By Cyril Tuohy
A widely followed survey by Aflac has found that 7 percent of businesses offered employees health insurance through the new federal and state government exchanges or have signed up to offer benefits through a private exchange.
The Aflac Workforces Report 2014 survey also found that 6 percent of businesses decided to give employees a stipend to buy their health insurance coverage through the exchanges.
U.S. and state exchanges began signing up workers in October. Private insurance exchanges, hosted by benefits brokers and benefits technology vendors, have been operating for several years.
On an exchange, employees are free to mix and match coverage, often from six or more health plans. Advanced algorithms help employees with their buying decisions.
In the past, employers would enter into a contract with health carriers to provide the plans offering a “cafeteria menu” of benefits. Employees would pick among one or two plans, often with little help or professional guidance.
The Aflac survey is one of the first to offer a glimpse of employer uptake in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.
Exchanges are seen as a way to expand employee health care choices. Proponents also say exchanges will help moderate health care cost increases.
Teresa White, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Aflac, said the survey “shows how the need to control costs is driving workforce decisions.”
The survey also found that 32 percent of employers eliminated or delayed raises, 22 percent cut back on benefits, 21 percent changed some full-time workers to part-timers and 14 percent reduced the number of medical plan options for their employees.
Managing benefits with an eye to reining in costs and improving the employer’s bottom line means companies continue to shift the costs of paying for benefits onto employees, a trend that benefits the voluntary market, the Aflac survey shows.
In the voluntary market, the employee pays 100 percent of the premium. In the traditional health care market, the premium is shared between the employee and the employer.
Conducted by Research Now on behalf of Aflac, the survey consisted of an employer survey and an employee survey.
The employer survey was conducted online within the U.S. from Jan. 7 to 23, 2014, among 1,856 benefits decision-makers, the company said.
The employee survey was conducted online within the U.S. from Jan. 7 to 27, 2014, among 5,209 employed adults ages 18 and older who are employed full or part time at a company with three or more employees and not retired.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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