Employers Investing More in Benefits

stethescope for healthcareHealth and wellness are integral to employee performance, which helps explain why employers are investing more in their employee benefit offerings.

In June of 2018, the average cost of benefits rose by 2.9%, while wage costs rose by 2.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the rise is paid leave, which has seen a 4% cost per employee increase since 2017. This includes paid parental leave, which allows time off for a birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child.

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More Patients Texting

Healthcare professionals that aren’t utilizing text communications are failing to meet their patients where they are. A 2018 survey found 11% of patients would rather communicate via text message, a number that is expected to grow as the Millennial population begins to outnumber Boomers. Text alerts and communications can be used for a variety of services, including preventative care such as periodic appointments and flu shots, post-treatment care information, remote health monitoring and chronic disease management.

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Healthcare Consumers About to Have Their Day

ebso-giantsFrom Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to Walmart and Humana – disruption is all around us. The future of our healthcare system is unfolding right before our eyes and regardless of how this giant chess match turns out, health plan participants just may be the biggest winners.

The Retail Effect
While many healthcare plans have done well under Obamacare, they need to review what many retailers have experienced since Amazon began building its Prime subscriber base of 100 million plus. When you consider the scope of Walmart, their potential for retail clinics is virtually unlimited. Whether by Amazon, Walmart or others, home delivery of prescriptions could make things very difficult for brick and mortar pharmacies. No matter what area you examine, these mega-partnerships have the potential to impact access to care in ways that most traditional healthcare providers have never imagined. And, if recent retail history means anything, healthcare consumers are sure to benefit.

Self-Funding Will Rule
Most working Americans are already covered by self-funded health plans, and we would expect the new Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan family to offer at least one self-funded option. Studies show that self-funded plans offer employers far more flexibility than fully insured counterparts and Berkshire Hathaway’s Specialty Services unit certainly has the resources to provide the required stop loss insurance.

A Transparency Opportunity
With a little creativity, the transaction processing infrastructure of JP Morgan could make real-time claims processing a reality for fellow plan members. Real-time payments may encourage providers to discount more. Add telehealth and enable physicians to view electronic medical records and patients may know what to expect from their visit and what they will pay before they make the appointment. The bottom line is that as the level of information sharing increases, cost transparency and the potential for savings will grow.

As a TPA dedicated to controlling costs for self-funded health plans and members, we know these deals will keep more people out of the hospital and increase competition for outpatient care. Technology will move forward, actionable data will be more accessible and consumers will have their day as costs become more transparent and delivery more user-friendly.

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Four Ways to Avoid Diabetes

diabetesThe time to think about diabetes is not when it’s diagnosed. It’s important to take steps to prevent diabetes and prediabetes before they ever develop. While more than 100 million American adults live with diabetes or prediabetes, there are easy, proven ways to prevent it. Here are just a few:

Eating better: the breakdown. Though we often hear that we should “eat better” it’s not always clear what that means. Whole, fiber-rich foods are what you should be consuming. Fill your plate with vibrant foods, having natural color and fiber, such as quinoa, brown-rice, blueberries and garbanzo beans. These foods are slow-burning, providing longer term energy and maintaining sugar levels more steadily. When eating a meal containing slow and fast burning foods, eating slower-burning foods first will slow the absorption rate of faster-burning foods.

Water is your best friend. While the call of sugary drinks such as juice, packaged iced tea and soft drinks can be hard to resist, water is always the best choice. Even diet or low calorie drinks can increase the risk of diabetes, potentially causing changes in gut bacteria that affect metabolism. Water eliminates stripped carbs and provides the hydration your body needs.

Keep moving. Exercising regularly, doing both cardio and resistance activities, not only lowers your blood sugar but makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. That’s really a two-for-one diabetes prevention action! Choosing activities that you and your family enjoy makes exercise fun.

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Economies of Scale for Small Businesses

ebso-embIn late June, the Department of Labor introduced final rules on Association Health Plans (AHP), which will allow bonafide associations to offer healthcare plans to member companies. While we had hoped for a different approach to regulating these plans, association health plans will be regulated by states as MEWAs.

