For employers seeking to better manage health care costs and benefits, the journey continues — from employer paternalism and centralized control to employee engagement and ownership of health insurance and employee benefits. In our fifth annual study — the 2014 bswift Benefits Study — we identify trends and provide insight into how organizations are using wellness initiatives, consumerism and technology to shift responsibility for benefit decision-making and management from employer to employee.

This year, three employer strategies stand out as trends in progress, each with employee ownership as the central tenet: 1) reliance on employee self-service and automation; 2) the ramping-up of wellness programs and related incentives; and 3) the consideration — but not yet adoption — of a defined contribution approach incorporating more health plan options for employees. Our findings indicate that these three tactics are at different stages of industry adoption, with employee self-service at the most mature end of the spectrum, outcomes-based wellness incentives moving into adolescence and defined contribution remaining in its infancy. All three are likely to continue to gain momentum in the years ahead.

The challenge of controlling health care spending while providing a range of attractive health insurance plans and other employee benefits is no longer solely the purview of HR and benefits. Despite the distractions that the Affordable Care Act has created for employers since its introduction in 2010, it has been instrumental in creating awareness of the cost of health care among CEOs, CFOs and consumers throughout the U.S. The ACA has also afforded employers the rare opportunity to take a look at their employee benefit program and consider adopting a set of strategies around benefit contributions, the user experience and how to engage and inspire employees.

The rise in public and private exchanges has created a clear shift in organizations’ approach to health care, and the prediction is that the transition to more widespread self-service and automation, outcomes-based wellness initiatives and adoption of defined contribution will accelerate.

These changes are unlikely to happen as quickly as some consultants and members of the media are forecasting. We’re in the midst of a journey, an evolution. Nevertheless, employers are taking advantage of this specific moment in time, when they have the unique opportunity to change the conversation: shifting ownership over health insurance and other benefits to their employees.

Download the study to read it in its entirety. This post originally appeared on the bswift blog.

Gallun is CEO of bswift (bswift.com), which offers software and services that streamline benefits, HR and payroll administration for employers and public and private exchanges nationwide.

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