Healthcare Hiring Slows

healthThe Altarum Center for Sustainable Health Spending reports a significant drop in health hiring, pricing and spending during the first five months of this year. On average, 22,000 jobs per month were added by hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, compared to 32,000 per month during the same period in 2016. While the healthcare sector continues to be the biggest contributor to overall U.S. job growth, Founding Director Dr. Charles Roehrig expects the 3-year run of greater than 5% growth in overall health spending to end, mostly due to uncertainty over efforts to repeal and replace ACA and a smaller increase in overall spending by consumers.

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How Reconciliation Can Change ACA

acaWhile it will take support from Republicans and Democrats to fully replace Obamacare, a simple majority of Republican senators could repeal parts of the law through reconciliation. Here are just a few:

  • The individual and employer mandates can be reduced to zero
  • The Cadillac tax, currently delayed to 2020, could be repealed
  • Individual subsidies to purchase exchange coverage can be reduced to zero

Another welcome step requiring only a simple majority in the Senate would be increasing the limits on FSA and HSA contributions.

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Encourage Cost Savings by Sharing

medical-moneyA recent article in The Self-Insurer magazine described a very simple, straightforward approach to combating the rising cost of healthcare. It featured an approach a law firm is using to encourage and incentivize employees to utilize more cost-efficient healthcare providers.

The firm provides its members with the data needed to compare costs for various procedures, then shares the savings that accrue to their self-funded health plan when a more cost-efficient provider is selected. In some cases, members have received checks for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Everyone wins according to the CEO and in the process, members learn that shopping for healthcare can be the responsible and rewarding thing to do.

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Bundled Payments Yielding Good Results

bundled-paymentsIn a previous newsletter, we discussed bundling introduced by Medicare which focuses on orthopedic and cardiac procedures. Through the mandatory initiative for comprehensive care for joint replacements (CJR), which became policy in 2016, some 800 hospitals are participating in the program.

While some sources report the results of bundling as mixed, Medicare reports that joint replacement payments increased by approximately 5% nationally, but decreased 8% for BPCI participants. One large health system achieved a 20.8% episode decrease and another reported a significantly shorter prolonged length of stay – a sign of fewer complications resulting from surgery.

Providers, both acute and post-acute, shared in the savings and indications are that post-acute savings were achieved because their care was bundled, placing these providers at risk. Even though efforts to repeal and replace or modify the Affordable Care Act are on hold, more healthcare providers and payers can be expected to embrace bundling going forward.

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Leveling the Self-Funding Field

The article below, titled Leveling the self-funded field, written by Robert Bull, was originally published by Employee Benefit Adviser on July 18, 2017.

Technology is changing every aspect of the way businesses operate — and that includes health plan self-funding.

It used to be that self-funding was limited to only the largest companies that could afford the manpower to either administer their own plans or develop their own proprietary administrative software. Today, new data technologies are leveling the playing field, making it affordable for virtually all employers to self-fund.

For too long HR teams have shied away from self-funding due to the perceived administrative burden. But technology has removed this barrier, making it easier to track eligibility and generate billing information. What used to be a painstaking manual process has been automated, and HR teams at self-funded companies can now provide richer benefits at a lower price. A good healthcare plan goes miles in attracting and keeping quality employees — and ensuring that they’re productive by minimizing absenteeism due to a lack of care for either themselves or their family members.

self-funding'Here’s what to look for when shopping for a top-notch self-funding solution:

1. The ability to consolidate information and manage all healthcare-related data from a single system. Most employers deal with multiple service providers — stop loss, vision, pharmacy, dental, medical, wellness, and third-party administrators, just to name a few. But they should insist that all of the relevant data is consolidated onto one system. For one thing, it’s much simpler and less time consuming to administer and pay all of their providers from a single source. For another, it takes much less time and effort to master a single application — as opposed to having to learn the ins and outs of each provider’s software.

When the data from multiple vendors are integrated onto a single platform, the time-consuming process of having to reconcile across providers every month is eliminated. The plan’s administrator can instantly determine counts and claims. Likewise, multiple payment processes can be eliminated in favor of a single, consistent payment method.

Best of all, HR can take all this data, which reflects employee behavior and everything related to treatment, and use it for predictive modeling. With that level of insight, the employer can develop a plan that truly meets its — and its employees — needs.

2. Data transparency. For an employer to take on the added risk of self-funding, it needs to be able to closely examine its data and determine the underlying trends. Without pricing and transaction transparency, it is impossible to perform a meaningful cost analysis.

As opposed to fully-insured plans, where the data is the property of the insurance carrier, with a self-funded plan the employer owns the plan’s data. And once the employer can access its claims, demographic and pricing information, it can make accurate decisions about what is best for the company and its employees.

