Employer health benefit costs expected to jump about 5%, reports say: 29 numbers to know

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Two studies published Oct. 6 — one by Mercer shared with Becker's and one by Willis Towers Watson — project employer health benefit costs to increase between 4.7 and 5.2 percent in 2022.

Mercer's National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans surveyed 1,502 employers since mid-July, and Willis Towers Watson's Watson 2021 Best Practices in Health Care Survey featured 378 employers employing 5.9 million people total. 

Here are 29 numbers to know from the reports:

1. Willis Towers Watson's projection for 2021 anticipated a higher 5.5 percent increase in benefit costs that year, but both 2022 and 2021 projects surpassed the actual increase of 2.1 percent in 2020. 

2, Mercer's report expects a 4.7 percent increase next year.

3. Compared to the 53 percent of employers that did want to shift medical plan costs in 2021, only 38 percent plan to make changes in 2022.

4. Twice as many employers with over 20,000 workers are cutting down employee premiums versus increasing them. 

5. According to the Willis Towers Watson report, over the next two years, employers are prioritizing internal affordability (90 percent), affordability for employees (86 percent) and improving employee well-being (85 percent). Lagging behind were employers targeting diversity, equity and social determinants of health (78 percent).

6. The Mercer report cites half of employers with 500 or more workers prioritizing affordability for low-income workers, with that number swelling to 65 percent for employers with 20,000 or more employees. 

7. According to the Willis Towers Watson report, to manage costs, employers are actively structuring premium contributions based on pay and grade (22 percent) or are considering doing so (8 percent).  

8. A quarter of employers use spousal surcharges for partners who have access to coverage through their employment, with another 9 percent considering the same measures. 

9. Employers are also using (30 percent) or considering (21 percent) narrow networks of "higher-quality and/or lower-cost providers."

10. The most used cost-control method is telebehavioral health, with 89 percent of employers covering it and 7 percent planning or considering coverage. However, the Mercer report cites 30 percent of employers providing telebehavioral health coverage and 21 percent considering it.

11. The Mercer report cites an increase in telehealth coverage up 8 percentage points over 2019's numbers.

12. Employers are also watching drug use, with several using (13 percent) or considering (30 percent) medication adherence plans and many using (54 percent) or considering (29 percent) evaluating specialty drug use.

13. Nearly half of employers are using well-being vendors (45 percent) or adding choices to benefits (49 percent).

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