Survey: Employee Health Remains Priority for U.S. Companies

Despite unprecedented economic challenges and a dramatic shift in political power, a new survey by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting and outsourcing company, reveals that while cost containment remains a priority, most large U.S. employers are continuing to make significant long-term investments in solutions and programs aimed at improving the health and productivity of their workforce.

However, the changing political landscape--coupled with ongoing cost pressures--has prompted many companies to seriously consider their future role as a health care benefits provider.

In January 2009, Hewitt conducted a survey of more than 340 employers, representing more than five million employees, to understand their current and future approaches to health care benefits. While the number of companies focused solely on mitigating annual health care costs has more than doubled this year--from 15 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2009--almost two-thirds (65 percent) said they are continuing to make significant investments in improving the health and productivity of their workforce despite the troubled economy.

Nevertheless, 4 percent of companies indicated they are taking steps today that will enable them to discontinue providing health care benefits altogether. This picture changes somewhat when employers described their future approach to health care. While most companies (75 percent) plan to focus on improving employee health and productivity in the next three to five years, one-fifth (19 percent) said their strategy is to move away from directly providing health care benefits, up from 4 percent in 2008. Given that alternative health care offerings are being discussed in earnest by the Obama administration, these employers may see exiting health care as a more viable option than it was in the past.

"In today's environment, employers are under pressure to cut health care expenses, but they realize that short term cost management tactics do not address the underlying drivers of health care cost," said Jim Winkler, head of Hewitt's North America Health Management Consulting practice.

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