Large health benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson gives us some results from its 2016 survey of emerging trends in health benefits. The results were based on a survey of 666 employers of over 200 workers. (WTW Survey) The respondents expect medical trend for 2017 to be between 6% and 7% without benefit changes and 5% after benefit changes, demonstrating continuing spending pressure. In response, over the next three years this set of companies identified several top cost control priorities, including pharmacy management, behavioral health management, continued use of wellness programs, greater use of alternative care sites, like onsite clinics and telemedicine, and encouraging personal financial responsibility by use of HSAs and HRAs. 51% said they also will adjust employee cost-sharing (meaning they will increase it) to encourage cost-sensitive behaviors. 30% said they will modify prescription drug benefits to attempt to control inappropriate utilization and high costs, since 58% identified specialty drug costs as their top problem.
Employers remain committed to health benefits, believing they bring workforce satisfaction up, but companies also continue to focus on how to improve employee engagement in health and health care. Most employers say regardless of what happens to the federal reform law, they will retain many required provisions, such as no lifetime benefit limits, keeping childhood eligibility til age 26 and maintaining contraceptive coverage. In an effort to improve the employee experience with health benefits, 40% of employers say they use a high-tech enrollment system with decision support and 35% are planning to do so; 38% are offering more plan and benefit choices and 26% are planning to do that; and 30% have provided information to aid in selecting and navigating providers and 36% are planning that course. In regard to wellness programs, 51% provide a portal to track activity and incentive status, 39% routinely ask for feedback, 36% personalize rewards and 35% offer tools to maximize the financial benefit of the wellness program. Overall the results suggest that while employers are actively engaged in trying to maximize health benefits, cost trends are still troubling and companies primary response continues to be cost-shifting to workers.