Watson Wyatt Forecasts Benefit Trends

As millions of U.S. workers gear up for this year’s open enrollment season, global consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide is predicting several major trends:

  • Cash in on good health. Financial incentives for good health is increasing, as 46% of employers currently offer economic incentives and another 26% plan to do so in 2008. A few companies take the opposite approach and penalize workers for unhealthy choices, such as smoking, by charging them higher premiums. Some companies give workers a financial incentive to complete a health risk assessment.
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  • Goodbye, high deductible! More employers are covering preventive medical care, preventive drugs, and other diagnostic exams, screenings, and vaccinations at 100% fully paid and not subjecting workers to costly deductibles.
  • Ask-a-doc counseling. Access to on-site health coaches and advocates can educate workers about best care and what questions to ask their healthcare providers, says Watson Wyatt. In its new survey, 44% of large employers offer health coaches and another 13% plan to offer them next year. Additionally, nearly 25% of employers have onsite health centers and another 6% plan to open them next year.
  • A nod to individual choices. These options might include discounts on vision and dental care, massage therapy, chiropractic care, weight-management programs, and fitness club memberships.
  • Keeping the lines of communication open. Online tools, such as a corporate intranet, can help workers evaluate and estimate their healthcare expenses and a wide range of Web-based healthcare information.
  • Health savings accounts vs. plan options. Close to 40% of companies will offer workers an HSA next year, but many employers are cutting back on the number of available health plan options. More employers plan to offer a consumer- directed health plan as their only option. A Watson Wyatt survey shows that 5% of employers now offer this consumer-directed plan on a total replacement basis and another 4% will in 2008.
  • Who really needs the coverage? Some companies are asking employees to pay higher premiums for spousal coverage when their spouse is eligible for other healthcare coverage. Other companies are conducting eligibility audits and asking workers to provide proof that the dependents they enroll in the health plan are considered legal dependents.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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