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Watson Wyatt Identifies Trends for Benefits Open Enrollment Season
Date:9/29/2008

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Open enrollment season throughout corporate America is rapidly approaching, and that means millions of workers will be making important decisions about their employee benefit coverage for next year. This year's menu of options will feature an increased emphasis on personal health behaviors as well as enhancements that give workers access to new health services and programs, according to benefit consultants at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a leading global consulting firm.

"Employers are making great efforts to bring the dollar value of health care benefits into their employees' decision-making process," said Randall Abbott, senior health care consultant at Watson Wyatt. "With more employers shifting to plans with higher deductibles, introducing health savings accounts and offering new incentives and penalties, employees need to take a more active role in their plan management and evaluate which benefits are right for themselves and their families."

Watson Wyatt benefit consultants have identified the following trends that employees can expect to see in their benefit packages during open enrollment:

-- Increased emphasis on improving personal health. The number of employers offering financial incentives to maintain healthy lifestyles or participate in wellness programs continues to grow. Some employers, however, are starting to require that employees complete health risk assessments to receive an incentive award or participate in the plan. Other employers are asking workers to go even farther by activating a personal health record or participating in a lifestyle or health improvement program.

-- Value-based prescription drug benefits and a shift to co-insurance. Many employers are reducing copayments on certain prescription drug therapies that they recognize can help lower health costs and hospitalizations. Two popular classes of drugs targeted are antidiabetic agents and those that treat cardiovascular disease. More employers are also replacing copayments for prescriptions drugs with coinsurance arrangements in efforts to control costs.

-- Greater access to onsite clinics, retail clinics and health coaches. More employers will open onsite clinics for employees and their families next year, as well as give them greater access to retail medical clinics and personal health coaches. Nearly 30 percent of employers surveyed by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) plan to operate onsite clinics next year while six out of 10 employers plan to give workers access to personal health coaches. More employers are also including retail medical clinics as part of their health coverage to help ease access to primary care services and avoid emergency room visits for after-hours urgent care needs.

-- Health savings accounts linked to high-deductible health plans. One- third of large employers intend to offer workers health savings accounts linked to high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) next year, according to the Watson Wyatt/NBGH survey. Also, roughly one out of 10 employers intends to offer a consumer-directed health plan as its only health plan next year, while others are attempting to steer workers into these plans through lower premiums.

-- Full coverage or low copayments for preventive screenings and tests. More employers are covering preventive medical care and even preventive drugs at 100 percent with no 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 checks, and flu shots.

-- Greater use of new media to communicate benefit information. Printed materials to communicate benefit choices to workers are being replaced or supplemented with Web sites, interactive Webcasts and other forms of social media dedicated exclusively to benefit enrollment information. Additionally, many employers are using demographic profiles to tell stories that help employees make informed choices.

-- Spousal surcharges. Many employers are now placing financial surcharges on employees whose working spouses have access to other health care coverage but who choose to keep them on their plan. Additionally, more employers plan to conduct audits to ensure that dependents of covered workers are legal dependents.

About Watson Wyatt Worldwide

Watson Wyatt (NYSE, Nasdaq: 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 32 countries and is located on the Web at http://www.watsonwyatt.com


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SOURCE Watson Wyatt Worldwide
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