RSS icon

Top Stories

Firms Look To Workers To Help Contain Costs

March 14, 2006
Related Topics: Latest News
Despite a deceleration in the annual rate of cost growth, health insurance expenses continue to be a major source of stress for employers. That would explain why company leaders say they are exploring several cost management strategies to continue battling expenses, according to a forthcoming joint survey by the National Business Group on Health and Watson Wyatt Worldwide. The survey includes responses from 585 large employers from a cross section of industries. The companies collectively employ 13 million workers. Complete survey results will be released March 16.

Companies have already taken measures at the HR level to stem unnecessary spending, such as vetting the eligibility of individuals who are enrolled in their insurance programs, says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. It is important for employers to conduct regular audits of the insurance population because circumstances in the personal life of a worker, such as a divorce, could potentially reduce the number of eligible enrollees and ultimately bring down costs, according to the group. Some 47 percent of employers said they are currently auditing the status of enrollees, or intend to begin reviewing it this year.

The biggest trend now under way is an effort to get workers more involved in their own health care. Thirty-two percent of employers say they will encourage workers to use health care services more wisely over the next two to three years. One way of achieving this is to provide workers with appropriate informational tools, Darling says. More employers may launch nurse advice lines, which are a good way for enrollees to receive medical advice without necessarily going to the emergency room or to an office consultation.

Furthermore, 30 percent of companies say they will ask employees to better manage their health care costs. For instance, companies may require employees who use brand-name drugs instead of generic medicines to pay the total cost themselves.

The good news for workers is that all respondents in the survey said they were confident that they could continue to provide health care coverage for employees through the next 10 years. Additionally, 42 percent of employers said they would not shift additional health-care-related expenses to the workers, but would instead absorb the cost increases themselves.

Another bonus for employees is that companies said they would take an active role in helping to improve the health of their workers. This will entail encouraging workers to take a preventive approach. Large employers are already making significant investments in health-risk appraisal programs for their workforces.

These schemes provide insight into the risk factors--such as being overweight--that could affect the health of an employee. After the assessment, workers receive coaching and support services to manage these risks. In certain cases, companies have chosen to foot the bill for employees to participate in these programs.

"Employers are no longer waiting for people to make up their minds on whether or not they are going to take care of themselves," Darling says. "Having a healthy and productive workforce is much too important to take a wait-and-see approach."

--Gina Ruiz

Comments powered by Disqus

Hr Jobs

View All Job Listings