Employers Increasingly Embrace Consumer-Driven Health Plans

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A recent Mercer survey indicates the average cost of providing employee health coverage will rise just 5.4 percent in 2012. This is good news for companies if it becomes a reality, but an aging workforce, health care reform and the economy continue to have a negative impact on health care costs. But what are you and your practice or company doing to keep costs down for you and your employees? And if you own or manage a medical practice, what are you doing to educate your patients?

Six years ago, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated replaced its medical plan options with three consumer-driven health plans, which has helped the company maintain a slightly higher than 4 percent annual increase in the cost of providing health care to its 6,000 employees.

While that trend compares favorably with the nationwide average increase of 9 percent in the past five years, the beverage bottler, which operates in nine Southeastern states, is still working to control costs while promoting good health among its workforce.

In March, Coca-Cola Bottling launched a pilot program to install on-site health clinics in its Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, locations, working with Charlotte-based Healthstat Inc., an on-site health clinic provider. Each clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner, and care is free.

Increasing their investment in consumerism and health management are among the ways employees are trying to control health care costs, according to New York-based benefits firm Mercer.

Initial findings from Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2011, representing 1,592 employers, indicates the average cost of providing employee health coverage will rise just 5.4 percent in 2012, while a National Business Group on Health survey of 83 of the nation’s largest corporations conducted in June predicts costs will increase an average of 7.2 percent. Predictions vary, but it appears 2012 may be a better year for employers struggling to manage the cost of health care coverage.

The same Mercer survey indicates that 51 percent of employers with 20,000-plus employees offered the plans in 2010, while 58 percent plan to offer them in 2012. And the National Business Group on Health survey shows that 73 percent of those employers will offer at least one consumer-driven health plan in 2012, an increase from 61 percent who offered one in 2011.

Like Coca-Cola Bottling, many employers are moving to consumer-driven health plans, shifting more of the responsibility—and the costs—to their employees. According to some industry experts, they simply have no choice.However, there’s a limit to how much of the cost employees can bear.

A frequently used way to shift responsibility to the employee is by introducing a wellness program, which is what Birmingham, Alabama-based employer Baptist Health did in 2009. Today, 74 percent of Baptist Health’s 4,000 employees participate in the program, and the results speak for themselves.

According to chief human resources officer Alan Bradford, tobacco use is down from 14.7 percent to 12.3 percent, desirable cholesterol levels have increased from 68.1 percent to 71.2 percent, and employees with high blood pressure have become 3.4 percent more compliant in taking their medication.


Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Managing Partner
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC
hlawson@alignedgrowth.com