Do fitness wearables in the workplace really work? This was the question posed in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune.

Even as more employers are offering fitness wearables to their employees, the article pointed out that it remains to be seen how effective they are at helping them achieve better health outcomes or reduce health care costs.

According to Willis Towers Watson employer survey data, presented in the article, 31% of large employers now offer wearable fitness trackers to their employees; another 23% reported considering offering them in the next two years.

In addition to questions about effectiveness, there are also those who have privacy concerns and wonder about the ethics of rewarding employees for wellness program participation or penalizing them for failing to meet wellness goals.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued several rulings recently related to wellness programs and their administration. Fitness tracking devices fall under the guidance of these rulings, and employers are advised to stay up to date on rules to stay compliant.

To read the article in the Chicago Tribune, click here.

As the open enrollment period for employer-sponsored insurance approaches, there is one benefit that employers hope employees will take more advantage of: telemedicine.

Of the estimated 1.2 billion outpatient visits last year, just 1 million were conducted using telemedicine, according to Willis Towers Watson data.

Why haven’t employees flocked to telemedicine? According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, it’s possible they don’t understand it, don’t know it’s available, or are skeptical of getting a doctor’s opinion without physically being with a doctor. However, it isn’t because the service is more expensive: it’s not. The average telemedicine visit costs between $40 and $49 and some employers don’t require an employee contribution, covering 100% of the fee, said Willis Towers Watson senior consultant Dr. Allan Khoury, who was interviewed for the article. This compares favorably with a visit to a primary care doctor ($110) or a trip to the emergency room ($865).

Regardless of why employees are slow to adopt telemedicine, Dr. Khoury advises employers to figure it out and put in place strategies for accelerating adoption, starting with increased employee education. There’s a lot of money to be saved through telemedicine that won’t be realized until employees start using it.

To read the article in the Chicago Tribune, click here.

In a twist on the famous lament of Kermit the Frog, it ain’t easy being an HR professional for a multi-state employer. Ok, so that isn’t as catchy as the original. But the reality is multi-state employers must address the varying state and local laws governing employee benefits and that can be complicated and time consuming.

Take paid sick leave, for example. In a recent article on the topic in Human Resource Executive, Jackie Reinberg, senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, said, “The issues most employers are really struggling with is that systems are not easily adjusted for all of the different localities. A number of them are keeping spreadsheets because they just do not have the bandwidth right now to update all of the systems.”

This is especially challenging because some state and local laws include part-time workers, expanding the number of employees employers need to take into consideration when designing a paid sick leave policy.

To complicate matters even more, starting next year federal law will require employers who contract with the federal government to provide 7 days of paid sick leave. The clock is ticking for multi-state employers to comply with the law and make other modifications to their sick leave policies that are affected by it.

To read the article in Human Resource Executive, click here.

Health benefits are a big part of attracting and retaining talent and employers are always on the lookout for benefits offerings that are attractive to potential new hires and appealing to their existing workforce.

One benefit that is gaining in popularity is adoption assistance. A recent article in Workforce reported that the hotel chain Hilton Corp. has added the benefit, including both a stipend to cover the expenses of the adoption process and a broader parental leave program. Both are slated to go into effect in January 2017.

According to Jackie Reinberg, national practice leader of absence, disability management and life at Willis Towers Watson, who contributed to the article, adoption assistance stipends average $10,000, and can range from $5,000 to as high as $25,000.

Just 20% of employers offer it in 2016, according to the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Employee Benefits Survey. But Reinberg expects widespread adoption (pun intended) of the benefit as employers modernize their benefits programs.

To read the article in Workforce, click here.

According to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson, employers are increasing their efforts to achieve better health outcomes for their employees at a lower cost by implementing value-based reimbursement and payment arrangements with health insurers and providers.

This finding comes from the 21st annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey. The survey included responses from 600 U.S. employers between June and July 2016, who collectively employ 12.2 million full-time employees.

A recent article in Workforce highlighted findings from the survey and the strategies needed to implement them. Value-based strategies employers plan to use include establishing centers of excellence (COEs) for specialty services through health plans, separate providers, or third-party vendors; implementing high performance networks; and contracting directly with service providers to secure improved pricing.

When it comes to establishing centers of excellence, one big factor to consider is the region, according to Sarah Oliver, senior consultant and health care delivery leader for Willis Towers Watson.

“We’re seeing a movement looking at strategies on a regional basis,” said Oliver. “Depending how big the population is, employers are looking for locations where they have a higher concentration of employees in order to make meaningful impact if they do implement a center of excellence. All of this would be grounded in data and what the underlying issues are.”

For the complete release from Willis Towers Watson, click here.

