Rising medical costs undermine America’s largest coverage silo: Employer-sponsored medical benefit plans.
But the longer-term risk for job-based coverage is the inability of most employers — despite their power as the largest purchasers of health care services — to stem rising health care costs. Though some very large employers that run their own health insurance plans, like Comcast and Boeing, show considerable sophistication in managing their workers’ health care bills, they are the exceptions.
Faced with these structural handicaps, employers trying to limit their exposure to health care costs fall back on a simple strategy: shifting more of those costs to their employees. That winds up increasing the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health plans who are underinsured. The Commonwealth Fund survey found that underinsured adults reported health care access and medical bill problems at nearly the same rates as adults who lacked coverage for part of the year.
Increasing underinsurance among working families should raise alarm bells for policymakers and advocates both for and against increased government involvement in health care. If employer-sponsored health insurance continues to become less and less adequate over time — and we have every reason to believe it will — the discontent of middle-class working Americans with the cost of their health care will inevitably increase.
Employer-sponsored medical coverage covers as many Americans as Medicare, Medicaid and the non-group individual market combined. As such, it’s the biggest coverage silo of the nation’s multifaceted scheme to cover the costs of medical care.
According to this Commonwealth Fund analysis, the structural integrity and long term viability of that largest and traditionally quite generous of coverage silos is under enormous stress from the ever growing cost of medical care. Another appearing today in Health Affairs warns that rising medical care costs could reduce commercial medical insurance, including employer plans.
Those cost pressures could cause it to tip over. If it topples, the analysis accurately observes, it would create an environment where a wider expansion of government plans beyond Medicare and Medicaid becomes more politically possible, even probable. It could spark a consolidation of the four big coverage silos into one or two. History appears poised to turn a page over the next decade.
Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email