Employers list worker health habits as top cost concern

By BenefitsPro


By Dan Cook

As employers weigh their employee insurance options in light of healthcare reform, research continues to suggest that many are not inclined to end sponsored coverage of their workforce.

Just last week, Integrated Benefits Institute President Thomas Parry told BenefitsPro that employers stand to lose valuable data about their workforce if they discontinue or seriously erode their health coverage. In addition, he said, they would lose the opportunity to help employees with their health maintenance.

Now, a survey by Willis North America’s Human Capital Practice (a unit of Willis Group Holdings) offers more support for Parry’s position. Gathering input from 900 employers, the study found that 61 percent listed employee health habits as their top health cost-control challenge. Should the health insurance link to the worker be broken, those habits would be extremely difficult to influence.

Perhaps in recognition of the concern about employee health habits, 68 percent of respondents said they sponsor a wellness plan. That’s a 9 percent increase from last year’s survey. Three-quarters of those with wellness plans use an incentive to encourage employee participation, most often a contribution toward insurance co-pays.

As other research has noted, employers continue to flock to wellness plans even though data on ROI is still inconsistent. But the survey indicated that many employers believe they are getting a financial bang for their buck.

“Despite recent skepticism reported regarding return on investment from wellness programs — worksite initiatives that promote a healthy lifestyle — survey results revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of employers with wellness programs reported a measurable improvement in the firm’s medical costs or an improved risk profile among its workforce,” the study said.

Beyond employee health habits, employers’ No. 2 and No. 3 health cost concerns were “high catastrophic cases” (47 percent said it was their top concern) and compliance with healthcare reform (at 34 percent another concern that is fading statistically).

Other findings:
  • Two-thirds of respondents listed “providing employees with tools and information in order to become better consumers” as their top strategy to address rising health care costs.

  • The majority of organizations (54 percent) are implementing a high-deductible health plan in an effort to address rising health care costs.

  • 93 percent “believe that healthier employees are more productive, yet very few are measuring the impact on productivity of employees’ absenteeism (22 percent), Family Medical Leave (19 percent) and presenteeism (7 percent).”
“The results of this survey point to a fundamental shift in employee health benefits and strategies. These results suggest that the shift of costs and risks to employees is on the rise, but so is a recognition that employers benefit from helping employees and their families make better decisions about their health,” said Dr. Ronald S. Leopold, Willis practice leader in Health Outcomes.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com