Obamacare Fear Unrealized: Rules Have Little Impact on Employee Enrollment Levels

worker-employer778A new survey finds that new eligibility requirements required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, had very little impact on enrollment in employer-sponsored health plans in 2015.
Under Obamacare rules that took effect this year, large employers have to offer health benefits to workers who register 30 or more hours a week. Employers face penalties if they don’t. Obamacare critics contended that these rules would cost employers too much, prompting them to slash workers’ hours to get under the 30-hour limit.
However, according to “Health Care Reform Five Years In,” a survey of nearly 600 employers conducted last month by Mercer, there was “virtually no change between 2014 and 2015 in the average percentage of all employees — full-time and part-time — enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans.”
While there was a 1.6 percent increase in the absolute number of employees enrolled, that was the result of a 2.2 percent increase in the size of the workforce, rather than the changes required by the ACA, says Mercer, a worldwide benefits consultant.

“Employers that had to offer coverage to more employees were braced for a bump in enrollment this year, but they didn’t know how big it would be,” said Tracy Watts, a senior partner and leader for health reform at Mercer. “While some did see increases, for the most part it seems the newly eligible either had coverage through a parent’s or spouse’s plan or through Medicaid — or are continuing to go bare.”
Across all employers in the survey, the average percentage of employees who were eligible for coverage rose one percentage point, from 87 percent to 88 percent, but the average percentage of eligible employees who enrolled dropped a point, from 84 percent to 83 percent.
That left the average percentage of all employees (both eligible and ineligible) who enrolled in 2015 essentially unchanged from 2014, at 74 percent.
Among respondents in food and lodging businesses, the industry sector most affected by the 30-hours rule due to high concentrations of part-time workers, the average percentage of employees eligible for coverage rose from 57 percent to 60 percent. But overall growth in the percentage of employees enrolled rose by less than one percentage point, to 34 percent.
Still, for some employers, enrollment did grow. For one in ten employers in the survey, the percentage of their workforce enrolled in a health plan rose by 5 percent or more from 2014 to 2015.
But, given the number of respondents with no growth or even a decrease in the percentage of employees enrolled, this wasn’t enough to move the needle overall, Mercer concluded.

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