Survey: Firms Step Up Incentives, Penalties for Health Behaviors
More and more companies are seeking to lower health care costs by offering incentives to encourage workers to make healthy lifestyle choices, according to a survey by Aon Hewitt, the New York Times reports.
The survey of 800 large and midsize employers found that 79% of companies offer rewards, including lower insurance premiums, to persuade workers to play a larger role in managing their health. Of those, 56% of companies required workers to sign up for programs like health coaching or complete a questionnaire and 24% of companies linked the incentives to measurable results, such as blood pressure levels or body mass index. Two-thirds of respondents said they would consider taking similar steps in the future.
Meanwhile, the survey found a growing number of employers intend to start penalizing employees who make unhealthy choices. Such programs would impose higher premiums or levy surcharges on workers who do not try to lose weight or quit smoking.
According to the Times, such policies likely will become more popular in the coming years because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows employers beginning in 2014 to use up to 30% of a worker's health care premiums on wellness programs, up from 20% previously.
However, evidence is lacking on whether incentive or penalty programs lead to lower health care costs or better health. Several health groups -- including the American Heart Association -- have voiced concern that companies could use the policies to shift high health care costs to sicker workers (Thomas, New York Times, 3/25).
Companies Increasingly Offering High-Deductible Health Plans
In related news, small and large companies increasingly are offering employees high-deductible plans linked to a savings account for medical expenses, according to a pair of recent surveys, the Washington Post reports.
According to the annual health benefits survey by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, 66% of businesses with 1,000 or more workers offered at least one high-deductible plan this year, while 80% expect to do so next year. In addition, 15% of the companies surveyed offered just one account-based health plan.
Meanwhile, nearly 25% of workers at companies with fewer than 200 staffers were covered under high-deductible plans with a health savings account last year, compared with 17% of workers employed by larger firms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual employer health benefits survey.Alexander Domaszewicz of the benefits consulting firm Mercer said that the ACA's requirement that employers offer affordable coverage to their employees is spurring interest in high-deductible plans paired with tax-advantaged savings accounts, which are intended to encourage workers to choose cost-effective care. However, the Post notes that the effect of such plans is unclear (Andrews, Washington Post, 3/26). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.