Employers Weigh Health Care Options

Article excerpt

A little over two years before the federal government requires individuals and many employers to carry health insurance, uncertainty reigns over costs, how state insurance exchanges will be implemented and even whether the law will survive political and court challenges, experts said on Thursday.

Most companies still are trying to assess the impact of the pending health care reform regulations, said Geri Recht, a senior consultant with Towers Watson, a benefits consultant in Pittsburgh.

"There is no one answer for any one organization. There is a spectrum of opportunities in between play (providing coverage) and pay (for not offering coverage). They have to study it and analyze it" to determine what is best for their company and employees, said Recht, a speaker at the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health's Health Care Futures symposium at the Pittsburgh City Center Marriott in Uptown.

About 80 percent of the respondents to the Pittsburgh Business Group's membership survey last year said they plan to offer health care benefits in 2014, while the remaining 20 percent are exploring other options, said M. Christine Whipple, executive director of the 75-member business group that advocates for cost-effective health care coverage.

"Nobody said they would drop it," Whipple said of health care coverage.

The event attracted about 300 health care consultants and benefits managers -- more than last year. Whipple believes attendance was greater than last year because it is getting closer to when mandates take effect in 2014.

Costs will be the primary driver for what companies do, and how to manage those costs will be the challenge, said James M. Winkler, managing principal for Aon Hewitt, a benefits consultant in Norwalk, Conn.

Winkler's firm is organizing an insurance exchange that will combine buying power to get the best price for health insurance products.

"I think half of the marketplace could end up in there in five years," Winkler said of the insurance exchanges. …