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Jun162017

A Dozen Takeaways From PwC’s Medical Cost Trend: Behind the Numbers 2018 Report

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By Clive Riddle, June 16, 2017

 

PwC’s Health Research Institute has released Medical Cost Trend: Behind the Numbers 2018, their twelfth annual report projecting the growth of private sector medical costs in the coming year and identifying the leading trend drivers. The findings are largely based upon PwC’s annual Health & Well-being Touchstone Survey results, which draws from responses of 780 employers from 37 industries, and have also just been released.

 

Here’s a dozen takeaways from this year’s 32 page Behind the Numbers report, and 114 page Touchstone Survey report:

 

1.       PwC’s HRI projects a 6.5 percent growth rate for next year, a half percentage point increase from the estimated 2017 rate.
 

2.       This growth rates steadily decreased from 11.9% in 2007 to 6.5% in 2014, and has fluctuated slighly above or below that figure since then
 

3.       PwCs provides this definition of their projected medical cost trend: the “increase in per capita costs of medical services that affect commercial insurers and large, self-insured businesses. Insurance companies use the projection to calculate health plan premiums for the coming year.”
 

4.       PwC's HRI has identified three major inflators expected to impact medical cost trend in the coming year: (A) Rising general inflation impacts healthcare. As the U.S. economy heats up, a rise in general inflation during 2016 and 2017 will likely put upward pressure on wages, medical prices and overall cost trend in 2018; (B) Movement to high-deductible health plans is losing steam. The wave of growth in high-deductible health plans, employers' go-to strategy in recent years to curb health spending, may be plateauing; and  (C) Fewer branded drugs are coming off patent. Employers may have less opportunity to encourage employees to buy cost-saving generics in 2018.
 

5.       PwC's HRI has identified two major deflators expected to impact medical cost trend in the coming year: (A) Political and public scrutiny puts pressure on drug companies. Heightened political and public attention could encourage drug companies to moderate price increases; and (B) Employers are targeting the right people with the right treatments to minimize waste. They are doubling down on tactics such as prescription quantity limits and exploring new technologies such as artificial intelligence to match people with the best treatment.
 

6.       The report also cites these healthcare drivers affecting the 2018 cost trend:  Technology and treatment innovation: Provider and Plan Consolidation; Government regulation; and Evolving Payment models.
 

7.       The report allocated these proportions of costs by component for 2018: Pharmacy 18%; Inpatient 30%; Outpatient 19%; Physician 29%; Other 4%
 

8.       The Touchstone Survey cites that “Medical plan costs have continued to increase, but employers expect that the rate of increase will start to slow. Plan design changes contributed towards slightly lower-than-expected increases in 2016;” and that “the average increase in 2016 was 6.8% before plan design changes and 3.6% after plan design changes. In 2017, participants expect to see a 6.0% increase before plan design changes and a 3.2% increase after plan design changes.”
 

9.       The Touchstone Survey notes that “participants appear to be in a "wait and see" mode – rather than considering broader and more transformational changes, they continue to use traditional cost-shifting approaches to control health spend;” and that “57% of participants expect to continue to increase employee contributions in the next three years, while 38% (29% for Rx) plan to increase employee cost-sharing through plan design changes.”
 

10.   The Touchstone Survey finds that “participants are increasing contributions in the form of surcharges for spouse, domestic partner and dependent coverage. This may be contributing towards a decrease in enrolled family size and slowing the rise in net employer spend.”
 

11.   The Touchstone Survey also finds that “participants are utilizing High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) more and Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) less, although PPOs remain more popular among employees. PPOs are the highest-enrolled plan 44% of the time, compared to 46% in 2016 and 60% in 2009. HDHPs are the highest-enrolled plan 34% of the time, up from 32% in 2016 and 8% in 2009.”
 

12.   The Touchtone Survey found that employer interest in population health is strong but private exchange interest is waning. They report that “79% offer wellness programs compared to 76% in 2016, and 63% offer DM programs compared to 56% in 2016;” while  “8% of participants are considering moving their active employees to a private exchange; 2% have already done so. Interest seems to have dropped off as the discussions on public exchanges and ACA have increased. However, 36% of participants who offer retiree medical coverage are considering moving pre-65 retirees to a private or public exchange.”
 

 

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