Despite the Affordable Care Act’s looming Cadillac tax, few employers are planning major changes to their health plans this year and many say the 2016 presidential election will have little to no impact on their health strategy.

Just 16% of employers say they’ve increased deductibles and copays this year, according to a new Aon Hewitt survey, although 46% say they have plans to do so in the next three to five years. Two percent, meanwhile, offered a consumer-driven health plan as a full replacement in 2015, yet 41% have plans to go that route within the next three to five years.

Also see: Cadillac tax: A huge car wreck for employers?

Despite little change in health care strategies in the coming year, 87% of employers say that increasing participant awareness of, and decision-making related to, health issues is their top priority.

The Aon research shows a small but continued increase in the number of employers offering various wellness programs, with close to two-thirds offering biometric screenings and smoking cessation programs this year, and another third providing stress reduction and nutrition programs.

“Focusing on health and wellness is a key initiative for employers, and most are focusing on a few behaviors over the long term to maximize the impact improving health has on business performance,” says Stephanie Pronk, senior vice president and national health transformation leader with Aon. “Companies that promote a strong culture of health have employees who are happier, less stressed and more engaged, which leads to better productivity and stronger business performance.”

Also see: Employee well-being the new benefit mantra

The majority of health programs that saw slight increases from last year include:

  • Biometrics (offered by 65% of employers surveyed, up from 64% in 2014)
  • Weight management (51%, up from 50% in 2014)
  • Tobacco cessation (64%, up from 63% in 2014)
  • Physical activity challenges (55%, up from 52%)
  • Health improvement coaching (53%, up from 51%)
  • Stress reduction (33%, up from 31%)
  • Nutrition program (35%, up from 32%)
  • On site fitness center (43%, up from 42%)

One of the biggest drivers for employees is what other employers do. Seventy seven percent say the actions of their peers have a significant or moderate influence on their own health care strategies, and 59% say that the actions of major employers in their key geographies are also important.
“Senior leadership support is a must, but also equally important is creating the grassroots wellness champion who leads a voluntary employee team that are the ultimate marketers of well-being, and encouraging others to take advantage of well-being programs by sharing information and helping to organize events, activities and visibility for improving health at the workplace,” Pronk says.

Chronic disease, wellness

And while employers and employees can foster further growth of wellness programs, a new survey suggests employer-sponsored wellness programs are responsible for discovering up to half of chronic conditions.

Forty-six percent of employees surveyed by HealthMine say they discovered their chronic illness through a wellness program.

Also see: How to drive, incentivize wellness

Most employees want plan sponsors to offer health screenings to help detect risk factors, says HealthMine. In fact, 74% of respondents say they would participate in vision screenings, 73% would complete a blood pressure screening and 69% want a cholesterol screening.

“Plan sponsors can and do utilize wellness programs to beat the numbers – one member at a time,” says Bryce Williams, CEO and president of HealthMine. “To succeed, wellness programs must enable people to learn their key health facts, and connect individuals to their personal clinical data anytime, anywhere. When consumers and plans are empowered with knowledge, wellness programs can make recommendations meaningful to individuals, and help to prevent and manage chronic disease.”

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