Web Exclusive - September/October 2017

Engaging Employees in Their Own Health

With health care costs continuing to increase every year, employers are finding that there's no one strategy for success when it comes to health care. Finding new ways to engage employees through education and communication is one key.

According to a recent Willis Towers Watson survey, employers expect health care costs to increase by 5.5 percent in 2018, up from a 4.6 percent increase in 2017. The 22nd annual "Best Practices in health Care Employer Survey" by Willis Towers Watson revealed that in the face of continued cost pressures, including employee affordability, employers plan to step up cost management strategies, including evaluation of emerging health care delivery solutions and improved patient navigation and health engagement.

"Cost management of health benefit programs remains the top priority for employers in 2017 and 2018," said Julie Stone, a national health care practice leader at Willis Towers Watson. "While employers made significant progress over the last few years refining their subsidy and vendor/carrier strategies, many are now looking to other aspects of their health benefit programs in order to improve health and dampen future cost increases. Over the next three years, they will seek to improve patient engagement, expand the use of analytics and efficiently manage pharmacy costs and utilization. Yet, with rising concerns about affordability, employers are challenged to keep costs low without overburdening employees financially."

One of the ways employers are looking to reduce health care cost and risk is through members' health engagement. This includes increasing choice of benefit plans, improving decision support and offering health wearables and mobile apps.

For example, 66 percent of employers currently add choice in benefit types by offering voluntary benefits, and another 20 percent are planning to or considering to by 2019.

Other findings around elevating employee health engagement include:

  • Create a virtual shopping experience at the time of enrollment: 24 percent of employers currently do this, with another 26 percent planning to or considering to by 2019.
  • Provide decision-support tools for health navigation: 55 percent of employers currently offer such tools, with another 25 percent considering offering such tools for 2019.
  • Encourage the use of mobile apps for condition management or health risk reduction: 19 percent of employers currently provide this to their employees, with another 28 percent planning to or considering to by 2019.
  • Promote wearable devices for tracking physical activity: 26 percent of employers currently promote these, with another 18 percent planning to or considering to by 2019.

"Employers understand that there is no single strategy for success when it comes to health care, and it is critical to engage employees through education and communication that will create a win/win," said Catherine O'Neill, a senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. "The most effective health programs will include a broad range of strategies that encompass employee and dependent participation, program design and subsidy levels, and plan efficiency. The ultimate goal is to offer a high-value plan that manages costs for both employers and employees while also improving health outcomes."