31% of employers rank expanding health benefit choices as top priority: report

When it comes to healthcare, employers ranked offering choices and decision support tools as their top healthcare priority in 2019, according to a new report from Willis Towers Watson.

As many as 31% of those surveyed in the 2019 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey said they are most concerned with how to meet the diverse benefit needs of their employees, listed offering or expanding benefit choices as their highest priority over the next three years. And as many as 74% of respondents said they already offer the right number of benefit choices to employees. However, it seems that more than half of employers, 54%, don’t have an effective listening strategy to help decide if they are adequately meeting these employee needs.

“With five distinct generations in today’s workforce, most companies have vastly different populations—from stage-of-life perspective to health situations,” Kevin House, national leader of client relationships and sales for health benefits delivery at Willis Towers Watson, said in a statement. “The challenge for employers is to offer both the options that address a diverse set of employee needs and the tools that make those choices easy to navigate and understand.”

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Employers do recognize that with choices comes the need to help employees sort through options, the report said. Over the next three years, 75% of employers said they are prioritizing efforts to give employees tools to help with benefit choices and 55% already offer these types of tools. This group includes 67% of employers who plan to offer online and in-person training to employees.

Less than half of employers, 44%, said they give employees choices on a regular basis versus 56% that give information only during the open enrollment period.

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The report shows that employers are looking toward a more holistic view of benefits. Currently, only 28% offer a holistic approach to enhance their employee experience, but 59% plan to start thinking about benefits as a whole including financial planning, 401k programs and health savings accounts.

Technology will also continue to grow in its role for benefits decisions. Currently, 31% of employers provide access to decision-making support through digital means, but 61% plan to enhance this capability over the next three years. In 2019, 9% of employers use AI or machine learning to personalize employee offerings and 32% are planning on doing so soon.

The study comes on the heels of a PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) report for the coming year in which it projects medical cost trend will increase by 6% in 2020—a hike on par with the past several years. As prices have been increasing consistently in recent years, employers are set to try some new tactics to control healthcare spend, Ben Isgur, leader of HRI, told FierceHealthcare. “Employers are taking matters into their own hands,” Isgur said. “They’re becoming employer activists.”