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

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

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This year costs increased 5.3percent and were anticipated to rise by 5.5 percent next year,although employers made plan changes that held both rates down to4.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. This is the13th year in a row, says the report, that employerssay they've cut plan value to rein in premiums and totalcosts. Fortunately for workers, 94 percent of employers arevery confident that their organization will continue to sponsorhealth care benefits in the next five years.

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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'renow focusing on clinical conditions (85 percent) and investing inemployee well-being (82 percent), expecting todevote serious attention to both over the next three years.

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

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

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Tackling clinical conditions out front to get employees toengage in preventive care and making sure that chronic conditionsare managed appropriately could help to control costs, and witholder workers postponing retirement, employers are planning on devoting moreattention to seeing more chronic conditions like diabetes andmetabolic syndrome—65 percent of them, in fact, intend to do soover the next three years. And 59percent ranked musculoskeletal conditions, often connected toother health issues, as their secondmost important focus.. Then, of course, there are the myriadeffects of too much stress—57 percent of employers citemental/behavioral health as the third most prioritized area.

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Bosses are turning to Silicon Valley for help, says the report,with 43 percent saying they're watching how the smart healthtechnology (such things as smart glucose meters and remotelymonitored physical therapy) in the Internet of Things is beingleveraged to manage chronic conditions.

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“Employers recognize that the creativity that often leads tomarket disruption is being driven by early-stage startups. That'swhy many companies have their eye on tech-enabled solutions and arepiloting programs to improve population health and well-being,”Jeff Levin-Scherz, health management practice co-leader at WillisTowers Watson, says in a statement.

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Since only 47 percent of bosses say their employees are engagedwith well-being initiatives, there's plenty of room forimprovement. And only 19 percent say that their current well-beingpolicy is actually effective in supporting and monitoring theimpact of chronic diseases on employees.

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

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Read more about how employers are fighting highhealth care costs:

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.