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Employers stick with offering health plans

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Virtually all employers offering group health care plans say they will continue to provide coverage next year, according to a new survey.

A whopping 98.2% of benefit professionals surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said their employers will offer coverage in 2016.

Just 1.6% said their employers will provide coverage in 2016 but will encourage some employees to seek coverage through the public health insurance exchanges created by the health care reform law, and which began running last year.

Just 0.2% of respondents said they would drop coverage in 2016 and direct employees to the public exchanges.

While there was widespread speculation in the months following the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 that employers would drop coverage and inform employees of the availability of coverage in the public exchanges, numerous surveys, including the IFEBP survey, which was released Thursday, have found that few employers intend to do that.

The top two reasons, according to the IFEBP survey, employers say they are continuing coverage are the need to attract top talent, cited by 78.7% of respondents and to retain current employees, cited by 74.8% of benefit professionals surveyed.

“Health care benefits are seen as essential for attracting future talent and retaining current high-quality employees,” Julie Stich, the director of research at the Brookfield, Wisconsin-based IFEBP said in a statement.

“Employers may change the structure of their health care plans or shift some of the cost burden to their employees, but it doesn't appear they will stop offering health care benefits anytime soon,” she added.

In another area, few — just 3% — respondents said their employers offer health care coverage to employees through private exchanges, while just over 12% say their organizations are considering it.

There is greater employer interest in offering exchange coverage to retirees. For example, 10.8% of respondents said their employers now offer private exchange coverage to retirees age 65 and older, while 17.2% are considering doing so.

In addition, 5.2% of respondents said their employers now offer exchange coverage to retirees between ages 55 through 64, while 19.4% are considering it.

The findings are based on the responses of 598 benefit professionals surveyed in March.