Phillip M. Perry (Web Exclusive/Feb 09)
Cost shifting will likely remain a vital tool for employers looking to control health insurance premiums. After decades of use, however, the technique may be approaching a point of diminishing returns. Today's employers are paying greater attention to programs that keep people healthy and encourage faster recovery when they do get sick.
"While the usual cost sharing efforts are still very common, [our] survey shows that employers are seeing they are not always the most effective answer," says Sally Natchek, senior director of research at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) in Brookfield, Wisconsin. "That's why there is a growing trend toward disease management programs which take an integrated approach toward working with individuals who are or may be at risk for chronic conditions, among the most prevalent and costly of illnesses in the United States." These kinds of efforts put more responsibility on the individual to monitor his or her lifestyle choices. And while such programs increase work force productivity, their main benefit is that they result in a healthier work force.
The Kaiser survey finds that more than half of all firms offering health benefits also provide at least one of seven wellness programs: weight loss programs, gym membership discounts or on-site exercise facilities, smoking cessation programs, personal health coaching, classes in nutrition or healthy living, Web-based resources for healthy living, or wellness newsletters.