Employers Want Variety in Health Plans as ACA Uncertainty Continues

By Andie Burjek

Jun. 20, 2018

Among the hundreds of benefits that employers can offer employees, health care is king.

The Society for Human Resource Management released its annual benefits survey on June 19, and one major trend seen among the 3,518 HR professionals surveyed was an increase in plans that push the employees to take a more active consumer role in their health care, said Liz Supinski, director of data science at SHRM research.

The Society for Human Resource Management released its annual benefits survey at the SHRM 2018 conference. Photo by Anne Ryan

“Of course, everyone needs and wants health care, but employers are really struggling to control those costs,” she said, stressing how health care costs have skyrocketed recently. Hospital costs have increased 200 percent over the past couple of years, she added.

After the percentage of organizations offering consumer-directed health care plans fell from 34 percent to 23 percent between 2015 and 2017, it jumped by 17 percent to 40 percent of employers from 2017 to 2018, according to the survey. Also, the percentage of organizations offering high-deductible health not linked to a health savings account has dramatically increased from 17 percent to 29 percent between 2016 and 2018.

The SHRM benefits survey includes a sample of HR professionals in various industries and both large and small organizations. While in general, the press tends to focus on the experiences of Fortune 100 or Fortune 500 companies, that doesn’t give a broad picture of what organizations are going through, Supinski said.

“It’s a bigger challenge for smaller organizations to figure out how to provide health care to their employees,” she said.

The benefits survey also saw an increase in the availability of health care for spouses, domestic partners and dependent or nondependent children, she added. In the latest five surveys between 2014 and 2018, coverage for opposite-sex spouses has increased from 71 percent to 94 percent; for same-sex domestic partners from 35 percent to 55 percent; and for nondependent children from 10 percent to 39 percent.

The ACA is no doubt driving some of that change, she said. “But as that legal landscape changes, it’ll be interesting to see what benefits are valued enough by employees that employers decide to maintain them without legal mandates,” she added.

The uncertainty of the legal environment and what will and won’t be mandated or what’s popular in the future is one reason there are so many options in the marketplace right now, she said.

“Both the health care marketplace as well as employers are looking to try out a variety of things in order to be flexible and nimble for future changes,” she said.

According to the survey another notable change in the health care space is a dramatic increase in telemedicine services. Between 2016 and 2018, the SHRM survey found a 39-point increase in organizations offering health care services such as diagnosis, treatment or prescriptions provided by phone or video, increasing from 23 percent to 62 percent.

This reflects the demand for flexibility that is coming from both employers and employees, Supinski said. It also goes hand-in-hand with another trend — a rise in telecommuting. People are becoming more comfortable doing many types of tasks remotely rather than face-to-face, she said.

“The idea that I can work remotely or see my doctor remotely is very appealing,” she added.

Also Read: Employers Embrace Telemedicine, But Employee Exhibit Uncertainty

Supinski also spoke to Workforce live at SHRM’s annual conference in Chicago, where she expanded on employers’ wellness program attitudes and strategies given the AARP vs. EEOC decision that caused uncertainty among the employer population on how they can use financial incentives in voluntary employee wellness programs. She also went into detail about more major takeaways for employers based on the survey results.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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