The employee benefits industry is in a near-constant state of flux. With changing atmospheres in employee benefits, health care costs, and technology available to organizations, businesses and employees alike are likely wondering what could be in store for their benefits programs in 2016. Changes within the industry have revealed several trends suggesting what might take place in the future, and below are several trends that we believe will make their impact over the next year.
Low Health Benefit Cost Growth
While the cost of health benefits has continued to rise for several years, 2016 is predicted to be a year of low cost growth – specifically that of underlying costs. According to a national survey of employer-sponsored healthcare plans by Mercer, health benefit cost per employee will rise by 4.2% on average, a number that is consistent with the predictions and growth of previous years. This figure reflects cost increase after accounting for employer-based variables such as changing carriers or raising deductibles. The employers who choose not to make changes to these variables will face higher percentages, but for 2016, these percentages will be significantly lower than previous years.
Without adjusting benefits plans, the cost per employee would rise by an average of 6.4% for 2016 – a 0.7% reduction from 2015. This number marks a ten-year low in underlying cost growth since Mercer started collecting data in 2005. The encouraging news from this? Employers, on average, will not have to reduce benefits by a notable amount to control cost increases. 
Greater Focus on Wellness Promotion
One of the most effective tools to use in the effort to lower health care costs is an array of wellness assessment and promotion programs, yet many companies do not offer a wide selection of these potentially cost-lowering measures. According to Kaiser’s 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey, smaller employers have fallen well behind the trend of larger employers in wellness offers.
Of large employers, 50% offer health risk assessments and biometric screening, and 81% offer specific wellness programs. This is compared to small firms, with 18%, 13% and 49% offerings, respectively.  With rising costs, the ROI of these programs will likely prove to be an increasingly important element of benefits additions.
Benefits Communications Improvements
To maximize employees’ understanding of benefits decisions and better lead them to select more cost-optimized benefits offerings, increased communications offerings are going to be necessary to reduce costs for 2016.
Revamping communications systems to more efficiently explain benefits to employees, and to help them make better decisions, will provide cost reductions and likely increase employee satisfaction, as they will recognize the increase in communications quality. In fact, 40% of employers claim that they will have improved networks for employee education and communication channels by 2018. 
While the element of change is always present for employers and employees in regards to benefits, analyzing trends can provide areas of interest and likely predictions about the coming year. No matter the trends, however, the need for optimized and efficient benefits plan offerings remains consistent. Employers and employees alike can look forward to the new year, and know that improving their benefits profile is one contact away.
Since 2003, Apex Benefits has built a reputation on providing customized, calculated solutions that aid our clients in making effective benefits decisions for their employees. We believe that a company is only as good as its employees, which is why our team works with you personally to find employee benefits plans that truly benefit your company. We’ll provide the tools, resources and expertise to aid in benefits decisions, creating a continuous conversation about strengthening your workforce and making your business better.