Annual increases in premiums for employee health coverage were mostly moderate in 2017. It’s a trend from the last few years that Shannon Enders, managing partner at Lakeshore Employee Benefits in Norton Shores, said largely continued for employers who renewed policies for 2018. Enders is also seeing more employers offering various options for employee health benefits, and some are even wondering whether they have gone too far in shifting the costs for health coverage onto employees.
What’s something in health benefits that began to emerge in 2017 that you see occurring as well for 2018?
What we’re really seeing for most of our clients is increases dropping to the mid-single digits. We’re seeing a lot of 4, 5, 6 (percent increases). We’re seeing very little plus-20, plus-30. We’re seeing an absolute moderation. We see continued growth — and maybe because we keep working on it — of employers putting in a second plan, even smaller employers. Any two people will want two different plans.
As open renewal comes to a close for Jan. 1, 2018 policy renewals, what’s been the biggest change employers have been making in their health benefits?
What we’re seeing is not a lot different from what we’ve been seeing. They’re shopping the market. They’re willing to jump from (from one plan to another) for 5 percent or more savings. We’re seeing additional plan options and adding more plans, and certainly adding employee-paid benefits — not just the Aflac-type stuff — but even things like dental, vision, disability and additional life insurance. We see employers rounding out those additional options. And there’s more interest in these mini self-funded plans, and we still see some growth in the narrow-network products. All of the carriers have them.
The West Michigan economy’s been in pretty good shape for a while. How has that affected the way employers view their benefit offerings?
For the first time in years, we’ve actually had some customers who have said, ‘Maybe I went too far and we’re having trouble keeping people. They’re leaving me for buck, so I probably have to give them an extra buck,’ and go not necessarily from a $5,000 (plan) to a $2,000 (high-deductible health plan) but add the $2,000 (as another plan option).
Are you seeing a major swing there?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we see them swinging it back, but I’d say it’s an awareness. The job market is tight and it’s tight on the low end and lower-skilled, entry-level (jobs), and it’s tight right now for doctors and lawyers and bank managers. There’s just a lot of movement right now. For the moment, employees hold the upper hand.
Are employers looking at their health benefits as part of talent recruitment and retention?
Yeah, and I think those customers are desiring information from us, saying ‘We’re a manufacturer, we’re a retailer, we’re a law firm. How do we stack up?’ We don’t talk to Company A about what Company B is doing, but we certainly say, ‘Boy, you are really on the generous side’ or ‘Gosh, you’re paying hardly any of the premium, you have a sky-high deductible. I don’t know. Are you having trouble holding onto people?’ This year, the answer’s been, ‘Yes, we are.’ And wages and insurance benefits, that’s still not even the whole piece of the puzzle. Some employers, people love working for them because of flex time, additional vacation time, because they can work at home. It’s the whole package, not just wage or not just benefits.
Any guess on what may happen with the Affordable Care Act in 2018?
(Laughter.) I can’t even tell you if Republicans are going to get along. My thought is ‘no.’ (President) Trump will continue to do what he can do by executive fiat.
What do you think is out there that may arise in 2018 that will surprise people?
Any federal change that could come through would be one. A new player in the (insurance) market, and I think that would be a win. I think it would be great to have either fully insured carrier over here.