Pending Health Reform Puts Benefits Overhauls on Hold

September 30, 2009 ( - The 2009 open enrollment season should not usher in major changes in the workplace benefits landscape as employers have largely put major overhauls on hold to see how the debate over health care reform works out in Washington.

However, a new analysis by Hewitt Associates indicated, that does not mean employees will find an identical 2009 enrollment season as they’ve had in previous years. Because employer benefits remain under severe cost pressure that has lead to costs increasingly being shifted to employees, Hewitt said it is important to encourage workers to make sure their coverage choices continue to be best for themselves and their families

Hewitt contended that a particularly key issue this year will be convincing employees to overcome the typical inertia seen with many workers who opt for the employer’s default enrollment by not making an active benefit choice. Hewitt said typically four in 10 employees actively make benefit enrollment choices.

“It’s imperative for workers to understand that ‘not making major changes’ doesn’t mean ‘I don’t have to do anything different this year,'” said Sara Taylor, Hewitt’s health and welfare strategy leader, in a news release. “History tells us that most workers-even during a significant economic downturn-default to their previous year’s benefits. In doing so, they may be losing out on a huge opportunity to save money and fully maximize the benefits available to them. In today’s economy, every dollar counts.”

Other open enrollment trends include, according to Hewitt:

  • Eight percent of employers default employees who do not make an active decision during enrollment to the highest benefit coverage levels. Another 10% default employees to no coverage at all.
  • Due to high HMO premium increases for 2010, many companies are eliminating less efficient HMOs and adding more efficient network models.
  • Nearly all employers (90%) offer health care cost estimators, and an increasing number are offering quality data on providers.
  • A growing number of companies are requiring employees to complete a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) or biometric screening to receive benefits in the coming year. Some employers are also requiring spouses who are covered on their health plan to fill out an HRQ. In many cases, employers offer incentives for completing these programs.
  • An increasing number of employers are conducting dependent audits to ensure they are only providing health care coverage for those who are entitled to receive it under their plan rules (see Employers See Substantial Savings from Dependent Eligibility Audits ).