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Preview: Healthcare Benefits Changes Coming to Open Enrollment

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, August 24, 2011

Open enrollment season for healthcare insurance is just a couple of months away and it looks like employees need to fasten their seat belts and prepare for a bumpy ride. With an eye toward cost control and new healthcare reform requirements, employers are preparing to make changes to their healthcare benefits packages.  Look for more consumer-directed healthcare, more incentives for prevention and wellness, and across-the-board increases in deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, and copayments for patient care and prescription drugs.

For providers the changes mean that patients will continue to be cost-sensitive in terms of prescription costs and medical care. Expect to see more shopping around for services like lab work and MRIs. . There will also be more of an emphasis on receiving preventive health services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, which no longer have copayments, deductibles, or coinsurance.

But nothing in healthcare is really free, so insurers are looking to cover those lost copayments, and deductibles in other ways. In a survey conducted in June by the National Business Group on Health, a trade group of more than 300 large employers, businesses estimated that the cost of employee healthcare benefits would increase by 7.2% in 2012 or more than twice the rate of inflation.

Here's a look at some of the plan design changes survey respondents expect to implement to help with costs in 2012:

Annual benefits. In preparation for a ban on annual limits for essential benefits, employers are beginning to remove annual benefit limits for preventive and wellness services as well as mental health and substance abuse services.

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