News & Trends

Obesity, Hewitt Associates survey on how employees enroll in benefits, small employers make tradeoffs to keep benefits




If current trends continue, roughly four out of 10 Americans will be obese — and not just overweight — within five years, according to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Eating 100 fewer calories per day, however, can help prevent the two pounds the average person gains annually.

Meanwhile, a recent study explored the relationship between the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's 1998 weight guidelines and concurrent medical costs. The study found the guidelines to be consistent with concurrent medical costs, and with the exception of the underweight group, medical costs gradually increased with Body Mass Index. The study, which covered six weight groups as outlined in the original guidelines (underweight, normal, overweight and various levels of obesity), saw median medical costs increase almost 10 percent for overweight people and anywhere from 20 to 70 percent for the various obesity levels.

Health care spending will reach $3.1 trillion by 2012 according to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report. Projected growth of 7.3 percent annually would result in health care spending accounting for almost 18 percent of gross domestic product compared to 14 percent in 2001.


Online benefit enrollments volume is holding steady at nearly double what it was four years ago and far ahead of voice-activated technology. Seventy percent of employees signed up for their 2003 benefits through the Internet, according to a Hewitt Associates survey of large employers. That's about the same as 2002 and compares with 51 percent in 2000 and just 36 percent in 1999. Enrollment through interactive voice response systems was the big technology loser, with an 8 percent share of enrollments vs. 30 percent in 1999. The call center share dropped to 23 percent from 34 percent in the same period. None of the employers surveyed used paper enrollment.

Hewitt reports that 93 percent of employees enrolling online were satisfied with the process. The study also found that 21 percent of companies offering online enrollment saw over 90 percent of their participants choosing that route. And almost 75 percent of companies with online enrollment do not send out any confirmation statements on paper. Generally, they direct employees to print out their own confirmation at the end of the enrollment process.

Roughly 20 percent of discharged hospital patients experience adverse events after going home researchers recently reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These new or worsening symptoms resulted from treatment, not underlying disease. One-third were preventable, while another third could have been less severe with earlier corrective actions. Researchers point the finger at poor communication and follow-ups from hospitals to patients and their primary-care physicians.


Only one out of five small employers made changes to their health benefits last year, according to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and 26 percent of those that made changes actually increased the scope of their benefits. More than one-third switched insurers, 65 percent increased copayments or deductibles, 30 percent raised employee premiums, and 29 percent reduced the benefits offered.

To keep health benefits alive and well, however, many reported that they canceled or reduced pay raises, bonuses and other employee benefits. An optimistic finding: One-third of small employers currently not offering health insurance stated they are very likely to add the benefit within the next two years.

Sixteen percent of large employers will offer consumer-driven health plans in 2003, according to a report from Forrester Research. The small survey found that just 4 percent offered CDH plans in 2002, but 24 percent planned to do so next year.


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