Employers are making creative changes to employee benefit offerings to stem the tide of rising health care costs, but many are taking a wait-and-see approach to private exchanges, according to presenters at MetLife’s 10th National Benefits Symposium Monday.

“We want to see the demonstrated benefits and results” that come out of private exchange models, Justine Peddle, global compensation benefits manager for the United Parcel Service  told attendees at the symposium, adding that the company has talked with private exchanges but taken no action.

Chris Ranieri, director of global health and wellness benefits for Jacobs Engineering, said his company “is considering a private exchange for its craft employees,” but also taking a wait-and-see approach in regards to health insurance offered to its staff population.

Virginia Nisbet, senior director of benefits for Brinker International, said one of Brinker’s major competitors has moved its employees into a private exchange, and Brinker will be “watching” its model closely for any results.

Brinker International owns and manages several restaurant chains, including Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy. In 2011, Brinker revamped its employee benefit offerings to address rising health care costs and “encourage its team members to take greater ownership of their health,” Nesbit says.

Some of the changes the company made “were big,” she admits. It replaced current health plans with high-deductible plans and offered employees a Brinker-funded HRA to offset some of the out-of-pocket costs.

Preventive care and screenings were covered at 100%, she said, and the HRA was only funded after the employee underwent an annual physical with a primary care physician.

Prescription benefits were also carved out of the medical plan and offered separately — an effort to ensure people with chronic diseases weren’t being deterred from taking their medications because they were subject to the deductible.

Anticipating an 11.25% increase in health care costs for 2014, UPS eliminated coverage for spouses of its employees who had health insurance coverage available from another employer.

See related: Dumping your spouse 

The company considered a working spouse surcharge, Peddle said, but knew the cost would be significant to its employees and continue to be costly for the company, as well.

“We knew with the employer mandate coming, this was the right thing to do,” Peddle said. “A lot of the time our employees didn’t even look at their spouse’s coverage.”

UPS’s working spouses were still offered dental, vision and supplemental benefits, but excluded from wellness incentives, she added.

UPS also introduced a tobacco premium increase of $150 a month. Employees who complete a tobacco cessation program are refunded the increased premium, Peddle said.

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