Extend Health CEO Bryce Williams has written a new piece just published on the Society for Human Resource Management Web site. Bryce is known around here not only for his deep knowledge of health care insurance, but for constantly thinking about ways we can empower employers to provide affordable health care benefits to their employees. This new article offers some sage advice for employers who want to continue to offer early retiree benefits but need to control their costs. The key? Start moving them to defined contribution plans now:

“Until 2014, can early retirees be helped? The answer is yes: by beginning to move them from legacy group plans to ‘defined contribution health plans’ and providing education and tools, HR managers can empower their early retirees to become cost-conscious and careful consumers, changing their mindset from ‘I don’t know how much my health benefits cost and I don’t care’ to ‘I know how much my health benefits costs and I do care.'”

The article outlines a roadmap for supporting early retirees through the transition from group plans to individual plans purchased on the coming state insurance exchanges, with advice for the kind of programs and education that will help this vulnerable population become “empowered individual health insurance consumers” — while at the same time giving employers the ability to plan, predict, and control costs.

If you haven’t seen it already, the National Business Group on Health has just released results of its latest polling on health care benefit trends among large employers. One of the most interesting findings: a majority of employers (61%) will offer a consumer-directed health care plan (CDHP) in 2011. More and more employers are looking at CDHP strategies as a way to hold down their health care benefit costs. At Extend Health, we know it works because we’ve seen our clients reduce their health care spending, administrative costs, and long-term OPEB liabilities for retiree benefits by transitioning their Medicare-eligible retirees to individual Medicare accounts subsidized by HRA accounts.

The full survey is available for download here.

Thanks to the new health care legislation, many HR departments are now trying to make sense of their obligations to employees with respect to all the changes that will go into effect soon. This webinar by SHRM will take a more detailed look at specific actions HR professionals need to take in the areas of plan design and administration, the financial aspects of complying with the new law, and clear, correct and timely communication with your workforce.

It’s a 90-minute on-line session and costs only $99 for SHRM members, $119 for non-members. If you can’t attend, you can still sign up and get the on-demand version. You can register by clicking here.