Fewer Employers Satisfied With Their Health Insurers, Survey Says

Employers are less happy with their health insurers than they were a year ago, according to a study released Tuesday by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute. The discontent, according to the findings, comes from the economic downturn and higher health care costs placing more pressure on businesses’ bottom lines and creating higher expectations of what insurance companies should deliver.

According to the survey, 59 percent of large employers were satisfied with their health insurer in 2009. That figure is down five points from the 64 percent satisfaction rate for large employers in 2008, but it still outpaces the satisfaction of small employers in both 2008 and 2009, which remained flat at 52 percent.

“I think that the employers are clearly under increased stress and pressure given the economy to continue providing benefits to their employees, and consequently, they are really looking to their insurers and their administrators to help them more effectively manage sustainable solutions,” said Kathryn Stein, managing director of human resources services at the Health Research Institute and one of the study’s authors.

For now, the survey found, more than 60 percent of employers said they would increase the share of health care costs paid by employees. Such cost-sharing often takes the form of higher premiums and deductibles, as well as co-payments.

Stein said employers are less satisfied than before with the help they receive from insurers on disease management and wellness programs for workers “that potentially could on a long-term basis help them to manage the overall health of their (employees),” she said. “They’re looking for increased help (in those areas), more partnership (and) better data from their insurers.”

For insurers, health care costs are rising at a “faster pace than their earnings are growing” and they are passing those costs along, Stein said. “So clearly that’s what’s putting economic pressure on the employers.”

Ninety-five percent of employers with more than 50 workers and almost three-quarters of companies with 10 to 24 workers provide insurance to their employees – making employers the source for coverage for about 159 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2009 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey. (KHN is a project of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

The PricewaterhouseCoopers survey – “What Employers Want From Health Insurers in 2010″ – polled 100 large, U.S.-based companies with an average of $4 billion in revenues and 130 privately held small companies. Smaller companies are less likely to be satisfied with their health insurance plans because they have less clout to negotiate with insurers on issues such as administrative fees or performance guarantees.

The report, which also involved interviews with employer executives and insurers, noted employers’ desire for health plans to offer technology tools such as personal health records and online comparisons to help employees and employers make informed decisions about their own health care. Large employers in the survey also said they want insurers to offer debit card interfaces to consumers to help streamline paying for health care costs.

The institute conducts surveys and analysis on health trends using fact-based research and collaborative exchange from more than 3,000 professionals.