Willis Towers Watson, the large benefit consulting and brokerage firm, surveyed 554 companies with at least 1000 workers, employing in total over 11 million people, in order to ascertain where health benefits stand. (WW Survey) These respondents expect health care cost increases of 5% in 2019 compared to 4.7% in 2018. These increases are after plan design changes; without those changes the increase would have been 5.3%. As you would expect, almost all of these larger companies, 94%, expect to continue offering health benefits in future years. Employers describe two primary strategies, which pretty much sound like same old same old; focus on specific expensive diseases and conditions and encourage wellness in the hopes that it will prevent future disease episodes. Only about 30% of companies say they actually have made significant progress in controlling costs of expensive conditions and 40% say they are seeing advances in employee wellness. Among clinical conditions, 65% said diabetes and similar metabolic diseases are a primary concern for the coming three-year period; 59% listed musculoskeletal problems; and stress/mental health/behavioral issues were noted by 57% as a priority condition. 43% are hoping that all the whiz-bang fancy apps and wearables and analytics and whatever will help with condition management and wellness, and they are going to be disappointed. Just like they are with most current programs they adopt. Only 47% of employers feel they get sufficient worker participation in wellness efforts and only 19% think those programs are actually helping reduce chronic disease. 48% of employers have programs targeting specific diseases and more expect to adopt them, including 39% aimed at mental health concerns. So companies seem willing to make efforts to get workers healthier and to control health spending, but don’t seem to have found satisfactory solutions.
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Author Kevin Roche
The Healthy Skeptic is a website about the health care system, and is written by Kevin Roche, who has many years of experience working in the health industry through Roche Consulting, LLC. Mr. Roche is available to assist health care companies through consulting arrangements and may be reached at email@example.com.