It’s cost above everything when it comes to U.S. employers and health reform.

Employers are key stakeholders in health reform, and 80% say they’re closely watching Congress’s movements on the subject. 9 in 10 employers say that if the final health plan passed increases their costs, they’ll likely reduce benefits to employees.

In addition, 4 in 10 businesses would pass increased health care costs onto their customers in the form of higher prices, and 3 would reduce jobs as well as reduce compensation to workers.

The Towers Perrin Health Care Reform Pulse Survey was conducted online in July 2009 among 433 human resource and benefit managers in the U.S.

Among the key concerns of the businesses polled by Towers Perrin:

  • 2/3 believe that health care reform will have little or no impact on consumer behaviors
  • 53% of employers believe that comparative effectiveness research will be positive and improve health care quality
  • 1 in 2 employers, however, believe that pay or play mandates for employers would negatively impact business.

The impact of a mandate to provide insurance would impact industry segments differently. For example, 42% of retailers say they would shut down health plans and pay a federal tax for health insurance; 28% of financial services companies and 24% of technology/telecomms firms would pay the assessment.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Kaiser Family Foundation found that for employer-sponsored health plans in 2009, most employers continued to offer health benefits while also lowering their subsidization of employees’ health plans through increased premiums and copayments for services. In this phase of the recession’s ‘jobless recovery,’ employers will continue to closely monitor the costs of doing business to preserve profit margins and corporate viability. Any health reform plans coming out of Congress that raise costs to business will clearly be met with continued aggressive cost management — which will mean, when employers do continue to provide health plans, growing cost burdens on workers and their families.

Watch, too, for differential sector impacts. The already-hurting retail segment will surely be further fiscally challenged by a health insurance mandate. That more jobs could be lost is one of the unintended consequences of health reform, depending on the final plan that’s struck.