For employers, health insurance exchanges and excise tax for high cost plans are most important health reform provisions

At least half of the respondents to an onsite conference survey consider the continued implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) important (29.09 percent) or very important (21.21 percent) to the management of health benefits. Another 29.09 percent of participants, who were attending the Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) annual conference on May 5 and 6, consider it somewhat important.

Creation of the health insurance exchanges is the PPACA provision getting the greatest attention of the largest proportion of respondents (39.39 percent), followed by the excise tax on high cost plans (18.18 percent), and the penalty for not providing health coverage (16.36 percent). A much smaller proportion was concerned with maintaining grandfathered status (12.12 percent), or disclosing the value of health care benefits on employees’ W-2s (4.85 percent).

Other survey results. MBGH conference speakers provided additional information on employer reactions to the PPACA. Staying up to date on and complying with the PPACA is a top health care strategy for 2012 for 54 percent of 588 employers with at least 1,000 employees that responded to the Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Survey of Purchasing Value in Health Care. These employers collectively employ 9.2 million employees and cover 7.8 million enrollees, Mitchell V. Santiago, senior consultant in Towers Watson’s Health and Group Benefits practice, told the MBGH group. About one-fifth of these respondents also said they would make long-term changes to avoid the PPACA excise tax on high cost health plans. Nevertheless, more than one-third of Towers Watson survey respondents said they would continue to focus on measures that encourage employees, and their dependents, toward healthier lifestyles and behaviors, Mr. Santiago noted. Even with the PPACA, the great majority of respondents (97 percent) indicated their commitment to offer health care benefits to employees, but nearly one-fourth (23 percent), said they would lower their involvement with retiree medical care.

Nearly half (46 percent) of more than 1,000 employers of all size employee populations surveyed by Aon Hewitt in 2011 said they would continue planning for PPACA requirements and make “tactical” changes to continue offering health care benefits to their employees in 2014, explained Cathy Tripp, managing principal in the firm’s Health & Benefits practice. Another 35 percent indicated they did not have enough of a grasp on the PPACA to make a decision currently. Still, by far the top two health care “tactics” for organizations over the next three to five years are to “offer incentives or disincentives to motivate sustained behavior change” 68 percent of respondents) and “to promote a culture of health in the workplace” (for example, with healthy food in the cafeteria, 58 percent).