Watson Wyatt: Benefits Changes to Continue in 2007

In 2007, companies will continue to address new regulations and focus on controlling costs, as employees will pick up more responsibility for choosing and financing their benefits, according to a Watson Wyatt Worldwide survey.

Healthcare Trends

The study presents trends on the immediate future of healthcare, including more emphasis on consumer-driven care:

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  • High-deductible health plans/health savings accounts. Watson Wyatt says one-third of large employers surveyed plan to incorporate a high-deductible plan with a reimbursement account in 2007. However, few employers appear to be completely replacing their current plans with high-deductible alternatives.
  • Online benefits information and tools. Watson Wyatt says Web-based systems allow employees to model the best choices for them, and many allow plan participants to pick the best provider by reviewing online quality-of-care reports.
  • Moving beyond mandatory generic prescription drug plans. Watson Wyatt says employers may loosen requirements that employees use generic drugs whenever possible, given that more popular prescription drugs will reduce their prices upon losing patent protection.
  • Balancing health and productivity. This program will grow as employers try to integrate healthcare and absence-management programs. (This measure may grow following the recent passage of mandatory paid sick leave in San Francisco, legislation that could be a forerunner for other parts of the United States.)
  • On-site workplace clinics. This measure may ease access to appropriate health care services, the survey notes.

Retirement Plan Trends

Watson Wyatt says most companies will start offering their employees:

  • Plan design assessments. As the Pension Protection Act and pension accounting rules (FAS158) are implemented, companies will consider new options. For many, this could signal a switch to cash balance plans or other hybrid models.
  • Investment strategy reviews. Some employers might consider alternative investments such as private equity, hedge funds, infrastructure, and real estate, the survey notes.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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