A smaller share of New Jersey businesses are offering healthcare coverage to employees, according to a report released Tuesday by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

The findings suggest companies in the Garden State are so bogged down by mandates and costs, their ability to provide benefits is taking a hit, the Association said.

In the survey, which is conducted every two years, 77 percent of NJBIA members said they saw their rates rise in 2018. The average cost increase was 8.5 percent. Businesses were able to negotiate lower costs than those presented to them in an initial quote.

Seventy-eight percent said they offer healthcare benefits to their employees. That's down from 85 percent in 2016, and down from 87 percent in 2014.

Nearly 90 percent of companies with 250-plus employees offer health coverage, compared to 70 percent of companies with fewer than 25 workers, the survey finds.

"Forty percent of our companies that do offer coverage said they took a lower profit or suffered a loss in order to continue providing those benefits," said Michele Siekerka, NJBIA President and CEO, on a conference call with reporters.

Twenty-seven percent of employers froze or limited wages in order to pay for increased premiums. Eight percent cut employees.

Employers are now paying 76.3 percent of the total cost of health benefits, compared to 73.9 percent in 2016, the survey shows.

"This shows companies are doing everything they can to hold on to the benefits, even when it means impacting their bottom line," Siekerka said. "Employers are trying to shoulder more of the weight than they're pushing off on their employees."

Employers are also making changes to healthcare coverage choices in order to lower costs. In the survey, 38 percent of members said they've introduced high-deductible health plans. Thirty-seven percent increased deductibles, and 23 percent changed insurance carriers.

Three-quarters of companies said they continue to offer coverage, even in the face of rising costs, in order to retain workers.

The cost of healthcare is, time after time, the No. 1 concern among NJBIA members, Siekerka said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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