WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 With employee benefit choices becoming more complex, a growing number of employers are providing self-service decision-making tools to workers during open enrollment season, according to a new survey by Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm. A majority of employers who offer these tools believe they lead employees to make changes in their plan decisions.
According to the survey, 45 percent of companies offered employees self-service decision tools to assist them with their health care decisions during this year's open enrollment season, and 56 percent plan to provide more next year. The survey also found that 50 percent saw an increase in the use of these tools this year compared to last year. Moreover, almost three-quarters (74 percent) of the employers that provide these tools believe employees altered their plan decisions based on using them. The Watson Wyatt survey was conducted in mid-November 2009 and includes responses from 349 U.S. employers.
The survey found that the greatest challenge employers cited during this year's open enrollment was employee understanding of new plan features -- 39 percent of employers said this issue was moderately to extremely challenging, and 32 percent said it was more challenging when compared to last year. Approximately one in three employers (32 percent) considered explaining price changes to be moderately to extremely challenging, and 26 percent said it was more challenging this year than last year.
"Most employers are at a point where they breeze through open enrollment. Increasingly, however, more are seizing the opportunity to help employees improve their own health and well-being. Self-service decision tools can be an essential part of the process to move employees away from being passive participants in a company health plan," said Richard Nicholas, senior technology consultant at Watson Wyatt. "For instance, a medical cost analysis tool would help employees make more educated decisions by comparing out-of-pocket costs of their health plan choices."
The survey found that 69 percent of employers mailed printed materials to employees' homes during this year's open enrollment season, down from 76 percent in 2008. However, nearly one in four (22 percent) plans to eliminate paper-based communications next year. A vast majority (88 percent) made materials accessible on the company intranet or the Internet, and more than three-quarters (76 percent) used e-mail. More than one-quarter (27 percent) used interactive media or multimedia such as podcasts, Web videos and online chat forums.
"Just as technology has become an integral part of how employees communicate every day, employers have tapped into a wide range of technology applications to allow workers to make informed decisions about their benefits," said Don Harrison, senior technology consultant at Watson Wyatt. "The combination of new communication media and self-service employee tools can help employers pave the way toward smoother open enrollment seasons in the future."
For more information, please visit www.watsonwyatt.com/OpenEnrollment09.
About Watson Wyatt
Watson Wyatt (NYSE, Nasdaq: WW) is the trusted business partner to the world's leading organizations on people and financial issues. The firm's global services include: managing the cost and effectiveness of employee benefit programs; developing attraction, retention and reward strategies; advising pension plan sponsors and other institutions on optimal investment strategies; providing strategic and financial advice to insurance and financial services companies; and delivering related technology, outsourcing and data services. Watson Wyatt has 7,500 associates in 33 countries and is located on the Web at www.watsonwyatt.com.
SOURCE Watson Wyatt