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How to make health care a competitive advantage – 8 questions employers are asking


May 23, 2018

This year’s Conference Board Employee Health Care Conference brought together more than 1,100 employers to share best practices and discuss how to make health care programs a competitive advantage. Here are some of the most pressing questions conference attendees asked – answered by Willis Towers Watson experts.
Doctor talking to a patient and pointing to something on a tablet

1. Where do you see the employer role related to health care delivery in five to 10 years?

Debby Moorman
Debby Moorman, Senior Director, Health and Benefits

At a high level, we know that 92% of employers are very confident they’ll be offering health care benefits in five years. Beyond simply offering benefits, employers will increasingly focus on curating a set of personalized solutions to meet the individual needs of their employees and their families. In turn, we expect a proliferation of vendors and approaches, many of which will be based on emerging technologies.

Employers will be pressed to offer increased choice of plans and programs while simplifying employees’ ability to navigate through their health care choices. Their role will be to create that balance and offer a world-class employee experience in the process to ultimately make their health care programs a competitive advantage and personalize benefits for their multi-generational workforce.

2. What should employers keep in mind when creating Rewards programs for a multi-generational workforce?

Jason Lavender
Jason Lavender, Senior Director, Health Imagination Leader

Stereotyping generations is dangerous. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has unique interests and benefits needs. An employee’s date of birth does not dictate his/her needs and wants. For example, we shouldn’t assume apps will only be used by Millennials or that postcards are the best way to communicate with Baby Boomers. The workforce is full of unique individuals and a one-size-fits-all rewards program will not suffice. Accordingly, employers would be wise to incorporate benefits personalization and engagement strategies that go beyond simple generational considerations.

3. Should employers be concerned about the benefits their competitors are offering?

Catherine O'Neill
Catherine O’Neill, Senior Director, Health & Benefits

Employees continue to place benefits within their top priorities when evaluating whether to stay at an organization or move on. Given the constantly changing benefits market, ignoring how your programs stack up against the competition could put your organization at a disadvantage. Traditional health care programs change each year, and new programs are emerging every day. As a result, many organizations are moving beyond comparing their benefit programs to traditional industry competitors.

They are now looking at more cutting-edge industries to understand what’s coming down the pike. For example, high-tech companies were some of the first to implement onsite clinics or perk programs and “unlimited” PTO.

We’re now seeing the adoption of these programs in industries that have typically employed a “wait and see” approach, and they’re already asking, “What’s next?”

4. What’s one employee benefit trend that has surprised you in the last few years, and what are employers doing in response to that trend?

Sherri Bockhorst
Sherri Bockhorst, Managing Director, Benefits Delivery and Administration

It’s surprised me that the employee experience has jumped to the top of the priority list for employers. This reflects the convergence of employee demand for choice with the improvements in technology that enable these choices through user-friendly tools. It’s also been further heightened by the failure of traditional wellbeing programs to resonate with employees or produce a clear return on investment for employers.

To improve the employee experience, employers are asking their consultants to create a benefit program with additional breadth of choices – both in networks and carriers, and the types of benefits offered such as voluntary benefits.

As we design more choice-centric benefit programs, we need to help employers understand the implications on the benefits administration system and the overall employee experience. Willis Towers Watson is a great partner since we can support end-to-end coordination of the design, build and operation of the benefit programs.

5. What can employers do to help manage specialty prescription drug costs?

Connie Perry
Connie Perry, Senior Director, Health and Benefits

The cost of specialty pharmaceuticals isn’t sustainable for the long haul and the largest contributors to the overall increasing health care cost is due to the expense of current therapies, limited generic options and the pipeline for new specialty drugs.

Managing the high cost of specialty pharmaceuticals will require a prolonged approach to addressing all of the levers that influence price, including which product is administered and where the drug is accessed.

Ensuring  patients are receiving the right drug at the right time and at the right dose is essential to managing the total health care costs associated with these products and the conditions they treat.

We suggest employers dissect and evaluate specialty pharmacy claims data, and then ascribe policies and procedures to hone in on areas for further management, opportunity and coordination.

6. How can employers connect health and wellbeing to business outcomes and key performance indicators (KPIs)?

Cara McNulty
Cara McNulty, Senior Director, Wellbeing

The first step is to define a set of key indicators of wellbeing that are measurable. These should span all areas of wellbeing (i.e., physical, financial, emotional and social) and directly connect initiatives to expected results for each population.

The next step is to gather year-over-year data to identify trends that tie back to overall business success, such as: greater productivity; increased rates of employee satisfaction and retention; reduced absenteeism; decreased utilization of disability and worker’s compensation; and reductions in health plan spend.

Finally, armed with this data, employers should strive to segment their populations and correlate these findings to broader business KPIs such as sales growth, profit margins, customer retention, etc.

7. How can large employers approach personalization in benefits?

Mike Shepherd
Mike Shepherd, Senior Director, Communication and Change Management

Employers can offer benefits personalization using this three-pronged approach:

  • Expanded benefit choice. Our survey results consistently show that employees value broader benefit choice very highly. The greater the choice among benefit offerings, the more employees will feel empowered to create a personalized package of benefits that corresponds to their unique coverage needs.
  • Technology-enabled decision support. Online tools embedded within the education and enrollment process can help employees easily compare benefit options and manage key enrollment decisions. These tools can also provide personalized coverage recommendations based on inputs about risk tolerance, coverage needs and budgeting preferences to ensure a customized experience for each employee.
  • An ongoing employee listening strategy. Understanding employee attitudes and concerns is valuable for any employer looking to align benefits offerings with the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. Total Rewards optimization surveys, focus groups, and benefit preference and pulse surveys are all great tools that can be used to gather a baseline understanding, as well as dig deeper into cost-value tradeoffs and any specific concerns employees may have about coverage and cost.

8. What should employers consider when offering benefits to gig workers?

Steve Blumenfield
Steve Blumenfield,  Senior Director, Strategic Opportunities and Alliances, Health and Benefits

Employers seek to provide benefits that align with their benefit strategy and comply with regulatory requirements. The challenge when it comes to gig workers who are not full- or part-time employees is to avoid creating a co-employment relationship with their benefit offerings.

One solution, offered by Stride Health, is to make a platform available that allows independent workers to select their own benefits. This keeps the benefits selected and the funding in the hands of the independent worker. Some leading companies also include contingent workers in their wellbeing efforts (e.g., flu shots, cancer screenings, community events) as a show of support.

Suzanne McAndrew
Suzanne McAndrew, Global Head of Talent Business

It’s important to note that there is not always a clear line of demarcation between contingent and full-time workers, so employers must consult their own legal teams to determine which programs and initiatives make the most sense to offer for each.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Capturing Value in a Dynamic Market”, clearly resonated among HR leaders, who came seeking ways to use health care programs as a key differentiator as well as a foundational benefit.

Have a burning question about employee benefits not answered here? Below is a list of additional FAQs about benefits delivery and administration strategies, gleaned from our pre-conference workshop, “Modernizing Benefits Delivery and Administration to Stay Agile and Engaging”, at this conference.

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