Workers will pay more for their health care next year as companies prepare for provisions of the overhaul signed into law by President Obama, according to a survey released last week.
About 63 percent of businesses plan to make employees pay a higher percentage of their premium costs in 2011, said the Washington-based National Business Group on Health, which surveyed 72 companies that employ more than 3.7 million people.
The survey showed that 46 percent plan to raise the maximum level of out-of-pocket costs that workers must bear.
In Wichita, many employers say they haven't yet gotten estimates on health care costs for 2011.
A Wichita insurance broker said many actuaries are waiting until the last minute to firm up numbers as they wait for more regulations to be written.
Dana Carr of the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association and Jerry Vinson and Jim Preston of Tech Inc. in Hutchinson are among employers waiting to see what they'll pay for health care in 2011.
Vinson said some colleagues are anticipating increases of 20 to 25 percent.
"In their eyes, it's strictly the health care reform," he said.
Carr expects an increase in "the high single
digits" but said, "I have no idea of what the impact's going to be."
The companies surveyed in the national study expect health care benefits costs to increase an average of 8.9 percent next year.
New mandates under the legislation signed into law by Obama in March will contribute to the increase, said Helen Darling, the business group's president.
Karen Vines, director of business development and client services for IMA of Kansas' Employee Benefits, said, "It's a little early to get a good sampling" on costs for next year. "We don't have enough yet to have an average."
But, she said, "when you think about what we expect from health care reform and what some of the actuaries have said in a general sense, 9 to 11 (percent) is probably a pretty comfortable range."
Derby City Manager Kathy Sexton said her city bid its health insurance early "so we'd have plenty of time" to shop around. It renewed with its current carrier but will pay 6.5 percent more.
"If we could get a better deal, we'd switch," Sexton said. Both the city and employees will pay for the increase.
The companies in the survey said they expected their health-benefit costs to rise 7 percent this year, half a percentage point higher than employers estimated in a separate survey released by the National Business Group on Health and the consulting firm Towers Watson Co. in March.
Employers may be using the health care law as cover for changes they already planned to make to their benefits, said Igor Volsky, a health care researcher at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, which supported the overhaul.
"Costs are always increasing but they're going to blame what they're going to blame," Volsky said.
The health care overhaul was designed to help rein in rising costs while enabling employers to make adjustments to their benefits, said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
"As was the case before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, employers have flexibility to make choices about how to design or revise their health care plans," Santillo, who had not seen the survey, wrote in an e-mail.
Health care 'chess'
Byron Stout, vice president of human resources at Meritrust Credit Union, said his company had redesigned its health plan for 2011, moving to a self-insured plan, adding preventive services and a "very comprehensive wellness plan."
The additions and changes will add about 8 percent to this year's cost, which was about the increase Meritrust had expected without changing the plan.
The changes were made to "prepare us for the next year," Stout said, so Meritrust can "hopefully be able to take the blows as they come. It's chess."
About 57 percent of the employers in the study said their workers paid a higher portion of their premiums this year, and 36 percent of the companies increased the out-of-pocket maximums this year.
Redesigning benefits and increasing employee contribution continue to be the top two ways employers try to control health care costs, IMA of Kansas' Vines said. But "there's an end to that road," and eventually employers will have to put more focus on wellness programs and other ways of improving the health of their employees.
Companies said they plan to offer more so-called consumer-directed health benefits, such as insurance with high deductibles paired with tax-free health savings accounts. Twenty percent of companies will replace their current offerings with such plans in 2011, according to the survey, compared with 10 percent that did so this year.
Wellness programs, including those that offer discounts for weight-loss, smoking-cessation and other lifestyle changes, are among the more popular benefit changes planned for next year.
The National Business Group on Health is an organization composed of almost 300 companies that was founded in 1974 to advocate for business interests on national health care policy.