Survey: 67% of employers to prioritize controlling healthcare costs over next 3 years

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With healthcare costs expected to increase over the next three years, managing healthcare plan costs is a top priority for many US employers to: a opinion poll published Thursday found.

The Willis Towers Watson (WTW) report received responses from 455 US employers in August. These employers, both self-insured and fully insured, have a total of 8.2 million employees.

Employers expect healthcare costs to rise 6% next year, up from a 5% increase this year. Respondents also see no improvement in the future, with 71% saying they expect moderate to significant increases over the next three years.

Another 54% of respondents said they expect their healthcare costs to be above their 2022 budget. To counter this, 41% of employers said they’ve made changes to their three-year budget plans, and 47% said they’re discussing changes. These adjustments include implementing programs and/or selecting vendors that reduce costs; increasing emphasis on account-based health plans or consumer-based health plans; and shifting costs to employees through bonus contributions. An account-based health plan combines a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account.

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“With no end in sight to projected cost increases, the need to manage healthcare costs and consider employee affordability has been greater than ever,” said Courtney Stubblefield, Insights and Solutions Leader of Health and Benefits at WTW, in a press release. “However, with so many possible responses, employers need to focus on change that goes beyond meeting the needs of their employees to also support efforts to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market.”

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To control costs, employers listed several actions they are currently taking or planning. These include:

  • Use of anti-fraud, waste and abuse programs. A quarter of respondents said they would, and another 22% said they expect to do so by 2024.
  • Implementation of higher own costs for less efficient services. Almost a quarter, or 23%, said they would, and 19% said they were planning or considering doing so by 2024.
  • Providing plan concierge navigation, a service to help businesses and employees navigate the healthcare system, including the healthcare plan enrollment process. More than 20% are already doing so and another 25% are planning or considering doing so in 2024.
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Taking some of these steps now could reduce the need to make more dramatic changes later, said Tim Stawicki, cChief Actuary for Health and Benefits at WTW.

“Employers who act now to predict, plan and implement solutions and strategies that balance employee affordability goals with rising prices can avoid having to resort to desperate measures in an environment of rising healthcare costs,” Stawicki said in one Explanation. “There is no question that employers will face difficult challenges in the coming years. And with limited budgets, the challenge of making decisions that consider affordability and commitment to healthcare is exponentially greater.”

Photo:, Getty Images

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