Only when it comes to health care would anyone cheer for a 4% annual increase in a major category of corporate expense.

That figure — the average percentage gain in medical claims costs in 2016, according to research by Willis Towers Watson — actually is super, from a historical perspective.

But while companies may in fact be cheering the cost-hike deceleration, in most cases the revelry is muted. They know that, partly because of the looming excise tax on health plans slated to take effect in 2020, they have a tough slog ahead in their somewhat quixotic quest to finally get health care costs under control.

Fortunately, there are some evolving and new tools available to ease they journey. The lead article in this package examines an assortment of fresh methods and technologies for keeping employees healthy and engaging them in that pursuit.

Also, because of the opportunity for thousands of midsized and smaller companies to significantly reduce costs by switching from insured health plans to self-funding their own claims expense, we’ve included two articles on that topic. One provides a nuts-and-bolts overview of issues related to making the switch, while the other serves as an impassioned warning on the severe risks involved in doing so.

Finally, we present a sobering look at why allowing employees to select a PPO plan with an overly broad provider network may drain your bottom line.

Health care is a topic that never seems to run dry of debate. We encourage you to post your comments on these articles.

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