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Survey: ACA had little impact on employer-sponsored plans this year

Rise in enrollment due to growing workforce, Mercer said

Insurers gained very few additional members in their employer-sponsored health plans between 2014 and 2015, according to a new survey from benefits consulting company Mercer.

In fact, Mercer found that 2.2 percent growth in the size of the workforce, and not changes required by the Affordable Care Act, drove the 1.6 percent rise in the total number of employees enrolled in employer-based plans.

Although the amount of employees who were eligible for employer plans increased from 87 percent to 88 percent, the average percentage of employees who actually enrolled in a plan dropped from 84 percent to 83 percent. That means the average percentage of all employees in an employer-based plan was relatively unchanged from last year, at 74 percent, according to a statement emailed to FierceHealthPayer.

About 34 percent of the almost 600 companies that participated in the survey now have more employees enrolled in employer-sponsored plans, but 35 percent saw no change and 21 percent even had a decrease in employees covered, Mercer directors explained during a webcast presentation about the survey.

"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," Tracy Watts, a senior partner and leader for health reform at Mercer, said in the statement. "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."

Based on the survey, insurers don't need to worry about employers dropping health coverage altogether. "Only 3 percent of respondents say they are likely to drop their plans within five years," Beth Umland, Mercer's director of research for health and benefits, said in the statement. "The need to compete for talent is the No. 1 reason employers don't drop coverage, but for those that might be tempted, the ACA makes it that much harder to do."

In fact, a related report found that in the post-recession era, the ACA may actually be detrimental to employer-sponsored insurance, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. That report showed that fewer than half of private-sector workers are now covered by employer-sponsored insurance. At the same time, employers have been warned against shifting employees onto exchanges simply to avoid paying insurance costs

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