A growing number of health insurers are implementing so-called “narrow networks” of medical services providers to control costs. But while about half of all plans on public exchanges had narrow networks in 2014, it has taken longer for employers to embrace them. According to Trevis Parson, chief actuary of Health and Group Benefits for Willis Towers Watson, employers have been waiting to see evidence that narrow networks still deliver value in addition to lowering cost.

In a recent article in Business Insurance, Parson explained what motivates employers to consider narrow networks. “Really finding value is what employers are after,” he said. “That’s the fuel for these narrow networks on the large-employer group side.”

Narrow networks are networks that limit providers to those that have the best outcomes and lowest cost. While these types of networks in theory are what large employers seek, there are still too few of them to support a wholesale shift, said Parson. This is primarily because large employers need coverage across many states.

However, while Parson noted that early data on narrow networks is promising, “[Employers] want to see evidence before they act. The last thing they want to do is disrupt employees.”

For the complete article in Business Insurance, click here.

New data from a recent Willis Towers Watson survey of U.S. employers showed that 75 percent ranked stress as their number one employee health and productivity concern. However, a comparison of the views of employers and employees based on the employer survey and a concurrent survey of U.S. employees revealed a significant disconnect on what the two groups consider to be the top causes of workplace stress.

These findings are from the Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Staying@Work Survey of 487 U.S. employers and the Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey of more than 5,000 employees.

When asked to identify the primary sources of stress in the workplace, employers and employees overlapped in just one of their three top choices, “inadequate staffing.” Employees consistently identified issues related to their personal workplace experience, such as low pay. In contrast, employers focused more on larger organizational and change management issues.

According to Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson, these differences are an obstacle to employers interested in reducing workplace stress. “To address workplace stress, employers first need to understand its root cause from their employees’ point of view,” said Nyce. “Those who base their efforts on misguided assumptions risk trying to solve the wrong problems, and could end up wasting money and alienating employees. A good place for employers to start is by asking employees directly what’s causing their stress and how they can help.”

To read the press release from Willis Towers Watson, click here.

Most employers recognize the importance of paid time off (PTO) as a means for employees to recharge and return to work refreshed. In fact, research shows that employees who take time off are more productive than those who stay at work and do not use their PTO.

But do traditional PTO plan designs and administration strategies work? Or are there better alternatives?

These were questions posed in a recent article in Employee Benefit News (EBN) on PTO banks. In contrast to traditional PTO plans, which allocate a set number of days for specific types of PTO such as sick leave, personal days, and other reasons, PTO banks leave the decision of how paid time off is spent to the employees–a move that employers report has resulted in less absenteeism.

However, according to Jackie Reinberg, national practice leader for disability management for Willis Towers Watson, employers considering PTO banks need to take into consideration both national and state regulations related to mandatory paid sick leave when they design their PTO banks. In the EBN article, Reinberg noted there is wide variation from state to state.

In addition to addressing the challenge of complying with regulations, Reinberg recommended three questions employers ask themselves when designing PTO banks to ensure they are meeting the needs of their workforce:

  • What kind of culture do you have? What is your current program like and what is the compelling business case for change?
  • Are you competitive? Are you in sync with your business rivals and your clients?
  • Are your demographics changing? Millennials put a high value on discretionary time off.

For more on PTO banks, read the complete article in EBN.

The 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey of U.S. employers found that a growing number of employers have adopted a broader view of workforce health that includes physical, mental, emotional and financial health. At the same time, findings from a concurrent survey of more than 5,000 U.S. employers, the 2015/16 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey, showed that just 45 percent of U.S. employees are happy with their current financial situation. Further, 1 in 5 reported that financial problems are negatively affecting their life.

In an article written for BenefitsPro by Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson, and Carlos Hernandez, vice president of strategic alliances at Acclaris, the authors drew attention to the connection between programs employers offer that support employee physical well-being and those that support financial wellness.

According to Nyce and Hernandez, financial woes disproportionately affect certain segments of the workforce, notably Millennials. Recent graduates with student loans are especially affected. These concerns mean employees are less engaged and less productive.

However, even as employers introduce programs to address these concerns and to enhance employee well-being, the Willis Towers Watson employer survey found that just 50 percent of employees enroll in them.

What can employers do to help their employees and plan members realize the value available to them through consumer directed health plans (CDHPs) plans and wellness programs?

Nyce and Hernandez identify three key steps to engaging employees in consumer-directed health and wellness offerings. To read the article in BenefitsPro, click here.

A recent article in Kaiser Health News chronicled the rise of telemedicine and the convenience and access it gives to employees who might otherwise miss work for doctor’s appointments or to visit urgent care clinics.

Telemedicine kiosks enable doctors to take blood pressure and perform other basic functions remotely. Employers are increasingly embracing the kiosks as a way to give their employees easier access and to reduce cost. For example, the article cites a telemedicine visit that cost just $15, compared to a comparable appointment at an urgent care center, which would have cost as much as $50. In the past 18 months alone, health insurance provider Anthem has installed 34 kiosks at 20 companies.

However, even as adoption by employers becomes less of an obstacle, the challenge of educating employees remains, according to Dr. Allan Khoury, senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, who was interviewed for the article. Usage remains low as employees are unsure of how the kiosks work, he said.

To fully reap the benefits of telemedicine in the workplace, the next development in telemedicine needs to be a low tech one — employee education.

To read the article in Kaiser Health News, click here.

