Nineteen percent of employers responding to a new Hewitt Associates survey are planning to stop offering health benefits over the next three to five years, nearly five times as many as the 4 percent that said they were planning an exit strategy last year.
For those employers planning to continue to provide health benefits, keeping employees healthy has become the primary workforce issue in 2009, up from the No. 2 position in 2008, according to Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Hewitt’s survey, “The Road Ahead: Emerging Health Trends 2009.”
“Promoting employee accountability” was ranked the chief health and prevention component of employers’ health care strategies in 2009, followed by “offering competitive benefits” and “managing health risk.” In 2008, employers selected “offering competitive benefits” as their chief objective, followed by “promoting accountability” and “tightly managing health care cost trends.”
“In today’s environment, employers are under pressure to cut health care expenses, but they realize that short-term cost-management tactics do not address the underlying drivers of health care cost,” Jim Winkler, head of Hewitt’s North America health management consulting practice, said in a statement. “This leaves them with two options: making a long-term commitment to improving the health of employees and their families, or exiting health care altogether.”
Among other survey findings:
• More employers are targeting specific health conditions within their employee populations than in previous years. Specifically, employers are targeting asthma, cardiovascular disease, depression and diabetes.
• When employers were asked to what extent health care reform proposals outlined by the Barack Obama administration would affect their current health care strategies, 51 percent said they would have some impact, while 44 percent said it would have no impact.
• While one-third of executives think the Obama administration and Congress should address health reform in the president’s first year in office, 63 percent believe it will take place in Obama’s first term.
• Moreover, 60 percent of executive said the federal government should take the lead, while 33 percent said the federal government and the states should share responsibility.
A total of 343 benefits executives from a broad spectrum of industries responded to the survey, which was conducted from December 2008 to January 2009.
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