While rising healthcare costs remain a top concern for most businesses, a recent study suggests that large U.S. companies not only remain committed to healthcare coverage, but are redoubling their efforts to maintain the health of their workforces. A new survey of 450 of the nation's largest employers by human resources outsourcing provider Hewitt Associates found that after years of simply cost-shifting to employees and giving lip service to health management programs, employers may now be getting serious about embracing initiatives that not only could result in lower costs but also in healthier workers.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of large U.S. employers plan to get more involved in helping their employees improve their health through educational campaigns, behavior modification, chronic healthcare maintenance, data analysis and other cutting-edge programs. The other 37% reported plans to maintain their current level of involvement. "We found that employers fell into two groups: the 'superhighway' employers and those [employers] who went from stop to stop. Those on the superhighway look at healthcare as a business issue, as a competitive advantage," says Jeff Munn, head of solutions and strategies for Hewitt's healthcare consulting practice.

One reason for the renewed commitment: better technology. Companies are turning to such vendors as Ingenix, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, and MedStat, a subsidiary of Thomson, that provide the kind of data and tracking to make data-driven disease prevention and avoidance programs possible. "While companies have talked about taking proactive steps in wellness, little has come of it," says Munn. "But that's changed; there's tremendous momentum."

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