickier problem, since employees enrolled in those programs tend to have more complex, chronic illnesses. Managing them will require insurers to better coordinate the care patients receive. 

Stein, who consults on health care issues for large employers, said companies are looking for insurers to help them manage their health care costs, especially through wellness and disease management programs, but that large insurers are less adept at changing quickly and offering new innovations.

The report, though, could galvanize insurers to do more for their customers, she said.

“I think there is pressure for them to improve,” Stein said of insurers. “It’s primarily the pressure they are feeling from their own customers. Most changes are made in the insurer world because their employer customers are demanding it.”

—Jeremy Smerd 

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