For the article in Workforce on the findings, click here.

A recent survey from Willis Towers Watson revealed that over a third (37%) of U.S. employers are changing plan designs to reduce employee out-of-pocket costs at the point of service. The same percentage of employers (37%) are lowering premiums contributions for low-income workers. By 2018, the number of employers taking these steps is expected to rise to 53% and 51%, respectively.

These findings come from the 21st Annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, completed by 600 employers in June and July 2016.

In the face of continued cost pressures, employers have gradually increased the amount that employees pay for employer-sponsored health care. Increases have come in the form of larger premium contributions, higher copays and coinsurance, health plans with higher deductibles, and surcharges for coverage for working spouses eligible for health insurance from their own employers. Now, however, more employers are becoming concerned that health care is becoming unaffordable, especially for low-wage workers.

Other actions employers are taking to improve affordability include seeding health savings accounts (HSAs) tied to account-based health plans (ABHPs) to help employees close the gap created by the higher deductibles associated with such plans. Of employers that offer ABHPs, 85% are seeding HSAs with an average seed amount of $600 per year for employee-only coverage and twice that amount for employees with family coverage.

These steps employers are designed to ensure employees’ physical and financial health and well-being as well as on-the job productivity. The number of employers taking similar steps is expected to rise significantly over the next two years.

Willis Towers Watson this week released a list of the top 10 questions employees should ask their employers about 2017 plan offerings before selecting new plans or renewing existing ones. The questions are based the results of our 21st annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, which quizzed employers on their expected cost increases for 2017 and the actions they plan to take to manage costs while delivering quality care.

According to the survey, employers expect an average increase of 5.0% in total health care costs in 2017. Areas of focus for plan changes are prescription drugs, spouse and dependent coverage, and expensive medical procedures such as specialized surgeries.

In addition to questions about steps employers might have taken to keep costs down, we suggested that employees ask which health plans their preferred doctors and other providers accept; what new benefits–including voluntary benefits–employers might have added; and whether employers have introduced new technologies such as a private benefits exchange to help employees select and manage benefits.

For the complete list of 10 questions, read the press release here.

A recent slideshow in Employee Benefit Advisor identified the top 10 worst states for student loan debt. As an employer, should you care whether any of the states in which you hire are on the list? Based on an article by Randy Abbott, a senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, in Employee Benefit News (EBN) earlier this year, the answer could be “yes.”

According to Abbott, a growing number of employers interested in recruiting and retaining Millennials are offering benefits related to student debt, including debt forgiveness, assistance in paying off debt, and financial advising. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey showed that 4% of employers currently have student debt refinancing programs, but by 2018, that number could grow to 26%.

To find out which states are the worst for student debt, see the complete article in Employee Benefit Advisor.

To read Randy Abbott’s article in EBN on student loan repayment plans and advice for employers considering adding them to their employee benefits, click here.

In the wake of big tech companies such as Netflix and Facebook making headlines for expanding their parental leave offerings, other companies are looking to stay competitive in the war for talent by adding these benefits to their own benefit packages.

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, covered in a recent article for Bloomberg, just 26% of employers offer paid maternity leave, 21% offer paid paternity leave, and 20% offer paid adoption leave.

But this won’t be the case for long, according to Willis Towers Watson national practice leader, Jackie Reinberg. Quoted in the Bloomberg article, Reinberg said: “The hottest thing out there is the area of parental leave. Organizations are very, very rapidly looking at creating it as a retention tool or an attraction tool, or increasing it.”

To read the complete article in Bloomberg BNA, click here.

According to the Willis Towers Watson 21st annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, U.S. employers expect their health care costs to increase 5% this year and next with plan changes, and 6% without plan changes. These increases are at historical lows, but slightly higher than in 2015 and still more than twice the rate of inflation.

The survey also found that in the face of these continuing cost pressures, employers will make modest to moderate changes to their plans and programs to manage costs. However, according to Julie Stone, a national health care practice leader for Willis Towers Watson, given employee affordability concerns, most employers will focus on changes to high-cost benefits rather than on changes that would add to employees’ out-of-pocket costs.

The high-cost services that will get the most attention are pharmacy and especially specialty pharmacy, and surcharges for coverage of working spouses who are eligible for coverage from their own employers.

Employers also are encouraging employees to use centers of excellence for specialty care that have proven track records of delivering quality services at less cost. Telemedicine is being adopted by employers as another source of cost savings. In an article in Politico reporting on the survey and employer adoption of telemedicine, Allan Khoury, a senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, said, “We think the savings are real.”

To read the press release announcing survey results, click here.

To read two articles on the findings, click here for Kaiser Health News and here for Politico.