As open enrollment gets underway for next year's job-based health insurance coverage, some employees are seeing traditional plans offered alongside or instead of the plans with sky-high deductibles that may have been their only choice in the past.
Some employers say that, in a tight labor market, offering a more generous plan with a deductible that's less than four figures can be an attractive recruitment tool. Plus, a more traditional plan may appeal to workers who want more predictable out-of-pocket costs, even if the premium is a bit higher.
That's what happened at Minnetonka-based Digital River, a 650-person global e-commerce payment processing business.
Four years ago, faced with premium increases approaching double digits, Digital River ditched its traditional preferred provider organization plan in favor of three high-deductible plans. Each had different deductibles and different premiums, but all linked to health savings accounts that are exempt from taxes. This year, though, the company added back two traditional preferred provider plans to its offerings for workers.
Even with three plan options, "we still had employees who said they wanted other choices," said KT Schmidt, the company's chief administrative officer.
Digital River isn't the only company broadening its offerings. For the third year in a row, the percentage of companies that offer high-deductible plans as the sole option will decline in 2020, according to a survey of large employers by the National Business Group on Health. A quarter of the firms polled will offer these plans, sometimes called consumer-directed plans, as the only option next year, down 14 percentage points from two years ago.
That said, consumer-directed plans are hardly disappearing. Fifty-eight percent of covered employees worked at companies that offered at least one high-deductible health plan in 2019, according to an annual survey of employer health benefits released by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month. That was second only to the 76% of covered workers who were at firms that offered a PPO plan.
When Digital River introduced the PPO plans this year, about 10% of employees moved from the high-deductible plans to the traditional plans. The company is offering the same mix of traditional and high-deductible plans again for next year.
Adding PPOs to its roster of plans not only made employees happy but also made the company more competitive, Schmidt said. Two of Digital River's biggest competitors offer only high-deductible plans, and the PPOs give Digital River an edge in attracting top talent, he believes.
Traditional plans like PPOs also give employers more flexibility to try different approaches to improve employees' health, said Tracy Watts, a senior partner at benefits consultant Mercer.
"Some of the newer strategies that employers want to try just aren't [health savings account] compatible," said Watts.