WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 15, 2009 — Many U.S. workers can expect higher costs for their employer-sponsored health care benefits when they receive their fall open enrollment benefit packages for 2010. But employees might also find their 2010 employee benefit packages include financial rewards for promoting healthy lifestyles, full coverage for preventive services, closer scrutiny of dependent and spousal coverage, and greater use of consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs), according to benefit experts at Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm.
“Faced with an uncertain economy and rising health care costs that show few signs of slowing, many employers have made changes to their health benefit plans for 2010,” said Tom Billet, a senior consultant with Watson Wyatt. “While next year’s benefits will reflect these higher costs, workers can also expect employers to continue their commitment to encourage employees to lead healthy lifestyles.”
Watson Wyatt benefit consultants have identified trends that employees can expect to see in their benefit packages during open enrollment:
- Higher out-of-pocket costs. More than four in 10 employers in a recent Watson Wyatt survey said they will raise deductibles, copayments and out-of-pocket maximums due to the economic crisis. Some employers might raise doctor visit copayments by $5. Others might no longer provide 100 percent coverage for in-network services, opting instead to introduce some level of coinsurance to encourage workers to be more aware of the cost of services. Deductibles for individual and family coverage are expected to increase by $50 to $100 or more among some employers.
- Greater use of incentives to stay healthy. Employers are continuing their push to improve the health of employees and their families. In addition to continuing the focus on wellness communication, employers are offering workers (and, in some cases, spouses) more incentives like gift cards, cash and discounted premiums for undergoing a health risk assessment or participating in smoking cessation, weight management or fitness programs. They are also giving workers access to onsite health coaching as well as using health service providers to deliver Web-based and telephonic coaching.
- Consumer-directed health plans. More employers will offer CDHPs next year as they are increasingly viewed as an effective way to control rising costs. Those employers adopting new plans are generally adding a high-deductible plan, often with a health savings account. Most employers adding these plans will offer them as an option to workers rather than replacing their traditional health plans.
- Consolidation of health plan offerings. Some employers plan to reduce the number of health plan options they offer to workers. As more employers consolidate and change their health plans and networks for 2010, some employees might have to change physicians or pay higher out-of-network costs.
- Prescription drug benefits. Some workers will see changes to their prescription drug benefits in 2010. As part of an overall movement to CDHPs, a number of employers are introducing a CDHP prescription drug benefit option that typically offers workers 100 percent coverage on a list of preventive medications. Other companies are introducing value-based designs that include zero copays on certain prescription drug therapies that are known to help lower health costs and reduce hospitalizations.
- Closer eye on spousal and dependent coverage. Employers are increasingly revisiting spousal and dependent coverage in their efforts to control rising costs. Some employers are requiring spouses to complete health risk assessments, while others are charging higher premiums for working spouses who have access to other health care coverage. More employers are also expected to audit their workers to eliminate dependents who are not eligible for coverage.
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Watson Wyatt (NYSE, NASDAQ: WW) is the trusted business partner to the world’s leading organizations on people and financial issues. The firm’s global services include: managing the cost and effectiveness of employee benefit programs; developing attraction, retention and reward strategies; advising pension plan sponsors and other institutions on optimal investment strategies; providing strategic and financial advice to insurance and financial services companies; and delivering related technology, outsourcing and data services. Watson Wyatt has 7,700 associates in 33 countries and is located on the Web at www.watsonwyatt.com.