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Survey Highlights Ongoing Shift To Wellness to Manage Health Care Costs

Cowden Associates Finds High-Deductible Health Plans Not the Solution for


PITTSBURGH, March 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Employers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio believe the future of managing health care costs lies in helping their employees manage their health through wellness programs, according to Cowden Associates, Inc. Seventh Annual Tri-State Area Employee Benefit Survey.

Cowden Associates, the region's leading independent human resources, compensation and employee benefit consulting firm, compiled results of its 2007-2008 survey from 274 employers throughout the tri-state region. Survey participants include for-profit, nonprofit and governmental employers. Size of employers ranged from less than 100 employees to more than 10,000.

"Competition for talented employees is strong, and employee benefits play a critical role in attracting and retaining those employees," said Cowden Associates President and CEO Jere Cowden. "As regional employers work to attract and retain talent in part through strong employee benefits plans, our regional survey data allow them to benchmark themselves against their regional competition and develop attractive, cost-effective plans."

Although the percentage of survey participants who offer high-deductible health plans as their primary plan increased from 2.5 percent to nearly 9 percent, more than 84 percent of participants who do not offer such plans said they are not interested in one or not likely to offer one in the future.

"Despite the increase in employers offering high-deductible plans, the future outlook for such plans as a solution for employers to contain their health care costs is not good," said Cowden Associates Executive Vice President Vince Wolf. "Most employers in the region are not offering a high- deductible plan today and do not plan to in the future. This finding is strikingly different than the popular notion that high-deductible plans are growing rapidly.

"Survey responses tell us that worksite wellness programs are the future of employee health care cost management. Employers are already looking toward the next generation of wellness to manage costs."

This year, slightly more than 50 percent of participants indicated they have employee worksite wellness programs in place, and 53 percent of those participants not offering worksite wellness plans today indicated they are considering such programs. Thirty-six percent, nearly triple last year's 13 percent, indicated they offer incentives to participate in their wellness programs. Exercise, smoking cessation, weight management and nutrition programs are among the most popular.

"Preventable chronic diseases account for a large portion of health care costs," Wolf said. "Employers are increasingly recognizing that the best solution to managing these costs is by making a long-term commitment to employees' health and supporting them through a variety of worksite wellness initiatives."

For the first time in its history, the survey questioned participants about ancillary benefit offerings, including dental, life, accidental death and dismemberment, and short- and long-term disability coverage. Dental coverage is widely offered, with 94 percent of employers in the region providing it.
Other survey findings include:

-- Employers' health care costs rose 5.7 percent over last year.

-- Employers' annual average cost is $4,440 for individual employee

coverage and $12,502 for family coverage.

-- Employees contribute an average of 20.5 percent for individual coverage

and 24.9 percent for family coverage.

-- Nearly 65 percent of participants require a deductible with employees

paying a median average deductible of $300 for individual coverage and

$750 for family coverage.

About Cowden Associates, Inc.

Cowden Associates is a Pittsburgh-based consulting and actuarial firm with a dedicated and experienced team of professionals with extensive experience in health and welfare, retirement, plan design, compensation, employee communications, benefits enrollment, actuarial and technology services. The firm is committed to providing the highest level of service through industry- leading professionals with experience equal to or greater than typically expected at the largest national firms.

Cowden Associates is a charter member of United Benefit Advisors (UBA), an alliance of the premier independent benefit advisory firms in the nation.

SOURCE Cowden Associates, Inc.
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