As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the constitutionality of the Health Care Reform Act, some employers are taking a “wait and see” approach to their 2012 employee benefits plans. Confused by the pending legislation, employers are fearful of rising insurance costs and are hesitant to make any significant changes to their current plans. However, in contrast to this “status quo” attitude, other employers are taking proactive steps to mitigate future premium increases. Two methods that have been growing in popularity over the past several years are consumer directed health plans and employee wellness programs.
Consumer Driven Plans. Employers continue to explore consumer-directed health care plans (CDHC). These plans are structured to give employees greater control over their personal health care costs, thereby promoting caution before they utilize expensive procedures or request unnecessary treatments. CDHC plans offer higher deductible options, coupled with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) through which employees pay for out-of-pocket medical costs with their self-funded plans. According to recent reports, the consumer driven plans are working – CDHC patients were twice as likely as patients in traditional plans to ask about cost, three times as likely to choose a less expensive treatment option, and chronic patients were 20 percent more likely to follow treatment regimens carefully. [Source: "Consumer Driven Health Care", Networks Financial Institute Policy Brief, Indiana State University]
Employee Wellness. As premiums continue to increase, employers are looking to promote employee wellness programs to offset these costs. Wellness programs can include educating employees to be more conscious health care consumers, promoting healthy lifestyle habits, offering incentives for weight-loss or exercise activity, or offering free or discounted memberships to gyms and health clubs. Alternatively, other employers would penalize employees for engaging in an unhealthy lifestyle. Wal-Mart, for example, recently imposed a $2000 per year surcharge for some smokers. While this type of approach is somewhat controversial, it drives the message home that unhealthy lifestyle choices out of the office impact employers’ costs and overall efficiency in the office. Ultimately, a healthier workforce will reduce medical insurance costs and improve employee productivity. » Read more: Two Approaches to Mitigate Health Care Costs in 2012