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Corporations warm to Obamacare

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, September 6, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

While corporate America may not be ready to fully embrace Obamacare just yet, it seems to be warming to the idea of jettisoning its early retirees and part-time workers to the new state health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, that open next month.

In a new survey of large employers released by the nonprofit National Business Group on Health, 26 percent expect their pre-65 retirees will shift to marketplace coverage next year, while 20 percent expect their part-time workers to do so. As for former employees currently on COBRA, the often expensive federal transitional health insurance, 4 in 10 companies surveyed expect an exodus of ex-employees to the state exchanges next year.

Hardly the end of employer-based insurance

Lest one assume that employer-sponsored health plans are preparing to pack it in, just 12 percent of companies surveyed expect full-time employees will switch to the marketplaces, while 15 percent anticipate that employee spouses or dependents might make the move.

Although large employers are prohibited from shopping on the state exchanges until 2017 at the earliest, many are making radical changes to their vanilla-or-vanilla offerings of old, some of them modeled after that burr under their Brooks Brothers briefs, Obamacare.

According to the survey, about a third of the companies are considering moving their employees into private exchanges, which resemble the state marketplaces but instead are run by consulting firms such as Aon Hewitt and Mercer. Half of the companies surveyed anticipate shifting their retirees in that direction and 10 percent already have.

Consumer-directed health plans find favor

Another hot trend is what's called "consumer-directed health plans," or CDHPs, in which companies simply give their workers cash to stash in a high-deductible health savings account or other qualified plan and manage their own health spending. The survey found that nearly 3 out of 4 large employers now offer at least one CDHP, while the number of employers offering only this option is expected to grow from 19 percent this year to 22 percent in 2014.

Large employers also continue to sow the seeds of bottom-line savings by investing in preventive care. Nearly all (89 percent) now offer tobacco cessation programs, half offer on-site weight management, and 8 out of 10 conduct health assessments and biometric screenings, the survey shows.

Even so, large employers still expect their health care costs to rise 7 percent in the coming year, just as they have the past two years. And they're not shy about blaming the trend on the launch costs of Obamacare.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.

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