More employers embrace high-deductible health plans to pare costs

More than one-third of large employers are offering high-deductible health plans to help hold down costs.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
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With open enrollment for benefits in full swing, U.S. workers are seeing more high-deductible health plans from cost-conscious employers.

A new report finds that 36% of large employers offered consumer-directed, high-deductible health plans in 2012, up from 14% five years ago. Enrollment in those plans has risen to 16% of all covered employees, compared with 5% in 2007, according to benefits consultant Mercer.

Employers are pushing these plans in part because they are about 20% cheaper than the cost of a conventional PPO -- or preferred-provider organization -- plan, Mercer said. The cost of a high-deductible medical plan with a health savings account is $7,833 annually per employee compared with $10,007 for a PPO plan.


“If we’re not already at the tipping point for consumer-directed health plans -- and we may well be -- at this rate of growth it’s coming soon,” said Laura Baker, a senior health and benefits consultant for Mercer in Los Angeles.

The minimum deductible for these plans with a health savings account is $2,400 for a family this year and $2,500 next year under federal rules.

Overall, Mercer found that health benefit costs per employee rose 4.1% this year, the smallest increase since 1997 in its annual employer survey. Government officials and other groups have reported a similar slowdown in healthcare spending.

Some experts attribute it to employers shifting more costs onto workers and patients postponing care and out-of-pocket medical expenses during a weak economy.

In Los Angeles, Mercer said the average increase in health costs among 86 employers surveyed was slightly higher at 5.6% in 2012.

Nationwide, employers surveyed expect a 5% increase in health benefit costs for 2013.



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