ACA impact evades most employers

According to a survey released by the Willis Human Capital Practice — a unit of insurance broker Willis Group Holdings — more than half of employers have not calculated the cost and impact of healthcare reform on their benefit packages for employees, even though most employers want to avoid cost increases for their group health plans.

The Health Care Reform Survey 2013 outlines employers’ perceptions regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and their planned responses to healthcare reform measures.

Among employers who have tracked the cost of compliance, nearly two-thirds indicate that healthcare reform has increased their costs, according to the survey.

While 60 percent of employers said that avoiding cost increases as a result of ACA is very important to their businesses, employers appear to be relying upon perceptions of cost that may be inaccurate as they plan their responses to the reform law, Willis said in its Feb. 14 report announcement. 

When asked about the impact of healthcare reform on various aspects of plan design and benefits offered to employees, the majority of employers said that healthcare reform had not yet affected their plans.

However, most of these employers had not studied the cost and impact of the Affordable Care Act on their plans, according to the survey.

In fact, only 20 percent of those surveyed plan to adjust other rewards, including retirement, dental, vision, salaries, vacation and bonuses, in order to offset the cost of healthcare reform compliance. That may be because many employers assume that healthcare reform will generally not affect their costs, Willis said.

As a result, the vast majority of employers still hope to comply with healthcare reform and expand their health coverage as necessary without reducing other benefits, according to Jay Kirschbaum, practice leader, National Legal and Research Group, Willis Human Capital Practice.

"The survey suggests that employers continue to recognize the value of providing medical benefits, how important those benefits are to their employees, and that providing benefits allows them to attract and retain the employees they need," he said.

They generally plan to continue offering competitive medical benefits. However, employers are considering several potential options, even including the possibility of coverage through state health insurance exchange marketplaces, Kirschbaum said.

Slightly more than half of the employers believed that their competitors would shift costs to employees, but only 34 percent of those surveyed said that they might take the same action.

Most employers intend to “play” under the “pay or play” mandate and are predominantly planning to offer coverage that exceeds the “minimum essential coverage” requirement. But they may adjust coverage and contributions after the fact to help manage expenses.

The findings from the survey, which was conducted in November, come from 1,200 employers of varying sizes, industry sectors and geographic regions.