2009 Enrollment Season Ends without Radical Changes

March 12, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The economy may seem like it is in turmoil sometimes, but tight budgets in many workplaces apparently did not bring radical changes to the outcome of the 2009 benefits enrollment season, according to a new survey.

A news release fromWells Fargo Insurance Services said its poll of more than 400 U.S. companies found that employers absorbed most of the benefits cost hikes this year while adding options such as Health Savings Accounts and wellness programs.

Consumer Directed Health Plans (CDHP) continue to gain adoption, now with eight million members, Wells Fargo said. Six percent of survey respondents added a Health Savings Account (HSA) plan for 2009, while 3% added a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) plan, bringing the total of employers offering a CDHP to 28%. Another 10% indicated they plan to offer a CDHP in 2010.

“We certainly didn’t expect these results at the same time as rising employer costs and tight budgets,” said Dan Gowen, senior vice president for Wells Fargo Insurance Services, in the announcement. “Despite the inflationary adjustments imposed by the insurance companies, the majority of employers absorbed the impact this past year without changes to plan design or increases to the employee contribution percentages.”

According to the announcement, 82% remained with their current medical carrier while more than 60% made no changes to their medical plan design, and more than 75% made no revisions to their prescription plan. No employer eliminated medical benefits entirely, and 72% did not ask employees to pay a larger percentage of the total costs, Wells Fargo said.

Other findings showed that employers favored wellness programs with smoking cessation, and biometric screening programs were the most common programs added this past year.

Tying participation in a wellness program to financial incentives also proved popular. Of those employers that added a wellness program for 2009, 51% offered an incentive to participate. Employers in the Midwest (78%) offered the highest level of wellness incentives.

Disease management programs also are offered widely, with diabetes and asthma being the most common programs added for 2009 (see Corporate Wellness Efforts Find Specific Targets ). However, employers with disease management programs did not adopt financial incentives (20.4 %) as widely as those with wellness programs.