Businesses think the growth of health insurance premiums is slowing. Yes, really.

August 6, 2012

The National Business Group on Health Care is out this morning with its annual look at the future of employer-sponsored insurance. The top line takeaway: The 342 businesses surveyed expect to see costs continue to rise in 2013, by about 7 percent in 2013.

Dig a bit deeper into the numbers, and you see there's actually a slight slowdown in health insurance premium growth - but one that may not necessarily trickle down to the consumer.

Employers do indeed expect the cost of health insurance to rise - but they see it going up at a rate slightly slower than it has in years past. That trend started before the Affordable Care Act passed, and looks to be persisting as it comes into effect:

Some of this has to do with a lower cost of health care: During the recession, people have used fewer health care services, which has translated into lower cost growth.

But it also has to do with how employers are designing their health insurance plans. Many, as you'll see in this chart below, see increased cost-sharing as a way to reduce premiums. They might lower the monthly payments that subscribers make - while also increasing the co-pay for each doctor visit. Sixty percent of the businesses surveyed here also plan to increase the employee contribution to the premium cost.

Employers are increasingly turning to wellness programs, too, sometimes pegging premium rates to a willingness to get preventive care or participate in a something like a smoking cessation program:

There's one other chart that's worth looking at, which looks at how large employers are thinking about the health insurance market in 2014 - after the individual mandate, and the health insurance subsides come into effect.

The NBGH did not survey employers on whether they would drop coverage altogether. Instead, they did something more nuanced and asked employers whether they would consider shifting specific populations into the exchanges. They found many employers said yes, they would indeed consider dropping certain populations they currently cover:

Keep in mind, the health law only requires large employers (with 50 or more workers) to provide coverage to those who work for them. It's silent on all the other people who might receive coverage through a company, like early retirees (about 28 percent of companies offer coverage to retirees not yet eligible for Medicare) or a worker's spouse or dependents.

Sixteen percent of the companies surveyed here said they anticipate some full-time workers could be covered by the exchanges. A lot more, however, saw other populations shifting into publicly-subsidized insurance, rather than the benefit package they have typically provided.

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Brad Plumer | August 6, 2012