In the next five years, when it comes to managing costs, wellness offerings and family coverage, C-level executives and benefit managers both cite four changes expected in the next five years, but executives and managers each weigh in differently on their importance.

With the new year well underway, many employers say they have made key changes to their benefits plans, according to the new research from Wells Fargo. For example, six in 10 companies say they have changed or are in the process of changing options for the type of health plans offered.

While most employers have not yet made any dramatic changes, such as moving from fully-insured to self-funded or using private exchanges, the survey found that those decisions as well as offering high deductible plans, are the some of the top initiatives employers will consider, according to Wells Fargo’s Trends in employee benefits: Perspectives from the C-suite and HR/benefit managers.

“As the benefits landscape continues to evolve, employers face challenges and opportunities as they adapt to new requirements,” said Dan Gowen, Wells Fargo’s national employee benefits practice leader. “It’s a balancing act for many companies as they look to maximize employee productivity, retention and morale while also controlling cost — a factor we expect to become even more important as companies prepare for the Affordable Care Act excise tax in 2018.”

Also see: Employees want wellness incentives, despite regulatory uncertainty

For the short term, executives and managers both agree that in the next year and a half, focusing on maintaining employee productivity and managing costs will be among the top three goals for benefit programs.

When asked to hone in on how best strategies to use benefits, there are some varying opinions on utilizing benefit offerings. On one hand, managers say they are more focused on employee retention through use of benefit offerings, while executives are more apt to use benefits as a means of attracting new talent.

Employer have also expressed concerns on talent and productivity, and the possible effects of complying with new taxes, coverage rules and reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act, with 47% of benefit managers and 45% of executives saying they were somewhat or very concerned about the law’s potential to frustrate efforts at attracting and retaining top talent.

More than just health benefits have been affected by the ACA, including changes to staffing and the general workforce, Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at the National Business Group on Health has said, and employers will see the effects of the ACA on their labor costs unless they can find other ways to cut costs or pass these costs onto consumers.

Also see: When is the worst time to launch a wellness program?

While the ACA encourages employers to implement wellness programs, recent challenges by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to several companies’ wellness programs may change employer strategies in the future.

Also see: EEOC comes under fire for lack of clarity on wellness plans

Still, the overall focus on wellness remains high, with 93% of executives anticipating an increase or improvement in the importance of wellness offerings, the report notes. In addition, about half of those companies that have considered, will consider or are considering a change in wellness offerings, are doing so as a result of the ACA.

“Employers who take a more coordinated approach to integrating wellness programs with their existing employee benefits and productivity solutions will be well-positioned to achieve growth and cost savings,” Gowen added.

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