I frequently come across interesting information that, while not lending itself to a full blog post, is still worth sharing. This post is part of a periodic series in which I summarize this information and provide links for those who want to learn more.

• In a previous post, we talked about the differences in healthcare costs between the U.S. and other developed nations. A new white paper published by Thomson Reuters highlights price differentials between geographies within the U.S. For example, if its employees choose providers that charge at or below the median for certain services, an employer in Illinois could save $42,000 or 26% on diagnostic colonoscopy, $12,000 or 18% on a MRI of the lower back without dye, and $29,000 or 33% on knee arthroscopy. The paper advocates price transparency as a way to steer employees to more cost-effective providers.

Healthcare economist J.D. Kleinke discusses how the recent brouhaha over employers paying for contraceptives through employee benefit plans only highlights the shortcomings of tying health insurance coverage to employment. This is an interesting discussion about an overarching issue that continues to come up. What would happen if the employer-based health insurance approach went away? Is it worth considering?

• One reason why employers may not want to give up offering healthcare benefits is because employees value them so much. Surveys like this one show what a differentiator a strong employee benefits package can be for many companies. According to a survey of 9,200 employees conducted by Towers Watson, employees may be willing to give up some of their pay in order to gain access to more secure and generous retirement and healthcare benefits. In particular, nearly half the respondents are concerned that their retirement benefits will be reduced over the next two years, and 55% are willing to pay a higher amount from each paycheck to ensure they have a guaranteed retirement.

• Employers looking to encourage weight loss in the workplace should plan such programs carefully. A new study conducted by researchers from the Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, R.I., found that weight loss in a team competition was clearly determined by each individual’s team. “Participants who lost clinically significant amounts of weight (at least 5% of their initial body weight) tended to be on the same teams, and being on a team with more teammates in the weight loss division was also associated with a greater weight loss,” according to the study. Moreover, the more social influence someone’s teammates have, the greater the odds that the individual would achieve a clinically significant weight loss, in this case 20% greater.