Employers leery of health plans from both candidates, survey finds

10/21/2008

WASHINGTON U.S. employers are expressing widespread skepticism about the health reform plans put forth by both presidential candidates, according to a large-scale survey released today. What’s more, the study indicates that employers both large and small “will resist efforts by policymakers to use employers to finance health care reform,” noted the National Business Group on Health [NBGH], a coalition of more than 300 large employers that reported on the findings.

The study, from the Mercer consulting and research group, showed that employers would resist the health coverage proposals being floated by both Barack Obama and John McCain. Nearly 2,900 employers that offer health insurance responded to the survey, as well as 545 employers that don’t provide insurance to their employees.

“At a time when the national spotlight is on health reform, these new Mercer data suggest employers are skeptical of proposed reforms from both sides of the political aisle,” said NBGH president Helen Darling. “While employers strongly support the goal of expanding coverage, we cannot use employers to finance reform.”

Among the survey’s findings:

Employers of all sizes—particularly retailers and manufacturers—oppose plans to require employers to “either offer health coverage or pay into a government fund to cover the uninsured.” Just 31 percent of those who responded support the proposal, which is a keystone of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s health reform proposals.

Many employers oppose Republican Sen. John McCain’s plan to end or cap the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health benefits, with 41 percent of employers telling Mercer researchers they disapprove of the plan, vs. 30 percent who support the idea.

By a narrow, 51 percent margin, a majority of employers oppose a Canadian-style “single-payer” system. Opposition of single-payer universal coverage was strongest among large employers.

“Some of the reasons employers are skeptical of government-led solutions include well-founded fears that costs will be driven up even more rapidly and employers would not be able to use the tools they now have to moderate the cost spiral,” Darling said. “They are also wary of government regulations that are usually blunt instruments, which have the potential to wreak havoc with benefit offerings.

“For the past 35 years, large employers have relied upon a national framework, thereby avoiding the waste of a duplicative 50-state regulatory scheme, to provide health benefits to more than 160 million Americans,” she said. “Reform that contemplates wholesale changes to this approach has little appeal to employers.”

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