The data can also be used to influence employee behavior. By educating a workforce about those behaviors that are wasteful and ineffective, the employer can reap significant savings for itself and its employees. And by analyzing the response rate to different messages and campaigns, HR can then determine what incentives would be useful to obtain even greater compliance.

3. Real-time data access. It’s not enough to have healthcare plan data; it needs to be timely or its utility is diminished. The best way for employers to be proactive is for them to be able to see what is happening with claims and cash flow on a monthly, weekly or even a daily basis. At a minimum, the employer should review its data at least quarterly. And the larger the employer, the greater the number of employees and claims, the more frequently the data needs to be examined.

Three years ago, it would have taken three weeks to scrub a mid-size employer’s claims data. Now it can take just two hours.

4. Safeguards. Data is power. That’s why an employer wants to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to healthcare plan data and analytics. There are legal and privacy considerations as well. That’s why it’s crucial to have robust security that maintains an audit trail of who touches what data and when. In case of an error or a breach, the event can be traced back to the people involved at the moment where it occurred.

Self-funding will continue to be transformed by technology. Cloud-based software is making it possible for ever smaller employers to implement and administer self-funded plans. Embracing and utilizing these tools can lead to lower premiums, greater access to health care and reduced costs for employer and employee alike.

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Protecting Your Health Information

medical-recordsWhile health information is protected in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, that simply isn’t the case in the online world. The Department of Health and Human Services warns that HIPAA privacy regulations do not apply to information you reveal on social media, in emails and web searches or when using health apps. The unfortunate fact is that information you provide when using these applications is fair game, often being gathered by data aggregators for sale to insurers, employers and others.

Another problem is that the privacy policies included by websites contain pages of small print and are seldom read. Too many people just assume their information is protected, click “accept” and move on. In 2014, the State of California adopted a law that extends HIPAA-like protection to online medical information, requiring medical apps to meet the same standards of confidentiality required by healthcare providers. Many believe that with more and more medical information moving online, it’s time for other states to follow.

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Preventing Sickness When Flying

flyingEver wondered what causes so many people to get sick after flying? Is it the air quality on the plane, people around you or what? The airlines say that the ventilation systems on airplanes are vastly improved, so the recirculation of germs throughout the cabin may not be the issue.

Germs are everywhere. If you think about the experience – people standing in line could be sick, containers you use to go through security – these are great places for germs to gather. Doctors say to stay away from airplane restrooms if you can, stay hydrated, keep the air on at your seat to help blow germs away from you and bring sanitary wipes or hand sanitizer with you. Use it after you touch armrests, latches on overhead bins, etc.

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Fewer Working-Age Americans

boomersWith statistics showing that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day from now until 2030, the impact on our workforce will be dramatic. When the last of the baby boomers reach age 65 in 2029, nearly 25% of our population will be 65 or older. This is up from about 15% today. While 62% of Americans are between the ages of 18 and 64 and considered to be of working age, this percentage will drop to 58% by the end of the next decade. While this poses growing problems for Social Security and Medicare in the U.S., many other countries face even bigger challenges.

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Millennials Drive HSA Growth

millennialsThe State of Benefits report from BenefitFocus shows that workers under the age of 26 are investing 20% more of their salary in HSAs than other generations. This is certainly due to the fact that nearly half have elected to enroll in high deductible health plans in 2017. While PPO plans remain very popular, especially among older adults, employee contributions to HSAs and FSAs are rising. A growing interest in savings among young people is another factor contributing to the increased popularity of HSAs.

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How Are You Feeding Your Heart?

healthFor those who simply cannot do without their favorite foods, here’s a list of the things that many of us love, but our hearts wish we would avoid.

Fast Food – Most of it has poor nutritional value, including plenty of fat, calories and processing.

Candy – Go with a small quantity of dark chocolate if you must have some candy, but the sugar just isn’t a good thing for your heart.

Ice Cream – Cardiologists warn that even small amounts of ice cream provide too much fat and sugar – it’s that simple.

Pizza – Pizza nights are tough to beat, especially in cities like Chicago and New York. But unless you make your own, using healthier ingredients, you’re consuming too much fat and salt.

Soft Drinks – These are simply full of sugar and while they may be refreshing on ice, soft drinks are lacking in nutritional value.

Pastries – Few things taste better than cookies, pies and cakes but in high doses, the sugar, fat and gluten can lead to obesity.

Processed Meats – Ham, bacon, hot dogs and other deli meats usually contain lots of salt, fat and even nitrates. Too much salt can boost blood pressure, another risk factor.

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