Despite concerns about health insurance costs, only 2 percent of U.S. employers say they're "very likely" to stop offering health plans to employees in 2014 when health insurance exchanges are operating, according to a new survey by Mercer, a human resource consulting firm.
Another 6 percent say they're "likely" to do so--about the same as a year ago. Almost 900 employers participated in the new survey, conducted in June.
Employers are already feeling effects of the Affordable Care Act, reporting an average 2 percent rise in group health plan enrollment. The increase is due to the health reform law's requirement that employer-sponosred plans extend eligibility for dependent coverage to workers' children up to age 26.
Employers expect enrollment to grow by another 2 percent in 2014 when they will be required to automatically enroll newly hired or newly eligible full-time employees into a health insurance plan.
Some employers, 38 percent, say they're likely to reduce their spending on dependent coverage in relation to employee-only coverage.
"Employers have already been facing average increases in per-employee health benefit cost of about 6 percent annually for the past six years," said Tracy Watts, a consultant in Mercer's Washington, D.C., office, in a statement. "Adding enrollment growth on top of that puts a real strain on their budgets."
A tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans, which is slated to take effect in 2018, remains employers' No. 1 concern, according to the survey. The tax is based on total cost to cover an individual or family, so employers can't escape it simply by shifting costs to employees. Most employers say they are likely or very likely to address long-term costs by adding or strengthening programs to promote health-conscious behavior. More than a quarter of respondents, 29 percent, say they're likely to carve out dental and vision and offer those as voluntary benefits.