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Most U.S. Companies Do Little to Boost Worker Health Benefits

Executives typically ignore data on plans that give best value for money, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Many large American companies aren't implementing strategies and programs to improve the quality and value of their workers' health benefits, concludes a study in the Nov. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers surveyed 609 executives of the largest employers in 41 U.S. markets between July 2005 and March 2006.

They found that 65 percent said they examine health plan quality data, but only 17 percent said they use the data for performance awards or to influence employees (23 percent).

The survey also found that few executives examine physician quality data (16 percent) or use it to reward performance (2 percent) or influence employee choice of providers (8 percent).

"Our study suggests that skepticism about the benefits of value-based purchasing may be important, because only one-third of employers viewed each value-based purchasing strategy we asked about as 'very useful,'" the study authors wrote.

"This perception may be due to the lack of a 'business case' for the intended outcomes of value-based purchasing in terms of the effects on workforce productivity, benefit cost savings, or the ability to attract and retain employees.," the team said. "Alternatively, some employers may (correctly) perceive that evidence to support the effectiveness of strategies such as pay for performance and report cards is mixed at best."

The study authors noted that during the last decade, most employers have made little progress on providing better health benefits for employees, and "efforts to alter the dynamics of health plan and provider competition will likely have to come from other sources, including private employer coalitions, multistakeholder collaborative organizations, and the public sector."

More information

The U.S. Department of Labor offers advice about work health benefits.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, Nov. 20, 2007

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