Mercer finds majority of employers have not addressed health reform law’s 2014 requirements
The majority of employers said that they had been waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) before developing a strategy to respond to ACA provisions that go into effect in 2014 and beyond, according to a recent poll from human resource consultant Mercer. While 40 percent said they will begin taking action now that the Court has ruled, another 16 percent said they will continue to wait until after the November elections.
Employers should act quickly to implement the new ACA requirements for 2012 and 2013, Mercer noted, such as providing benefit summary disclosures, providing the cost of health coverage on employees’ W-2s, and complying with new dollar limits on health care flexible spending arrangements. But the rules going into effect in 2014 that are aimed at expanding access will have broader implications for many employers, according to Mercer.
The poll found that 28 percent of employers said that compliance with the new requirement that employees working an average of 30 or more hours per week must be eligible for coverage will present a “significant challenge” for their organization.
“Employers with large part-time populations, such as retailers and health care organizations, are faced with the difficult choice of either increasing the number of employees eligible for coverage, or changing their workforce strategy so that employees work fewer hours,” said David Rahill, president of Mercer’s Health and Benefits business. “With the average cost of health coverage now exceeding $10,000 per employee, a big jump in enrollment is not economically feasible for many employers.”
The ACA requires employers with more than 200 full-time employees who offer enrollment in one or more health plans to automatically enroll new employees in one of the plans offered. Employees will automatically be covered unless they take action to opt-out, and this provision is expected to increase the rolls of the insured for many employers. Nearly one-third (29 percent) of respondents to the Mercer survey said this will be a significant challenge.
Mercer found that the provision that has the most employers worried — 47 percent of survey respondents — is the excise tax on high-cost plans, expected to go into effect in 2018.
“Employers already struggling with annual health care cost increases of double or triple general inflation are determined to avoid this tax,” said Sharon Cunninghis, U.S. leader of Mercer’s Health and Benefits business. “We’ve been seeing a lot more interest in cost-saving measures, such as consumer-directed health plans and employee health management, since the tax was proposed.”
When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “[The reform law] has provided the impetus for our organization to pursue more aggressive health benefit cost-management strategies,” 52 percent agreed. Employer actions were one factor that helped to slow health benefit cost growth in 2011 relative to 2010.
Survey results suggest this trend will continue. Asked whether they planned to be more aggressive about managing plan costs going forward now that the constitutionality of the ACA has been confirmed, 54 percent said yes. And while 41 percent said no, Mercer noted that it is only because the employer was already taking aggressive action to manage expenses.
Mercer polled more than 4,000 employers immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision. For more information, visit http://www.mercer.com.