According to the final rules, an association that wants to establish a healthcare plan must already exist for another purpose. In other words, an association cannot be formed for the exclusive purpose of offering healthcare plans to its members. Another stipulation is that new self-funded association health plans cannot be established until April 1, 2019.

Association Health Plans will be exempt from the federal mandate on essential health benefits, but will remain consistent with popular Obamacare rules such as coverage of pre-existing conditions and bans on lifetime limits.

While reserve requirements will vary from state to state, we expect that these plans will be quite costly to establish and closely monitored by state regulators. Nonetheless, for large associations with significant cash reserves, we expect this option to make it possible for thousands of small businesses to lower their cost of employee health benefits.

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Employees’ health care burden growing 8 times faster than wages

This article was published on October 3, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Emily Payne.

When the Kaiser Family Foundation started tracking employer health benefits 20 years ago, employee deductibles weren’t a concern. Over the years, though, the survey has adjusted to reflect not just the growing percentage of employees with a deductible (85 percent in 2018) but the growing amount of that deductible ($1,573 for an individual in 2018) .

In fact, according to the 2018 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey, the burden of deductibles has tripled in the past decade and increased eight times faster than wages. Among small employers, 42 percent of workers pay a deductible of $2,000 or more.

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“Rising health care costs absolutely remain a burden for employers, but they’re a bigger problem for workers, as cost-sharing has been rising much faster than wages in recent years,” KFF president and CEO Drew Altman said in a press briefing.

This year’s survey shows no dramatic shifts in the employer-sponsored health care space but continues to illuminate a number of trends, including increasing health care premiums, greater focus on employee wellness and alternatives to traditional health care providers.

Premiums have increased five percent this year, costing a family for four an average of $19,616. Of that cost, employees contribute $5,547, and employers pay the rest. For single-coverage, premiums increased 3 percent to $6,896.

“Premium growth is important, but it’s only part of the story,” noted Altman. “The bigger issue is rising cost-sharing. What happens with wages can be as important to closing that gap as what happens to cost-sharing itself.”

Almost half of employers continue to offer PPO plans, while three in 10 offer a high-deductible plan with a savings component. Some employers (13 percent) offer an incentive to encourage employees to opt for one plan over another.

HDHP adoption is stagnating, comprising 29 percent of all plans. Part of this slowdown may be due to the uptick in the economy. “Given the economy is good and health care costs are relatively tame, I think employers don’t have a strong incentive at the moment to push people into plans they may not be as comfortable with,” said Gary Claxton, KFF vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project. “I think we’ve stalled a bit on the growth of HDHPs. Things will get more interesting if we move into a recession.”

Wellness is getting more of employers’ attention. Seventy percent of large firms now offer health-risk assessments, and 81 percent use data from those assessments to better understand health risks, target their wellness program promotions, design new programs and/or measure health care costs. “As employers have gotten more involved in trying to develop programs to encourage employees to be healthy, having the info is necessary to determine what kind of programs to sponsor and what employees need information about,” Claxton said.

More employers are looking at workers’ activity data–21 percent now collect information from a wearable device as part of their wellness program, an increase from last year’s 14 percent.

Interest in telemedicine and retail clinics continues to grow. Among large employers, 74 percent offer telemedicine services, an increase of 63 percent since last year. In addition, 76 percent cover retail clinic services, and some offer employees a financial incentive to choose these services.

A number of factors, including wages and the economy, will continue to impact the employer health care space in the coming years. Ten percent of employers expect that the elimination of the individual mandate will result in fewer workers purchasing employer-sponsored coverage.

Another factor asked about during the briefing was the increase in prices by health care systems and providers. Consolidation among major health care systems continues to shift the balance of power when it comes to price negotiation. “We’re in a competitive health care system,” Claxton noted. “We rely on private insurers and employers to mediate prices. They haven’t been very successful in recent years. It is hard because most workers work for fairly large employers with multiple locations. It’s hard to develop narrow, efficient networks that would cover all of your employees, and the large health plans don’t really have an incentive to create these options.”

