Self-Insured Health Plans Growing, Driven by Large Employers

Large private-sector employers are driving a trend toward more “self-insured” health plans, according to a new report by EBRI.

Among employers that offer health coverage to their workers, there are two basic types of insurance plan:

* A self-insured plan, in which the employer assumes the financial risk related to health insurance; or

* A fully insured plan, in which an insurance company is paid to assume the risk.

Historically, large employers have been far more likely to self-insure than have been small employers, the EBRI report notes, and there are significant incentives for them to do so: Large multi-state employers can provide uniform health benefits across state lines if they self-insure (lowering administrative costs) and also are not required to cover state-mandated health care services—as are fully insured plans.

Following the passage and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), there has been speculation that an increasing number of smaller employers would opt for self-insurance. As the EBRI report explains, some employers think that components of PPACA, such as the strict grandfathering requirements, the minimum-creditable-coverage requirement, the breadth of essential health benefits, affordability requirements, as well as taxes on insurers, medical-device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies and reinsurance fees will work to drive up the cost of health coverage.

“Employers generally, and small employers particularly, concerned about the rising cost of providing health coverage may view self-insurance as a better way to control expected cost increases,” notes Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the report. “This new analysis provides a baseline against which to measure future trends.”

Among the findings of the EBRI report:

  • The percentage of workers in private-sector self-insured health plans has been increasing. In 2011, 58.5 percent of workers with health coverage were in self-insured plans, up from 40.9 percent in 1998. To date, large employers (with 1,000 or more workers) have driven the upward trend in overall self-insurance. The percentage of workers in self-insured plans in firms with fewer than 50 employees has remained close to 12 percent in most years examined.
  • Massachusetts, the only state to have enacted health reform similar to PPACA, has seen an increase in the percentage of workers in self-insured plans among all firm-size cohorts, except among workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees.
  • Overall, 58.5 percent of workers were in self-insured plans in 2011, but the percentage ranged by state, from a low of 30.5 percent to a high of 73.8 percent.

Full results are published in the November 2012 EBRI Notes, “Self-Insured Health Plans: State Variation and Recent Trends by Firm Size,” online at www.ebri.org

Provider Networks, Premiums Key Factors in Health Plan Choice

When given a choice, most individuals with traditional health coverage say they chose that option because it offered a good network of providers, according to new findings by EBRI.

In contrast, among those with so-called consumer-driven health plans, most cited the lower premiums and opportunity to save money in a health account.

While close to half of all private-sector workers who have health insurance are offered a choice of health plans, most of those with a choice work for large firms, according to the report.

“Most Americans get their health insurance coverage from employment-based plans, yet most employers do not offer a choice of health plans,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the report. “Health plan choices are likely to expand via the expansion of insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so it’s important to know how people make their decisions when they do have a choice.”

The EBRI analysis examines issues related to private health insurance exchanges (an integral component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA), possible structures of an exchange, and funding, as well as the pros and cons of adopting them. A summary of recent surveys on employer attitudes are examined, as are other benefit program changes that might serve as historical precedents for a move to some type of defined contribution health benefits approach.

Full results of the report are published in the July EBRI Notes, “Health Plan Choice: Findings from the 2011 EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.”  

 The Employee Benefit Research Institute is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, DC, that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues. EBRI does not lobby and does not take policy positions. The work of EBRI is made possible by funding from its members and sponsors, which includes a broad range of public, private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations.