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Watson Wyatt Identifies Major Benefit Trends During Open Enrollment Season

Financial Incentives/Penalties for Healthy Behaviors, Full Coverage for

Preventive Care Highlight Trends

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Millions of U.S. workers are getting ready to make important decisions about their health care benefits as this year's open enrollment season rapidly approaches. With companies seeking to improve employee health and control rising health care costs, employees should take the time to review and evaluate the benefit choices employers are offering for next year, according to experts at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a leading global consulting firm.

"Open enrollment is a much more active process than it was just a few years ago," said Ted Nussbaum, North America director of group and health care consulting at Watson Wyatt. "With some employers making significant changes to their benefit offerings, employees will need to pay closer attention to their options than ever before. And that will require time to ensure they receive the benefits they want for next year."

Here are some of the major trends that benefits experts at Watson Wyatt, which consults with large employers on their open enrollment programs, have identified for this year's season:

-- Incentives/penalties for healthy/unhealthy behaviors. Companies recognize that having a healthy workforce can help control rising health care costs and increase worker productivity. More companies are offering financial incentives to employees who have healthy lifestyle habits or who participate in wellness and fitness programs. A forthcoming survey by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) shows that 46 percent of employers currently offer economic incentives and another 26 percent plan to do so in 2008. A few companies take the opposite approach and penalize workers for unhealthy choices, such as smoking, by charging them higher premiums. Many companies give workers a financial incentive to complete a health risk assessment.

-- Full coverage for preventive care benefits. More employers are covering preventive medical care and even preventive drugs at 100 percent and not subjecting these to a deductible. Often included in these fully paid benefits are vaccinations, exams and screenings for early diagnosis of and intervention in breast, colon and cervical cancer. Many employers also provide coverage or partial reimbursement for blood pressure and cholesterol checkups as well as flu shots.

-- Health coaches/onsite health centers. A growing number of employers offer workers access to health coaches and advocates. These experts provide individualized advice to workers on personal health care needs and can educate workers about best care and what questions to ask their health care providers. Another survey by Watson Wyatt and NBGH shows that 44 percent of large employers offer health coaches and another 13 percent plan to offer them next year. Additionally, nearly one-fourth of employers have onsite health centers and another 6 percent plan to open them next year.

-- More choice to meet individual needs. Employers are offering workers a variety of benefit options to help meet personal and family needs. Some of these options are voluntary benefits, such as homeowners, automobile and group life insurance and discounts on vision and dental care, massage therapy, chiropractic care, weight-management programs and fitness club memberships.

-- More communication/more tools. Employers are enhancing their communication with workers and providing online tools to help them evaluate and estimate their health care expenses and needs and manage their personal health care. The use of corporate portals has become increasingly popular, giving workers easy access to a wide range of Web-based health care information that they can use during open enrollment and throughout the year.

-- More health savings accounts/fewer plan options. Employer interest in consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) with health savings accounts (HSA) continues to grow. Watson Wyatt research shows that 40 percent of companies will offer workers an HSA next year. At the same time, to reduce administrative costs, employers are cutting back on the number of health plan options they will offer workers. More employers plan to offer a consumer- directed health plan as their only option. The Watson Wyatt/NBGH survey found that 5 percent of employers now offer a CDHP on a total replacement basis and another 4 percent plan to do so in 2008.

Scrutiny of spousal/dependent coverage. Companies are paying closer attention to workers who enroll their spouses and dependents in their health benefits. Some companies require employees to pay higher premiums for spousal coverage when their spouse is eligible for other health care coverage. And some companies are conducting eligibility audits and asking workers to provide proof that the dependents they enroll in the health plan are considered legal dependents.

About Watson Wyatt Worldwide

Watson Wyatt (NYSE: WW) is the trusted business partner to the world's leading organizations on people and financial issues. The firm's global services include: managing the cost and effectiveness of employee benefit programs; developing attraction, retention and reward strategies; advising pension plan sponsors and other institutions on optimal investment strategies; providing strategic and financial advice to insurance and financial services companies; and delivering related technology, outsourcing and data services. Watson Wyatt has 7,000 associates in 31 countries and is located on the Web at

SOURCE Watson Wyatt Worldwide
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