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September 15, 2009
6 Benefits Trends for Open-Enrollment Season

The consulting firm Watson Wyatt has identified 6 trends that many employees can expect to see when they receive their open enrollment benefit packages for 2010, including higher out-of pocket costs and more incentives for staying healthy.

“Faced with an uncertain economy and rising health care costs that show few signs of slowing, many employers have made changes to their health benefit plans for 2010,” said Tom Billet, a senior consultant with Watson Wyatt. “While next year’s benefits will reflect these higher costs, workers can also expect employers to continue their commitment to encourage employees to lead healthy lifestyles.”

The firm identified the following 6 trends, including the two mentioned above.

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  • Higher out-of-pocket costs. More than four in 10 employers in a recent Watson Wyatt survey said they will raise deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket maximums.
  • Greater use of incentives to stay healthy. Employers are offering workers (and, in some cases, spouses) more incentives like gift cards, cash, and discounted premiums for undergoing a health risk assessment or participating in smoking cessation, weight management, or fitness programs.
  • Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs). More employers will offer CDHPs next year. Those employers adopting new plans are generally adding a high-deductible plan, often with a health savings account. Most employers adding these plans will offer them as an option to workers rather than replacing their traditional health plans.
  • Consolidation of health plan offerings. Some employers plan to reduce the number of health plan options they offer to workers.
  • Prescription drug benefits. Some workers will see changes to their prescription drug benefits in 2010. As part of an overall movement to CDHPs, a number of employers are introducing a CDHP prescription drug benefit option that typically offers workers 100 percent coverage on a list of preventive medications. Other companies are introducing value-based designs that include zero copays on certain prescription drug therapies that are known to help lower health costs and reduce hospitalizations.
  • Closer eye on spousal and dependent coverage. Employers are increasingly revisiting spousal and dependent coverage in their efforts to control rising costs. Some employers are requiring spouses to complete health risk assessments, while others are charging higher premiums for working spouses who have access to other healthcare coverage. More employers are also expected to audit their workers to eliminate dependents who are not eligible for coverage.
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