Employers Focus on Clinical Conditions to Manage Health Benefit Costs

Employers also plan to enhance their wellbeing programs and include initiatives that reduce the impact of chronic diseases on employees, Willis Towers Watson finds.

On average, employers expect health care cost increases of 5% in 2019 compared with 4.7% in 2018, according to the 23rd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey by Willis Towers Watson.

When seeking to manage rising health care costs, the top priorities for employers are zeroed in on clinical conditions (85%) and investing in employee wellbeing (82%) over the next three years—two strategies to contain health care expenses longer term and ultimately improve workforce performance. Employers report that little progress has been made in these areas in the past three years. Fewer than one-third (30%) say they have made advancements in clinical conditions, and only 41% say the same for employee wellbeing.

By focusing on some of the most widespread chronic diseases that require ongoing treatment, employers can get to the root of a top benefit cost: how to encourage their workforce to take early preventive measures to remain healthy and safely manage care related to ongoing chronic illnesses.

As employers look for innovative ways to help their employees manage these conditions, 43% of employers say they are watching emerging companies that leverage the Internet of Things—from digitized glucometers to remote physical therapy monitoring—to revolutionize the management of chronic conditions.

“Employers recognize that the creativity that often leads to market disruption is being driven by early-stage start-ups. That’s why many companies have their eye on tech-enabled solutions and are piloting programs to improve population health and wellbeing,” says Jeff Levin-Scherz, MD, Health Management practice co-leader at Willis Towers Watson.

Enhancing Wellbeing Programs

Although wellbeing programs have been a priority for many years, employers recognize that their current policies and initiatives are falling short of expectations. Employees are not actively engaged in their wellbeing initiatives, as less than half of employers (47%) say their population participates in their wellbeing initiatives. And, even though chronic illness is cited as employers’ number one priority over the next three years, only 19% say their current wellbeing policy is effective at reducing the impact of chronic diseases on employees and providing the support needed.

The survey finds eight-in-10 employers are currently sponsoring or considering sponsoring programs by 2020 that target specific clinical conditions or high-cost cases—such as maternity, diabetes, depression and metabolic syndrome—to improve employees’ physical wellbeing. Nearly half of these employers (48%) have already put these initiatives in place.

Employers are also prioritizing their employees’ emotional wellbeing through mental and behavioral health investments. Thirty-nine percent of employers offer initiatives to support chronic behavioral health conditions, and 26% are considering these initiatives for 2020.

Employers are also expanding their focus on financial wellbeing. More than half (52%) offer one-on-one financial counseling on short term financial issues (e.g., in person or telephonic), and 41% offer and promote personalized financial decision support to track and set goals for spending, borrowing and saving.