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Benefits have value despite costs, employers say


Despite the increasing cost of benefits, most employers plan to continue to offer them to employees in the future and subsidize them as much as possible in order to attract and retain talent, a new survey shows.

And while most employers expect benefit cost sharing to double by 2010, a growing group of "progressive" employers plans to adopt strategies to address cost drivers, such as wellness programs, consumer-driven health plans and integrated health and disability management initiatives, the survey shows.

These progressive employers, which currently represent about 11% of all employers, is expected to grow to 50% by 2010, according to "Employee Benefits: 2006 & Beyond," a new study released Thursday by Prudential Financial Inc. of Newark, N.J., and which is based on an online survey conducted in February of 1,218 randomly selected benefits decisionmakers nationwide.

The survey also found that as benefit choices become more complex and as employees are asked to shoulder a greater share of their cost burden, employers plan to seek external guidance from benefits brokers, insurers and even employees themselves to help them build the best solutions for their companies.

In addition, because benefits are becoming a substantial component of company expenses, employers expect to enlist expertise from other departments--such as risk management and finance--in making benefit procurement decisions.

Among other significant findings of the survey:

  • Employers that feel that offering competitive benefits is "not important" tend to have fewer than 100 employees, tend to be in the retail and sales or trade industries and tend to be located in the Midwest.

  • Though most employers said they plan to do more to help employees meet their financial needs, employees' need for nonmedical insurance coverage is expected to remain underserved over the next five years. Only about one-fourth of employers expect to address their employees' life, disability and long-term care insurance needs by 2010.

  • While 83% of employees are trying to achieve an overall holistic sense of a healthy lifestyle, only about 36% of employers perceive such an objective to be important to their employees. However, a growing number of employers is expected to address this need by 2010. While 22% of employers currently address employee lifestyle needs or concerns, 40% plan to do so by 2010.

  • Human resource departments expect to greatly expand their use of online tools by 2010 for key transactions such as claims submission, billing and eligibility processing. However, adoption rates of Web-based technology vary widely, and four in 10 employers take a "wait and see" approach and either rely on legacy technologies or adopt new technologies only after they have been proved to be effective.

  • While 11% of employers consider themselves to be "progressive," and another 31% consider themselves "above average," the percentage of progressive and forward-thinking companies is expected to increase to more than 50% of all employers by 2010. The criteria for progressive employers are that they currently offer benefits that are competitive within their industry segments; that they understand employees' most important financial and lifestyle concerns; and that they are highly interested in helping their employees address those needs, particularly in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and providing access to mental health counseling, retirement planning and work/life balance programs.
For a copy of the complete survey report, visit