Interest in supplemental lifeinsurance and accidental death and dismembermentinsurance has increased significantly in the past year,while telemedicine has seen a decrease. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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A new market report finds that employers are offering a widerrange of plans, including high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) inresponse to a diverse work force that is demanding more choice inemployee benefits.

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The 2019 Medical Trends and Observations Report, publishedby consulting firm DirectPath in collaboration with Gartner, isbased on an analysis of more than 1,000 employee benefit plans fromnearly 200 companies. It found that significant changes are beingmade in benefit offerings, with employers seeking to provideworkers with more options in a tight job market.

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“The 2019 report indicates that employers are increasinglydesigning benefits strategies that deliver the personalized optionsemployees expect in today's competitive marketplace, whilecontaining health care costs at both the individual andorganizational level,” the company said in a release.

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Related: 'Large employers can lead' in benefitsspace

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Driving this customizing are changes in demographics. The report said that employersare seeking to offer financial protection and lifestyle benefitsthat target Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z workers—who are lesslikely to be focused primarily on health benefit as compared witholder workers.

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For example, the study finds new interest in voluntary benefitssuch as adoption assistance (offered by 19 percent of employers),backup childcare (7 percent), and financial wellness checks (7percent).

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Other benefits have also grown in popularity. Supplemental lifeinsurance offerings jumped to 75 percent, up from 45 percent a yearago. Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance offeringsdoubled—from 30 percent of employers last year to 60 percent thisyear.

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One surprising finding was a drop in telemedicine offerings. After showing that 55percent of employers offered telemedicine as a health care optionin 2017, this year's survey found that only 42 percent of employersoffered telemedicine in 2018. This goes against the grain of otherindustry trends, where telemedicine isgenerally considered a growing field. The report noted, “While this[finding] may be due to the relatively low utilization rates ofthese types of plans, employers may want to reconsider thisstrategy—and beef up their communications promoting the program—asrecent research indicates that millennials are increasinglyelecting 'on demand' health care in place of a primary carephysician.”

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Other findings from the DirectPath report:

  • 51 percent of all employers offer tax-advantaged reimbursementaccounts in conjunction with HDHPs. The majority of these, 79percent, offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), while only 21percent offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). (Roughly 10percent of employers offer both, because they sponsor more than oneHDHP).
  • In the area of wellness, 42 percent of employers are offeringwellness incentives, up from 20 percent last year. Biometric screenings and health riskassessments were the most-offered options, with 30 percent and 28percent of employers offering them, respectively. In addition,employers are expanding the definition of wellness–giving workersincentives for dental checkups, second opinions, use of a center ofexcellence, or when employees improve the “wellness” of theircommunity by donating blood or volunteering.
  • HDHP offerings increased to account for 41 percent of alloffered plans, after several years of holding steady at around 30percent. The report said the increase may reflect a desire byemployers to offer a range of plans to a multigenerationalworkforce. Employers may also be promoting HRAs and HSAs as a toolfor saving for the future as well as for addressing current healthcare costs, the report added.
  • In the area of drug costs, 12 percent of employers coveredpreventive drugs at no cost and a handful covered them at a lowercost (lower copay or higher coinsurance level) than genericmedications. With so much utilization of prescription drugs,employers may be trying to ease the blow of deductibles for workerswho have chronic conditions, the report suggested.

Kim Buckey, VP of client services at DirectPath, said the reportshowed that employers are trying to address both employee demandfor individualized options and the challenge of controlling benefitcosts. “Organizations are taking steps to provide employees withmore options than ever before – whether that's through an expandedvoluntary benefits package or rewards for a broader range ofwellness behaviors,” she said. “The key now is to educate employeeson the value of these offerings so they can best utilize them – andultimately drive down health care costs for themselves and fortheir employers.”

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