Although 93% of employers say curbing the cost of healthcare and increasing its affordability is a top priority over the next 3 years, 63% of employers see healthcare affordability as the most difficult challenge, according to the 24th annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey by Willis Towers Watson.
The report also found that employers expect healthcare cost to increase 4.9% in 2020 compared with 4.0% in 2019. Even so, 95% of employers are confident their organization will continue to sponsor healthcare benefits to active employees in 5 years.
Due to the rising healthcare costs employees are facing a greater burden, with 89% of employers believing that rising healthcare costs are a significant source of financial stress for their employees.
"Relentless health care price increases continue to crowd out other benefits, making affordability a challenge for many workers," Julie Stone, managing director of Willis Towers Watson's specialty practices within its health and benefits business, said in a statement. "In a full-employment economy, employers feel the pressure to offer competitive benefits and can't compromise on employee affordability. With employers and employees seeing no end in sight, many companies are getting creative and tapping into overlooked strategies to shrink the total bill."
The survey results also revealed 3 areas of emerging cost-saving measures for employers to consider. One area included strategies for cutting prescription drug costs, for example, by influencing site of care for specialty pharmaceuticals or through offering lower-cost options such as biosimilars.
Another is maximizing the value in value-based designs, such as applying design features or incentives for employees to use higher value care rather than wasteful services.
"With greater access to accurate and transparent data, employers can create value-based designs that make a smaller dent in employees' wallets and a big impact on their health," Stone said. "This value-based approach holds the promise of the best health results at the best price."
The third area for emerging cost-savings measurers for employers that the survey results emphasized was enhancing emotional wellbeing through managing employee stress within a more holistic approach to mental health. According to the survey, the number of employers that are measuring the stress level of their employees will triple by 2021 and 27% of employers already offer apps to support sleep and relaxation.
"Looking at emerging strategies and solutions shines a light on things to come," Regina Ihrke, senior director and co-leader, Integrated Wellbeing, Willis Towers Watson, concluded. "Health care cost challenges are real and significant. However, from encouraging the use of biosimilars to creating an environment that makes it clear and easy for employees to opt for high-value services, and by engaging effective programs to help manage anxiety and stress, there are many worthy options on the table that can make a difference."
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