Thought Leadership

Highlights from Conference Board San Diego 2023

Each year, HR benefits leaders from across the US attend Conference Board San Diego, hosted by benefits consulting firm Willis Towers Watson (WTW). The event provides continuing education credits, informational sessions, a chance to network with other HR leaders, and learn about the digital health benefits solutions out there.

At great events like Conference Board, there are more sessions than most companies could possibly attend. If you missed the event, or missed some sessions you wish you could have made, here are some of the hot topics and trends that stood out to us as significant:

Focusing on what matters most

The theme of the conference was finding focus. With increasing demands on HR leaders, it can feel as if everything is a priority. In the opening general session, WTW shared an image of an HR leader with six arms, multitasking to meet the demands of the job – to much laughter from the audience.

Rising healthcare costs contribute to this complexity, as does the proliferation of virtual care benefits that all claim to make a difference. Where can HR leaders start?

Doing more with less

A recent Mercer survey of over 700 employers revealed the number one theme HR leaders expressed was the need to do more with less (Sept 2022). Benefits leaders often face a tug-of-war between managing the total cost of care and making health benefits affordable. Another trade-off in HR decision making is whether to make benefits improvements or prioritize saving jobs. Are there ways HR leaders can save costs without sacrificing quality?

Reducing cost

There are many things employers can do to reduce costs while also improving access and quality of care. A recent McKinsey study showed that patient-level cost transparency can save companies up to 30% on medical claims (2022).

Use analytics to inform and refresh strategies, focus on preventive care. Every dollar spent on preventive care can equate to $13 in downstream costs.

A few additional areas where HR leaders can look to save money are zooming in on high cost claimants, identifying root causes, and guiding employees to preventive and better quality care. Another area of potential savings is reducing waste in pharma spend. Employers are bolstering pharmacy benefits plans (PBMs) and vendors that promise savings from better medication management.

Some companies are finding musculoskeletal (MSK) issues are a big driver of medical claims. Finding vendors who can help in these areas can help companies start to see results.

DEIB: Moving the conversation forward

The importance of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging continues to be top of mind. HR leaders face several challenges, including gaps in care, and sometimes even resistance among their own employees.

One persistent challenge is the gap in lived experiences between providers and patients. Only 9% of healthcare workers are black or Latin, where ~32% of the US population fits these demographics. Health equity skills are important, and providing training to providers is all the more critical because of this gap in lived experience.

Some HR leaders reported that their own employees were not always supported. HR leaders from a Detroit-based manufacturing company offered excellent advice, “Talk about what you’re doing and personalize it. People’s resistance will usually decrease.”


HR leaders have become more sophisticated in how they want to address the underlying social determinants of health (SDoH). The HR Director at Amazon articulated it well when he said moving from “Show HR buyers how we can help them transition from “good intentions” to real mechanisms, solid evidence, automated systems to address SDoH needs”.

They want vendors who point to evidence, proven methods, and how we address this.

Mental health

Access to mental health continues to be a priority among employers. As concerns around adolescent mental health care continue, companies are expanding care to include children. An  HR leader from Genentech remarked, “Age 17 seems to be when people most often fall apart.” By sponsoring up to 25 free therapy sessions – well over the average individual members tend to need in their population – this support has brought relief to their employees and family members.

Access, Enrollment, Engagement

These leading indicators of health benefit success remain important and challenging. HR leaders are always eager to learn from one another to glean what pieces of wisdom they can to boost these metrics among their workforce.

Here are a few gems we picked up from HR leaders at the conference:

  • Going for the highest-cost employees is a common starting point
  • Finding ways to simplify the user experience can often increase rates of enrollment and engagement
  • With expert navigation partners, some companies are achieving rates of 65% overall engagement, 80% high risk, 64% low risk
  • Leveraging wellness programs, promoting these and continually educating employees can help employers boost enrollment and engagement rates in health programs
  • Member marketing: paper mailers work well with BD’s manufacturing population
  • Most have smartphones. Many have some computer access, but they don’t like downloading apps on there

Remember that one approach doesn’t work for everyone. Some employees might respond better to paper mailers, while others respond with email or intranet reminders. Employees in different offices, worksites, or geographic areas may also have different needs and response patterns. Try different things, monitor the data, and continuously refine your employee marketing strategy.

Care for underserved populations

While few, if any, employers are ready to declare victory in their DEIB and SDoH efforts, the addition of more inclusive benefits is advancing the cause.

Employee demand has supported innovation in emerging areas like dedicated care for black and Hispanic employees. LGBTQ+ specific healthcare benefits are also taking form, with services driving to primary care, gender-affirming care, sexual & reproductive health, mental health, DEIB education & corporate equality index support, and expanded fertility benefits.

Mimi West, Senior Product Marketing Manager
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