Cost Control To keep costs in check, employers are tackling clinical conditions out front and making sure that chronic conditions are managed appropriately. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Employers are figuring on health care costs continuing to escalate, according to the 23rd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey by Willis Towers Watson.

This year costs increased 5.3 percent and were anticipated to rise by 5.5 percent next year, although employers made plan changes that held both rates down to 4.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. This is the 13th year in a row, says the report, that employers say they’ve cut plan value to rein in premiums and total costs. Fortunately for workers, 94 percent of employers are very confident that their organization will continue to sponsor health care benefits in the next five years.

Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for more and better ways to hold down the costs. And to do so, as well as to improve workplace performance, they’re now focusing on clinical conditions (85 percent) and investing in employee well-being (82 percent), expecting to devote serious attention to both over the next three years.

Related: 10 states where employers spend the most, least per employee on health care

Over the past three years, however, not a whole lot of progress has been seen in those areas. Just 30 percent say they’ve made any headway with regard to clinical conditions, while only 41 percent say the same for employee well-being.

Tackling clinical conditions out front to get employees to engage in preventive care and making sure that chronic conditions are managed appropriately could help to control costs, and with older workers postponing retirement, employers are planning on devoting more attention to seeing more chronic conditions like diabetes and metabolic syndrome—65 percent of them, in fact, intend to do so over the next three years. And 59 percent ranked musculoskeletal conditions, often connected to other health issues, as their second most important focus.. Then, of course, there are the myriad effects of too much stress—57 percent of employers cite mental/behavioral health as the third most prioritized area.

Bosses are turning to Silicon Valley for help, says the report, with 43 percent saying they’re watching how the smart health technology (such things as smart glucose meters and remotely monitored physical therapy) in the Internet of Things is being leveraged to manage chronic conditions.

“Employers recognize that the creativity that often leads to market disruption is being driven by early-stage startups. That’s why many companies have their eye on tech-enabled solutions and are piloting programs to improve population health and well-being,” Jeff Levin-Scherz, health management practice co-leader at Willis Towers Watson, says in a statement.

Since only 47 percent of bosses say their employees are engaged with well-being initiatives, there’s plenty of room for improvement. And only 19 percent say that their current well-being policy is actually effective in supporting and monitoring the impact of chronic diseases on employees.

“Employers must rethink their well-being initiatives to ensure they yield meaningful results,” Cara McNulty, Willis Towers Watson’s North America well-being leader, says in a statement. McNulty adds, “To see success, employers agree that a valuable well-being initiative should be connected to employee experience (72 percent) and promote a healthy culture (67 percent). Starting with a clinical approach that’s integrated across all well-being dimensions—physical, financial, emotional and social—will ensure a significant impact on employee health.”

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