Published in Health Care

Employers continue offering coverage, care remains accessible in years after ACA

BY Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:03pm

This year’s edition of the Health Check report by Grand Valley State University affirms many of the trends that have been occurring in the health care industry indeed are happening in West Michigan.

The steady migration to high-deductible health plans continues, as does the practice of companies requiring employees to pay a greater share of the cost for their coverage, according to an employer survey in the 2016 edition of the Health Check report.

Of particular note, however, are two things that apparently are not occurring. The report showed there is no worsening in the ability of people to access care. As well, there hasn’t been a large-scale shift away from employers providing their employees with health coverage, although that could change in the coming years.

Some of the political rhetoric thrown around when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was going through Congress predicted that employers would drop health coverage because of the mandates the law would impose. Others warned that the influx of new patients who have access to coverage under the law would overwhelm the health care system.

In a survey conducted last September as part of the 2016 Health Check analysis, more than three-quarters of the respondents who were previously uninsured in a four-county area of West Michigan said they now have health coverage.

The ability of those individuals today to see a doctor when needed has not put any more strain on the system other than what had existed already, according to the Health Check report.

“Overall, it appears that while more people became insured in West Michigan in the last year, there has been little change in the health care market with respect to access to care, wait times at the doctor’s office, and time with the physician,” according to the report. “Although many expected the Medicaid expansion and opening of public exchanges to negatively affect primary care, Medicaid patients actually saw increased access to care, while those with private insurance essentially saw no change.”

Or, as GVSU economics professor Leslie Muller put it, “we haven’t seen that predicted clogging of the system.”

Nor did Muller and her colleagues at GVSU’s Seidman College of Business find employers dropping employee health coverage in large numbers — at least not yet, as more employers consider it in the next couple of years.

Of the employers responding to GVSU, 93 percent planned to continue offering employee health coverage for 2016. That decreases to 81 percent for 2017 and 77 percent in 2018.

Muller notes that the declines in the subsequent years in the number of employers planning to offer coverage could reflect that they haven’t planned that far out. Only one of the 200 employers surveyed actually had decided to discontinue health coverage after 2016, she said.

There’s also the uncertainty of the so-called Cadillac Tax on high-value health plans and who it affects. The excise tax was to take effect in 2018, but a budget deal that Congress passed and President Obama signed in December — two months after the GVSU survey was conducted — delayed it for two years. Among survey respondents, 8 percent were subject to the tax, 56 percent were not and 36 percent were unsure.

Despite the high cost and the administrative burden involved, many employers who plan to maintain health benefits see offering coverage to employees as a retention and attraction tool, Muller said.

“Health coverage really attracts the best workers,” Muller said. “If you don’t have a health plan, in any industry, you’re just not going to attract the best workers.”

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