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5 Ways Your Employer Health Plan Is About to Change

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When employers say they plan to get "aggressive" about employee health care plans, is that good news or bad news for workers?

Towers Watson (TW - Get Report), the New York City business services firm, does offer some "good news/bad news" from its latest TW/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey.

For example, health care increases are expected to be the lowest in 15 years, from $11,547 last year to $12,136 this year -- a rise of 5.1%.

But let's not break any pompoms out. That figure is way ahead of the current 1.59% rate of inflation.

Even if you define slower-rising health care costs as "good news," a decent argument can be made that the employee health care story goes downhill from there. With the full implementation of health care reform in 2014, Towers Watson says employers plan on "more aggressive actions to improve health care delivery and manage rising costs of health care."

What does that mean for health care consumers? Plenty, as it turns out, and little of it positive. Here's a breakdown:

You'll be paying more for your employee health care premiums. Towers Watson says workers can expect to cough up more dough for their health care insurance. The study says the average employee will pay 37% of their health care expenses this year, up from 34% in 2011. Workers already popped for 42% more in health care costs in 2012 than they did five years ago.

Don't expect your company to pay for your health care in retirement. Gone are the days of so-called "gold-plated" health care insurance after retirement. Towers Watson says only 15% of firms offer retiree medical benefits to newly hired workers.

Like it or not, you're probably headed to a government-run health care exchange. The survey says employers are studying the pros and cons of health care exchanges closely for current workers and retirees. About 30% of U.S. firms already plan to pay the fine for not offering insurance and allowing employees to be steered into health care exchanges. Another 36% of companies say they plan to take that route in the next three years.

Employers want to hold you accountable for your lifestyle. Companies are taking a carrot-and-stick approach to health insurance. Towers Watson says that about 65% of employers will encourage workers to make healthy lifestyle choices by offering financial rewards, but 31% of U.S. firms say they will "align penalties and rewards" with concrete biometric targets on such issues as weight gain, smoking and doctor check-ups. Expect your spouse to be held accountable if he or she is included in your health care plan.

Companies plan to use social media to urge you to make smart heath care choices. This one may fall into the positive, if slightly annoying category, but expect your company to turn to Facebook (FB) and Twitter to alert you to positive health care news and tips. Towers Watson says that's all about letting employees have the "best information available."

"Employers are redefining their financial commitment to health care, in part to avoid the potential payment of an excise tax in 2018," says Ron Fontanetta, a senior health care consultant for Towers Watson. "Yet they are also mindful of a growing affordability gap for employees as health care costs take their toll on take-home pay."

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