All-encompassing strategy is key to building effective employee health care programs

Employers say their top three priority changes for managing costs of health care programs for 2017 are: 1) increasing employee point-of-care costs by adjusting deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and out-of-network coinsurance (51%); 2) modifying vendor strategies by expanding wellness programs or changing vendor partners (32%); and 3) adding new provisions to prescription drug plans to encourage appropriate utilization (30%). This is according to results from a new survey of 666 employers, by Willis Towers Watson.
Recognizing that no single change will radically transform the cost structure of health care programs, U.S. employers are instead following a strategy of taking many concurrent steps to manage costs. The survey, the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Emerging Trends in Health Survey, also found that curbing pharmacy spend will remain a focus over the next three years, with the cost and delivery of specialty drugs as the top priority for 58% of employers.
From a high of 14.7% in 2002, the expected health care cost increase for 2017 is 5.0% after plan changes and 6.0% without, said Willis Towers Watson, citing a 2016 Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey.
Employers have many priorities when it comes to their health and well-being programs. However, improving the overall employee experience with these programs is a priority for nearly all employers (96%) over the next three years. Perceived benefits of improving the employee experience are better employee engagement in health care decisions (89%), increased satisfaction with the health care program (81%), improved appreciation of well-being programs (78%) and direct impact on long-term costs (74%).
Actions employers will take to improve the employee experience of their health care programs include:

  • Implement a high-tech enrollment process with decision support. 40% have done so; another 35% are planning to or considering it.
  • Offer greater choice of health plan options and types of benefits. 38% do so; another 26% are planning to or considering it.
  • Improve navigation of health care providers. 30% have done so; another 36% are planning to or considering it.

Actions employers will take to improve the employee experience of their well-being programs include:

  • Provide access to a portal for tracking activity and incentives. 51% do so; another 26% are planning to or considering it.
  • Routinely ask for employee feedback to enhance program offerings. 39% do so; another 32% are planning to or considering it.
  • Personalize rewards for employees who engage in the well-being program. 36% do so; another 27% are planning to or considering it.
  • Offer access to tools to help households meet their financial goals. 35% do so; another 33% are planning to or considering it.

“Employers have learned that building a high-performing health care program requires juggling many things at once,” said Julie Stone, a national health care practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. “Through careful management of participation, subsidies, and the efficiency of their health care and well-being programs, employers can outperform their competitors by keeping health care costs down.”
Added Stone, “The broad aspects of employee health care present like the carnival game, whack-a-mole: No sooner does an employer have one challenge under control than a new one pops up. For example, despite success managing costs in many areas, employers now must deal with the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States. It’s a complex problem with no single solution that will continue to test employers in the coming years. Despite the complexity of their short-term cost management challenges, employers are taking decisive action on a number of fronts that will pay dividends in the future. This level of activity is not expected to slow down anytime soon.”
“Effectively managing health care plans requires a multifaceted approach,” said Stone. “Because there is no magic bullet, employers are engaging a variety of approaches to improve the value of these plans for their employees.”
SOURCE: Willis Towers Watson press release, April 27, 2017.
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