Support for Caregivers

caregivingAccording to a new Harvard University study, 73% of employees surveyed are caring for a child, parent or friend. More importantly, 80% of those admit that caregiving has had a negative impact on their productivity at work and kept them from doing their best work. Employers are beginning to take a more proactive role in helping employees balance these priorities by shaping their benefit programs to accommodate their needs. We’ll take a closer look at some of the steps being taken in our next newsletter.

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More Bang for Your Benefits Buck!

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project that the $3.6 trillion our nation spent on healthcare in 2018 could approach $6 trillion by 2027. If that number has you wondering how your health plan (and our economy) can possibly survive such an increase, you’re certainly not alone.

Fortunately, you and your employees have an employer-sponsored health plan to depend on. And if your plan is self-funded like most, you have the freedom to determine how best to spend your healthcare dollars and the flexibility to respond to member’s needs. So rather than worrying about things that are out of your control, let’s look at steps others are taking to get more bang for their benefits buck.

Health Savings Accounts have become a must for employers pushing high deductible health plans. Contributing $500 or more to HSAs softens the impact of higher deductibles, and helps plan members cover out-of-pocket expenses and save for future healthcare expenses.

Covering the cost of Preventive Drugs at 100% is another option to consider. More and more employers are finding that waiving these copays can help speed recoveries and avoid some serious health problems that can cost everyone more down the road.

More Personalized Communication is the only way to deal with the reality that even with the availability of web portals, mobile apps and online transparency tools, health benefits are complex and confusing. Employers simply must do more to help members find out about their health benefits and understand them better. A public facing website could be a great way to not only explain your offerings to members, but also help to attract and retain qualified talent.

Direct Primary Care and requiring the use of Alternative Sites of Care for certain high-cost surgeries or second opinions are also discussed in this newsletter. TPAs have been recommending these strategies to many self-funded health plans in recent years and both are beginning to show positive results, depending on the makeup of the employee population.

Reference Based Pricing and Worksite Wellness programs are options we have discussed at length in recent years and both can be extremely effective. To learn more about these options and for other ideas you may want to place on your radar screen, contact your account representative. Spring is the perfect time to start thinking about next year!

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Is Direct Primary Care the Future?

A fee-based model that gives individuals unlimited access to a primary care physician without their insurance being billed is being heralded as the right prescription for healthcare. Most patient needs, such as consulting, tests, drugs and treatment are included, and no insurance billing is involved.

Sources estimate there are about 1,000 direct primary care practices in the continental United States. While most patients pay for the service out-of-pocket, more and more employers are choosing to offer this as a benefit and sharing in the cost.

TPAs and advisers supporting the trend caution that direct primary care is not a replacement for insurance, but rather a great supplement to an existing health plan. By removing the barrier of costly copays and deductibles, employees can forge a much closer relationship with their doctor, making them far less likely to choose a costly emergency room or urgent care clinic when the need for medical care arises. Direct primary care is an option that is growing and one we’d be happy to talk with you about at your convenience.

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Flying to Centers of Excellence

CNBC recently featured a story about Walmart and their history of not only suggesting that employees visit Centers of Excellence for surgeries and second opinions but flying them all expenses paid. The case study revealed that between 2015 and 2018, more than half of their employees suffering from spine pain were able to avoid surgery by seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.

Shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates, fewer episodes of postsurgical care and a faster return to work were other benefits gained when results were compared to patients who chose other hospitals for treatment. Walmart reported that even though they spent more per surgery at Mayo Clinic than what other hospitals were charging, they saved money because of better outcomes and surgeries that were avoided.

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Is Your Plan Examining the Value of Investment?

While many employemedical-moneyrs use health screenings and health risk assessments to detect medical conditions early on, some have a difficult time determining the value of these wellness-related measures. Some compare the costs of testing to an estimated cost of medical claims, but in an effort to determine a more accurate return on investment, others are taking factors such as reduced absenteeism and increased overall productivity into consideration. It makes sense since improving overall health and productivity really is the objective of wellness programs.

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Federal Judge Derails New Association Health Plans

As reported by The Phia Group on March 29, 2019, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that the new Department of Labor rules expanding the marketing of Association Health Plans (AHPs) violate existing law. TPAs, brokers and employers see this as a significant blow to AHPs, especially new self-funded AHPs that have been preparing to launch on April 1, 2019.

Federal Judge John Bates sided with several states that took issue with the DOL’s final rules several months ago, arguing that a broad availability of AHPs is not within the scope of ERISA, which defines an employer as having at least two or more employees. The final rules were going to allow small employers, including working business owners (employers of one), to join with others based on either common geography or industry affiliation to form an AHP. It appears that the Judge’s ruling means that both criteria, geography and industry affiliation, must be met and that qualifying employers must have a minimum of two employees.

Thus far, we are not aware of any response filed by the DOL. We will continue to monitor reactions to the ruling and other developments regarding Association Health Plans.

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First Step to Price Transparency a Confusing One

medical-moneyThe rule requiring hospitals to post their prices online, which became effective on January 1, 2019, really hasn’t done much to promote cost transparency. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into complex, coded retail-priced components that mean little to the average consumer.

As an example, determining the cost of an ER visit would require knowing the codes and locating costs for all parts involved in the visit. Few people, if any, are familiar with these complex details. While giving consumers price information in an easy-to-understand format would be a big help, it appears that CMS Administrator Seema Verma was accurate when she described this as little more than a “critical first step”.

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Are You Washing Your Water Bottle?

Water may be the beverage of choice for health and wellness lovers, but using your reusable water bottle multiple days in a row without washing it and allowing it to dry completely can lead to bacterial growth and sickness. Infectious disease specialists recommend that, at a minimum, pouring water out of your reusable bottle at the end of each day will eliminate some germs. Getting rid of the bulk of bacteria and decreasing the likelihood of a stomach bug requires scrubbing the entire bottle, including the lid and straw and letting it air dry completely after each use. A bottle brush is good for tall bottles with thin necks and dish soap or a bleach-based cleanser labeled safe for drinkware is best.

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More Choose Veganuary

veganuaryWorldwide, 226,000 people have signed up with the British charity Veganuary, agreeing to try a vegan diet free of all animal products. While some try vegan for one or two meals per day, others have gone full scale. Some are doing it for environmental reasons while others are concerned about animal welfare and, of course, their health.

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Flexibility Means Retention

employer-planResearch reported by the Execu Search Group shows that flexibility may very well be the key to keeping millennials engaged. Allowing more vacation time, better training and a more flexible work schedule, including the ability to work at home when needed, are keys that will make young people happier and more productive. The SHRM says that more companies are offering these benefits in order to retain young workers in today’s competitive labor market.

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