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Fighting Depression in the Workplace

While awareness of mental health concerns in the workplace is increasing, studies repeatedly show that not enough employees feel comfortable utilizing mental health benefits. Furthermore, many employees are often unaware mental health benefits are even available. With more than 40 million Americans living with depression, it’s more important than ever to make sure the workplace is taking positive steps to address it. Here are positive steps your company can take:

Take a holistic approach. Addressing the many areas of wellness, including physical, financial and mental, equally can help employees feel safe enough to seek treatment through employer provided healthcare plans. Stigma is still a major barrier to access, but employers can encourage accessing treatment by putting the necessary emphasis on mental health and wellness. Providing an open space for conversation, information and support can increase overall employee mental wellness. And of course, extending benefits to all family members can prove extremely valuable.

Keep employees informed. Though your company may have excellent programs and benefits to address mental illness and depression, it’s possible that your employees are unaware of how to access them. When bringing the discussion of mental wellness into the public space it’s important that the tools and avenues to accessing help are made very clear.

Promote flexibility. Certain industries deal with more critical situations, such as safety concerns, fatigue or a high risk of injury. While there is no “off the shelf” solution to mental wellness, employers can play a major role in bringing mental health out in the open. And today more than ever, a company is only as healthy as its employees.

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Connecting Cancer Patients

stethescope for healthcareModern Healthcare and other news publications have recently written about a free mobile patient app, Belong, that is providing a platform for cancer patients to connect and explore ways of improving quality of life. The American Cancer Society and Colorectal Cancer Canada are using the app to connect with patients, which was launched in 2015 by two company executives who had lost relatives to cancer. “Belongers” can share information, connect with clinicians and detail their treatment progress. The app’s biggest success has been the “Belongers” ability to share meaningful emotional support.

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States Moving Forward on Telemental Health

ebso-telehealthStates are moving toward telemedicine to help students access mental health services. Minnesota and Utah have proposed telemental services in order to reach students with underserved mental health needs. Students with unmet mental health needs experience many obstacles, with conditions such as depression and anxiety negatively impacting their attendance and performance.

Telemental health is being utilized to reach those in areas without child therapists or in other “healthcare deserts”. Texas has successfully implemented telemental health programs since 2012, connecting thousands of students with much needed care and treatment. One proposed Minnesota bill suggests launching four telemedicine projects aimed at improving access to telemental health services for students. Proposed grants would help provide dedicated space in schools and the technology needed for students to access telemental health services. A bill in Utah would enable the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to create a two-year program using a telemedicine platform to facilitate remote consults between children and child psychiatrists.

Legislators and school officials in a number of states see many benefits to pursuing a telemental health platform, including the potential to identify young people contemplating suicidal or homicidal actions.

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Transitioning small employers to self-funding strategies

This article was published on September 4, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Cort Olsen.

Source: BenefitsPro

With premiums constantly on the rise for employers offering fully insured health plans, brokers are searching for ways to convince their small and mid-size clients that switching to self funding can cut costs on their top line items.

Switching to one of these plans means that the employer assumes more risk, with stop-loss insurance providing financial protection against catastrophic claims. They can also pay medical claims as incurred as they would other corporate expenses, or can deposit expected or maximum costs into an account each month.

There are many ways brokers are going about convincing their clients to make the leap, from educating them on the cost of the medical loss ratio, highlighting the financial pressure health care is placing on their business, or just making them feel as uncomfortable as possible by explaining their fully insured payment methods.

Bob Gearhart Jr., partner at benefits brokerage DCW Group in Boardman, Ohio, says explaining the MLR and how it guarantees fully insured premiums will rise is a great starting point when initiating the conversation.

“Benefits is one of the few areas the CFO has not optimized and they are feeling pressure from the CEO to drive earnings to the bottom line,” Gearhart says. “This organizational pressure coupled with health care in the headlines is slowly changing the buyer within the organization.”

Gearhart adds that leading HR professionals recognize this and proactively engage the C-suite in the buying decision.

Robson Baker, employee benefits and HR adviser for Clarus Benefits Group in Houston, Texas, says getting the C-suite and HR through the awareness phase of the conversation is the hardest part.

“The broker needs to educate and bring the pain points to the forefront of their minds,” Baker says. “Then it moves to consideration — which can be led by a strategic CFO and compassionate HR department.”

Framing health care cost as a financial decision allows the broker to approach the CFO first and then bring the self funding plan down to HR and out to the other employees. Continue reading