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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Alexa Has Health Answers

alexaIn the race to bring health-related information to your digital world, Amazon is certainly not falling behind. Beginning in early March, Amazon enabled “Alexa” users to obtain answers to medical questions. According to a press release, with help from WebMD, Alexa devices will respond to medical questions with physician-reviewed, medically appropriate answers in plain, understandable language. Answers to questions such as how to treat a sore throat or the side effects of certain substances can also be sent in text form to those using the Alexa app.

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Lots of Love for LaCroix

If you’ve joined the “end sugary drinks” club, you may be enjoying LaCroix or one of several other unsweetened, carbonated waters. What makes them taste so refreshing? According to scientists and registered dieticians, studies show that while drinking any cold water will avoid the 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar found in a can of soda, the carbonation found in a cold LaCroix, Perrier or other unsweetened, carbonated water does enhance water’s ability to quench a thirst.

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Revised Limits for HSA & FSA Contributions

FSA-HSA-contributionsThe IRS and Department of Health and Human Services recently released new limits for contributions to HSAs and Health FSAs for 2017. Contributions by individuals to HSAs cannot exceed $3,400 in 2017, with the maximum family contribution remaining at $6,750, the same as 2016. Once again, a $1,000 catch-up contribution also applies.

Health FSA limits for 2017 have been increased by $50 from $2,550 per employee to $2,600. Health FSA transportation fringe benefits for parking, transit passes or vanpooling are remaining the same this year, with a limit of $255 for each.

The IRS began indexing affordability safe harbors to inflation last year. This year, minimum annual deductibles for High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) remain unchanged at $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families, with required out-of-pocket maximums remaining at a minimum of $6,550 for individuals and $13,100 for families.

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Worksite Wellness: What Employees Want

Even though a growing number of employees are active in employer-sponsored wellness programs, the majority are not. While concerns about privacy are often expressed by non-participants, recent research by HealthFitness revealed more points to consider if your organization is considering wellness.

Personal Attention was mentioned by nearly 75% of those surveyed, meaning that support from a coach or trainer would help them take charge of their health. Convenience, meaning that anything an organization can do to remove the barriers of cost or travel will boost participation. Encouragement can make more hesitant employees want to try. It was noted that the greatest source of motivation often comes from “regular people” and not those who look like marathon runners. Support must also be part of the company culture. Actions speak louder than words and participation is needed at all levels of the organization, including management.

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No Shortage of Germs at Home

hand-washingObjects in your home may not be as clean as they appear. In fact, germs that cause disease are found all over household items. Here are the items found to have the highest germ counts (from least to most dirty):

10. Cutting boards
9. Stove knobs
8. Kitchen counters
7. Pet toys
6. Bathroom faucet handles
5. Coffee makers
4. Pet bowls
3. Toothbrush holders
2. Kitchen sinks
1. Dish sponges and dishcloths

The kitchen is the biggest area of concern because of dirty crevices and the fact that many foods can hold highly contagious germs. But, bathrooms should still be paid attention to. Using over-the-counter cleaning products that contain bleach can be most effective and should be used multiple times per week.

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Talk to Your Doctor and Save

doctor-saveThe U.S. healthcare system is changing as many consumers are trying to be proactive, make financially smart and healthy choices and find more ways to get a better handle on costs. Taking charge of your health and saving money on medical expenses can truly begin with knowing how to talk to your doctors and medical providers. Here are tips to maximize communication:

  • Write down the top problems you are experiencing to help your doctor focus on what to treat first.
  • Bring a list of all current prescription medications as well as over-the-counter medications, vitamins or supplements and include dosage and how often you take them.
  • Keep a handy record of recent test results, lab reports, surgeries and other relevant health information.

Costs should also be a part of every conversation and patients should be not be afraid to bring up the subject. While doctors are typically not afraid to discuss costs, they simply may not know exact costs or projected out-of-pocket expenses.

Another area of concern is the rising cost of prescription medications. If your doctor does not bring up a generic alternative, then you should. Here are ways to save on prescriptions:

  • Skip chain drugstores and consider shopping at a warehouse store for lower prices.
  • Go local to your neighborhood pharmacist and ask them to beat a competitor’s price.
  • Know that some chain and big-box stores offer common generics at low prices for people who pay out-of-pocket and not with their insurance.
  • Ask your pharmacist if any discounts, programs, cards or coupons could make your price lower.
  • For long-term drugs, consider buying a three-month supply so you pay one co-pay rather than three.

Remember that walk-in clinics are suitable for common procedures like flu shots, sports physicals and minor injuries and they are always more cost efficient than emergency rooms. Staying healthy is still the optimal way to save money on healthcare, so take time for your own health. Know your blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol and family medical history and always make efforts to control weight.

Millennials Welcome a Personal Touch

millenialsAfter numerous articles advocating technology and social media as the only sources of information valued by young workers, a recent study by MetLife has shown that nearly two-thirds of millennials favored a one-on-one discussion with a benefits specialist when trying to understand their employee benefits.

Believe it or not, millennials even lead other generations in consulting with family and friends on benefit-related issues, showing that they value the personal experience when it comes to complex matters. Because they have become accustomed to the way technology streamlines information, they are looking for the facts without a lot of fluff. Nonetheless, one-on-one consultations and phone conversations are proving to be effective in giving young people the personalized information they need to understand their healthcare benefits and make informed decisions.

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More Move to Self-Funding

The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that nearly 20% of mid-sized employers made the jump to self-insurance from 2013 to 2015. A major attraction is the availability of data and analytics, enabling the employer to learn how healthcare dollars are being spent. A growing number of employers are using this data to incentivize employees who lower claim costs by choosing more efficient hospitals or free standing imaging centers when tests such as an MRI are needed.

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