In late June, President Trump signed an executive order directing HHS to develop rules requiring hospitals to publish clear and understandable pricing that reflects what people will actually pay for services. HHS Secretary Alex Azar added that the order should also make certain that providers and insurers provide patients with information about potential out-of-pocket costs they will face before receiving healthcare services.
While details about how the rules of the order will work are yet to be determined, hospital and health plan lobbyists criticized the order, saying it will increase prices and reduce competition. The President and CMS Administrator Seema Verma emphasized that the intention of the order is to combat the huge price variations that have long existed among healthcare facilities and make it easier for patients to find low cost, high-quality care.
The sensitive nature of information shared with payers and providers makes health plan members prime targets for identify theft. While no legislation is currently moving through Congress, a number of senators are taking steps to learn more about recent breaches of healthcare data involving collection agencies and diagnostics firms.
While some employers are taking very costly measures to protect their business and their employees, there are a few steps employers can implement at little or no cost:
- Encourage everyone to use strong passwords and change them often.
- Consider adding an Identify Theft protection service to your benefits package. Lifelock and Identity Guard are two common options.
- Offer educational sessions or webinars to build awareness to the cyber threats that exist today.
On-going education is critically important because the constant use of technology has made too many of us numb to the serious nature of cyber threats. As prevention measures have evolved over time, so have the ways hackers and cyber criminals go about attacking organizations and individuals.
Another major insurance carrier has cooperated with selected healthcare providers in two states to introduce a bundled payment program for maternity care. Like bundled payment programs used by Medicare and commercial carriers for total joint replacement, the bundled maternity program reimburses the care provider for an entire episode of care, including prenatal, delivery and postpartum services, with one overall fee. Insurers are encouraged with the positive outcomes, citing early access to care and open lines of communication as significant advantages of this approach.
A study based on several years of data, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics,showed that increasing water consumption by one to three cups a day decreased total calorie intake by between 68 and 205 calories. Intake of sugar and cholesterol were also reduced as a result of drinking more water.
Some physicians believe that drinking more water before sitting down for breakfast, lunch or dinner will curb the appetite. With other benefits such as better brain function, improved digestion and the ability to maintain energy levels, the old adage of drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day just may be more appropriate then ever.
According to Fidelity Investments, a couple retiring this year can expect to spend $285,000 on medical expenses during their retirement. And while the rate of healthcare cost increases has slowed in recent years, Americans are living longer, meaning they will need to address the cost of healthcare for a longer period of time.
The good news is that as we have noted many times, HSAs are becoming more popular all the time and a great way to save for retirement on a tax-free basis. Fidelity reports that their portfolio of HSA owners has grown to more than 830,000 individuals who currently own $3 billion in assets. In addition, consultants say that employers contributed nearly $9 billion to employees’ HSAs in 2018 alone. If our economy remains strong, we can expect these trends to continue. More and more employers will be able to provide matching contributions and funds contributed to HSAs are never taxed.
Employees will be able to save some additional healthcare dollars in 2020 as the IRS will increase the limit on deductible contributions to an HSA by $50 for individuals and $100 for families. The limits will be $3,550 for individuals with self-only coverage and $7,100 for family coverage. The minimum deductible for a qualifying high deductible health plan will also increase, rising to $1,400 for single coverage and $2,800 for family coverage
Research shows that the number of HSAs increased by 13% over the past year, topping 25 million accounts with an anticipated increase to 30 million by 2020. Another important statistic revealed that the average employer contribution to HSAs rose from just over $600 in 2017 to $839 in 2018 – an increase of some 39%. Supporters are encouraging legislators to make HSAs even more consumer friendly by allowing adults over 65 to continue using an HSA to save for healthcare costs in retirement. We will continue to report on these efforts going forward.
Some mega-employers manage clinics on their own while others outsource to clinic vendors or healthcare systems. Many provide clinics within their own facilities, but some offer near-site locations and even share a near-site clinic with other companies. Regardless of which model is preferred, more organizations with 5,000 or more employees are deciding that on-site or near-site clinics can make primary care more convenient and affordable for everyone.
Some of these clinics offer pharmacy services and many have expanded to offer services such as physical therapy, telehealth and even behavioral health. One benefit that clinic operators often emphasize is that by making primary care convenient to employees, and in many cases their family members, fewer employees will neglect primary care because of cost or the inability to take time off to see a doctor.
A recent article described a high school student who was inspired to attend a local community college for two years before transferring to a 4-year state university rather than attending the state university immediately after graduation. His decision resulted from taking a financial literacy class at his high school, which made him realize that his original plan would leave him with significant student loans and a much tougher road ahead. The Council for Economic Education reports that 19 states currently require that high school students study financial literacy in order to graduate. A growing number of companies are also offering these classes in order to help workers get a handle on their finances.
While EBRI researchers have reported slower growth rates in recent years, more than 40% of HSA enrollees opened their accounts in just the past two years. Other recent projections, in fact, expect the value of HSA accounts to grow from $54 billion in 2018 to nearly $75 billion in 2020. Proposals floating around Washington could expand the list of HSA-eligible expenses as well as the age at which seniors must stop contributing to their HSA. Proposals like these would make HSAs even more valuable in the future.
A recent announcement stated that by year end, Walmart will triple the number of employees taking advantage of company-provided tuition benefits. With 25,000 high school students among their 1.3 million U.S. employees, the company expects to help many avoid the hefty cost of higher education. Disney, Discover and MGM Resorts International are just a few large employers offering free tuition for college or certificate programs in order to attract talented young people.