Waning confidence in the health insurance status quo
■ Among hundreds of executives surveyed, the economy and the prospect of reform may have raised doubts about the future of employer-sponsored health benefits.
By Emily Berry — Posted March 30, 2009
Fewer employers than a year ago said they are very confident that big companies will continue to provide health benefits for the next 10 years. In the meantime, employees said they are tweaking insurance offerings to try to cut costs and boost quality.
In the latest survey by the human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide and the National Business Group on Health, 62% of respondents were "very confident" in the future of the current system, but that was down from 73% from the prior year.
The 489 respondents were surveyed between November 2008 and January 2009.
Bruce Kelley, national leader for data services at Watson Wyatt, said the survey didn't ask for reasoning behind the answers. But he speculated that the declining economy and the possibility of a national overhaul of health care probably affected the respondents' confidence levels.
"Starting in October , they were laying off a lot of employees," he said. "Probably their confidence was shaken about their ability to continue to offer those benefits."
While health benefits offered 10 years from now might be tough to predict, employers continue to adjust benefit offerings to try to squeeze value out of money they are spending now. Among those is the new wave of managed care, Kelley said, renamed the "patient-centered medical home."
Despite the effectiveness of primary care coordination, because of the backlash against managed care over the last decade, employers are hesitant to push their employees too hard into a specific care setting, he said.
Ted Epperly, MD, a family physician from Boise, Idaho who is also president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said employers should view primary care as an investment.
"It's like that old Fram oil filter commercial, 'Pay me now or pay me later,' " he said. "Just allowing reactive sick care to be what insurance pays for isn't going to keep the work force healthy."