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Peers can influence employers' health care plan design decisions

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Few employers have made changes to their health care strategies this year, but most say a little peer pressure could prompt them to make moves, according to a new analysis.

Seventy-seven percent of companies said the actions of their peers have a significant or moderate influence on their own health care strategies, and 59% said so do the actions of major employers in their key geographies, according to an Aon Hewitt survey of more than 1,000 companies released Thursday.

The survey, which looked at companies of all sizes, was conducted from November to January, an Aon Hewitt spokeswoman said.

But for now, though employers plan to make changes to their health care strategies in the long-term, few have made progress. Aon Hewitt said only 16% of employers plan to increase deductibles or co-pays this year, though 46% plan to in three to five years. Currently, 22% have done so.

Ten percent of employers plan to provide cost and quality transparency tools this year, though 48% plan to do so in the next three to five years, the report said. Thirty-seven percent currently provide these tools, it said.

And 9% of companies plan to offer personalized, aggregated online views of health care usage and other information this year, though 44% will in three to five years, the report shows. Aon Hewitt said 39% of employers employ this strategy now.

“Cost increases have eased over the past few years, reducing the pressure on companies to deviate from the status quo,” Sue Willette, senior vice president for health at Aon Hewitt, said in a statement. “Very few companies want to be first in making transformative changes, but many want to be fast followers. The rate at which companies will take action is likely to be determined by a combination of the predicted spike in future cost trend and bold moves from other employers, particularly from those companies in related industries.”

Additionally, the survey showed little increase in the number of employers offering health and wellness programs, even though 87% of employers said increasing participant awareness of and decision-making related to health issues is their top priority. For example, 65% of companies offer biometric screening to their employees this year, compared with 64% last year.

Sixty-four percent of employers offer tobacco-cessation programs, compared with 63% last year.

Also noteworthy, 46% of companies said the upcoming 2016 presidential and congressional elections will have little to no impact on their health strategy, while 49% said it will have some impact, but they plan to move forward and will develop some alternatives tied to different election scenarios.