Managing healthcare costs and improving mental health and emotional wellbeing programs are top of mind for employers, a new survey shows.
When asked to list their top health and wellbeing priorities over the next three years, 69% of employers said managing their health plan’s costs and budgeting, while 63% said enhancing mental health programs. Another 40% said improving the employee experience around health and wellbeing programs and 38% said having better communication around the health and wellbeing programs offered.
The Willis Towers Watson (WTW) survey, published Thursday, included responses from 457 employers who employ more than 7 million people in total.
Employers are projecting a 6.4% cost increase next year, slightly higher than the average 6% increase they’re facing this year. Despite these cost pressures, employers want to balance managing costs with retaining and attracting employees, with 62% saying they’re split between focusing on these two areas, the survey showed.
“As companies face steep healthcare cost increases, they are not losing sight of the importance of addressing employees’ needs,” said Courtney Stubblefield, managing director of health and benefits at WTW, in a news release. “However, it’s not a simple challenge for employers to navigate. Each employer needs to find the unique portfolio of programs and solutions that will best control its costs while meeting the healthcare and specific needs of its organization.”
To tackle healthcare costs, 87% of employers said they’ve implemented or are planning to implement programs or vendors that will reduce costs. Another 73% said they’ve shifted or plan to shift costs to employees through premiums, while 54% said they’re doing this or plan to through out-of-pocket expenses.
When it comes to controlling costs at the point of care, 42% offer or plan to offer a narrow network of higher-quality and/or lower-cost providers. In addition, 67% said they use centers of excellence within their health plans or will in the future.
A major driver of healthcare costs is prescription drugs. To control prescription drug costs, employers have numerous strategies, including implementing a preventive drug list to bypass the deductible and covering anti-obesity medications.
Employers are also focused on virtual care, with 74% offering virtual primary care through a third party or planning to.
To address mental health issues, employers’ top strategies include conducting a mental health parity audit (63% are doing this, plan to or are considering), partnering with employee resource groups (58%) and eliminating cost sharing for virtual visits (42%).
Regina Ihrke, senior director of health and benefits at WTW, said it’s vital for employers to continue evaluating their health benefits.
“Aligning business priorities, from workforce transformation to healthcare costs to employee wellbeing, requires a constant evolution of benefit programs, culture and employee experience,” Ihrke said in a statement. “By doing so, companies can alleviate strains on attracting and retaining talent, enhance worker health and productivity, and gain competitive advantage.”
Photo: champc, Getty Images