United Parcel Service got attention by dropping some working spouses from its health plan and partly blaming the Affordable Care Act. But UPS’s move is only one among many changes in employer health insurance, most of them having little to do with the health law, reports Kaiser Health News.
"Employers are raising deductibles, giving workers health savings accounts that look like 401(k) plans, mimicking the health law’s online insurance marketplaces and nudging patients to compare prices and shop around for treatments.
"Together the moves could eventually affect far more consumers than the law’s Medicaid expansion or health exchanges aimed at the uninsured and scheduled to open Oct. 1.
Employers blame rising costs. "Although overall medical expenses are rising at the slowest pace in decades, they’re still going up at twice the rate of inflation. Some analysts doubt the deceleration is permanent.
"At the same time, employers say health law requirements such as covering dependents to age 26 and banning annual and lifetime limits on benefit payouts also increase their costs. However, some analysts portray what’s going on as part a long-term trend of employer benefit redesign that has little to do with the health law.
Employers' moves follow two patterns; the first, shifting costs to employees. "So the average annual deductible for an individual — what consumers pay before insurance kicks in — nearly doubled in the past seven years, from $584 in 2006 to $1,135 this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
"But employers aren’t just making workers pay more. They’re trying to make them think more about health-related expenses and behavior.
"Companies such as grocer Kroger Co. pay only a fixed amount for particular drugs or procedures, giving patients incentive to shop around for the best price. IBM started giving rebates to workers who adopt healthy lifestyles. Penalizing smokers with surcharges is one of the few discriminatory measures the health act allows." Read more.