The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) recently announced its top 100 outsourcing providers. Willis Towers Watson has now been named to the list for five years in a row.

A key part of the recognition Willis Towers Watson received this year came from client testimonials, highlighting an expanded suite of services and seamless, scalable benefits technology offerings.

The IAOP recognizes best performers for the important role outsourcing plays in benefits management. IAOP CEO Debi Hamill highlighted the importance of choosing the right outsourcing provider, as the wide array of outsourcing business models continues to challenge companies to adapt. The Top 100 list serves as a resource for companies eager to make the right choice.

Said Toni DeNucci, managing director, North America Benefits Administration Outsourcing for Willis Towers Watson, “We are proud to serve the employees, retirees and family members of the world’s finest companies, providing them with innovative benefit solutions, accurate benefits administration and an exceptional customer experience.”

Click here to read the press release from Willis Towers Watson.

To download a special report on the IAOP’s Top 100 list published in Fortune magazine, click here.

A recent article in Employee Benefit Advisor (EBA) highlighted the fact that to be successful, health insurance brokers must increasingly make themselves known in a particular industry and have a depth of knowledge beyond that of a generalist.

Interviewed for the EBA article, Jim Blaney, health and benefits practice lead for Willis Towers Watson, maintained that in the large and mid-market, brokers might not even get a meeting with a potential client if they aren’t prepared to address more than just the employer’s insurance needs. Among the employer needs Blaney pointed to are ACA compliance, talent management, globalization, and private health insurance exchanges.

In a separate conversation, Blaney suggested that an apt analogy for the changing health insurance brokering industry is the travel industry, which was disrupted by the arrival of third- party booking sites. “New actors in the health insurance space have upset the apple cart of how health insurance used to get sold, and introduced transparency and price competition,” he said.

With regard to private exchanges, Blaney noted that they offer a way for employers to fund benefits and also relieve them of the burden of plan design. “An exchange handles everything from providing plan options and providing thousands of benefit advisors to helping employees and retirees pick the best plans for them, said Blaney. “This reduces administrative burden for the employer and gives employees or retirees better access to plans.”

Brokers with the right expertise can help employers figure out how to design and deploy effective exchanges for their employees, according to Blaney. “The most successful exchanges are those that optimize evaluating and selecting health insurance in much the same way Amazon did for online shopping,” he said. “A broker that can help employers make this transition is going to be in demand.”

Read the complete article in EBA here.

Employers are increasingly concerned with ensuring their employees are healthy and productive in the workplace. According to new survey data from Willis Towers Watson, 64 percent of U.S. employers said that developing a workplace culture supporting employee well-being is a primary strategy to boost health engagement. In layman’s terms, employers believe that employee happiness with the workplace is one key to a healthy workforce.

These are the findings of 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, and mark a significant shift in employer attitudes. One year ago, just one-third (34 percent) of employers identified employee well-being as a primary strategy.

The shift is part of an emerging focus on a broader definition of wellness that is leading employers to implement new programs. One example is programs to promote financial health, including new voluntary benefits such as student loan assistance.

Focusing on a more holistic view of employee well-being has benefits both for employees and for the company as a whole, according to Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. Of the findings, Wolff said, “As the well-being of employees and their families is enhanced, employers are better positioned to achieve bottom-line goals, improve benefit cost management and lower absenteeism. What’s more, they’ll also have happier, healthier and more engaged employees.”

Jeff Levin-Scherz, senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, explained in an article for Business Insurance the importance of employers engaging fully in employee wellbeing initiatives. Said Levin-Scherz, “Employers increasingly are understanding that to make a measurable difference in employees’ overall health and productivity, they must drive well-being initiatives deeper into the organization and embed them in employees’ day-to-day work experience.”

For more data employer attitudes towards employee wellness, see the press release on the Willis Towers Watson website.

To read the complete article in Business Insurance, click here.

While private exchanges often are touted for their potential cost-savings, choice is the key value that nearly three-fourths (72%) of U.S. employers highlighted in a recent Willis Towers Watson survey.

The 2016 Willis Towers Watson Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey surveyed 467 employers, representing 12.1 million employees, in January 2016. Moreover, post-enrollment surveys of employees using exchanges show that employees like to choose for themselves and are happy with the choices they’ve made.

According Sherri Bockhorst, managing director of group exchanges for Willis Towers Watson, choice does not mean leaving employees to fend for themselves. Said Bockhurst, “When choice is backed by advanced decision support and recommendations, exchanges help employees navigate complex options and make good decisions based on their needs. As a result, employees better understand their benefits and are able to derive more value from them.”

To read the complete release from Willis Towers Watson, click here.

For an infographic on the survey results, click here.

With the 2016 primary season coming to an end, and candidates at all levels turning their attention to the general election, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remain a topic of much debate. Some candidates want to see it repealed; others want to keep it and improve upon it.

But according to John Barkett, director of policy affairs for Willis Towers Watson, here’s something that all candidates might want to consider. While most employers had concerns about the ACA, six years have passed since the bill was signed into law. At this point, many employers are not willing to take the risk and endure the added disruption of throwing it out and starting all over again. However, they do want to see major changes to the ACA.

In a recent bylined article in Employee Benefit News (EBN), Barkett shared the five things employers would change about the ACA, based on his numerous conversations with employers about the good, the bad and the ugly of adapting to this major piece of legislation and the changes it has brought to employer-sponsored health care.

What would you change about the ACA?

To read Barkett’s article in EBN, click here.


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