Open Enrollment Season Should Look Very Familiar

September 15, 2009 ( - Employers running their 2009 open enrollment programs are expected to show employees a lot that looks familiar as companies continue trying to shave steadily increasing health-care costs, a new study found.

A Watson Wyatt news release said employers continue to pass along part of the health coverage cost increases, promote wellness incentives, closely scrutinize dependant and spousal coverage, and field consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs).

“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, in the news release.

“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.” Billet continued.

The announcement said the trends identified by Watson Wyatt benefit consultants include:

  • Higher employee 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. Deductibles for individual and family coverage are expected to increase by $50 to $100 or more among some employers.
  • Greater use of wellness incentives.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.
  • Consumer-directed health plans.More employers will offer CDHPs next year as they are increasingly viewed as an effective way to control rising costs.
  • Consolidation of health plan offerings.Some employers plan to reduce the number of health plan options they offer to workers.
  • 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% coverage on a list of preventive medications.

  • Closer eye on spousal and dependent coverage.Employers are increasingly revisiting spousal and dependent coverage in their efforts to control costs.