HRAs Could Get a Big Boost

stethescope for healthcareAnother recent proposal of the Trump Administration would allow employers to fund tax-exempted Health Reimbursement Arrangements to help pay for an employee’s individual health insurance premiums. In addition, the proposal would also allow employers that offer group health coverage to fund an HRA of up to $1,800 to reimburse employees for “qualified” medical expenses. Easing restrictions in this manner is seen by many as a big boost for small businesses that are unable to provide employer-sponsored healthcare. Comments are being accepted through December 28, 2018 and if approved, the new rules would apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

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Drug Firms Resist Price Disclosure

prescriptionWhile the Department of Health and Human Services has asked drug manufacturers to disclose list prices for most drugs they feature in television commercials, the industry’s largest trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has countered with an offer to include content directing consumers to a new website where pricing information could be found.

The Administration’s request requires that list prices be featured in text on the screen in television ads for drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid costing more than $35 per month. A great deal of debate has developed, with PhRMA arguing that featuring list prices would confuse consumers by making them think they have to pay more than they actually would. HHS is still accepting comments on the proposal.

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Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

opioidEven though overdose deaths linked to prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999, many people do not really understand what opioids are. To clarify, opioids are a class of drugs including heroin and prescription narcotics such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine and other chemically related drugs.

These drugs, often prescribed because of a medical condition, cause a stimulus in the brain that helps individuals cope with anxiety, depression and other life-altering events. While they are usually fine when taken as prescribed for a short time, they are too often misused or taken without a prescription because they produce euphoria in addition to relieving pain. Prolonged use can lead to dependence and misuse can lead to overdose and death.

Signs of Addiction to Look For
Patients can range in age from pre-teen to elderly and from all walks of life. While each case is different, some common signs of potential misuse or abuse among young people include: a loss of interest in usual activities, changes in appearance, a lack of concern for grooming and hygiene and changes in eating and sleeping habits. Withdrawal symptoms that can occur after stopping or reducing use include negative mood, nausea or vomiting, muscle ache, diarrhea, fever and insomnia.

Many hospitals, municipalities and public entities offer awareness forums or support groups for those dealing with substance abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Discovery Education have published an online Parent Toolkit, available at operationprevention.com.

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Getting Creative Can Attract Talent

men shaking handsWith unemployment for college-educated people age 25 and above at just 2.2%, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a jobs market this tight. To attract and retain workers in this environment, growing companies are offering more than just competitive health benefits, and this is especially true for smaller companies forced to compete with larger companies.

Executive search firms have shared examples of employers going above and beyond their health plan by offering additional compensation to cover a candidate’s projected out-of-pocket medical expenses going forward. Technology-related firms in competitive markets are adding wellness benefits like on-site clinics or pre-arranged access to nearby fitness centers. For early to mid-career employees, companies are expanding their family leave or flex-time policies to provide easier transitions for young parents returning to work.

Flexibility and More

Whether it be more paid time off or arranging your work day to meet outside demands on your time, flexibility is becoming increasingly important, especially when you’re dealing with millennials or X-ers. Equally important to young workers is the culture present at an organization and the opportunity to make a difference – to know that what they are doing is helping their community or the world at large.

From unique apprenticeship programs at manufacturing and industrial companies to help with retiring outstanding student debt, more employers are looking for creative ways to gain an edge that will appeal to qualified, prospective employees. In a really tight job market, it pays to be creative.

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How Can Your Health Plan Be More Personal?

health-planInvestment bank Morgan Stanley recently hired a Chief Medical Officer. General Motors made the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System the only in-network option for 24,000 salaried employees in southeast Michigan. And, Apple joined many other large employers in using on-site clinics to provide more personalized care. These tactics are being used to address a combination of risk factors contributing to costly chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Filling Voids in Wellness Programs
We all know how hard it is to change lifestyle habits. While traditional wellness programs can offer great tools and improved access, more and more employers are realizing that to boost engagement and keep it from fading over time, you must tailor a program to the needs of each individual.

This level of involvement, sometimes referred to as condition management, includes more personal involvement and communication. Providing guidance and support on nutrition, exercise, stress management and other concerns can help at-risk employees overcome the challenges that have kept them from enjoying their best life.

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Benefits Before Pay

benefitsThe American Institute of CPAs reports that its poll of 1,100 working adults revealed that by a 4 to 1 margin, workers would choose a job with benefits over an identical job that offered 30% more salary without benefits. Employed adults estimate that benefits represent about 40% of their total compensation. When asked which benefits are most valuable over the long run, 56% said a 401(k) match or health insurance while just over 30% said a pension.

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Restricting Provider Choice

medical-moneyWalmart is requiring employees to use certain hospitals for costly procedures, such as spine surgeries. Requirements like this are typically accompanied by an assurance that the plan will cover the full cost of the procedure, including travel, when applicable. In an effort to make sure plan members receive high quality, cost-efficient care and weed out unnecessary costly procedures, Ford struck a single-hospital deal earlier in 2018 and the State of North Carolina recently announced its intention to take similar cost-cutting measures for its 727,000 members.

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Tracking Sleep

stethescope for healthcareIn order to address a sleep shortage that is hurting productivity for U.S. businesses, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has introduced an online wellness program to help employees track the quantity and quality of their sleep. Employees log their time online or upload data from a fitness tracker such as a Fitbit. With the CDC linking sleep to chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression, researchers hope to help employees set a goal and improve the quality of their sleep.

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Apple Watch & Joint Replacement

ebso-mobileTechnology giant Apple reported recently that thousands of hip and knee replacement patients are using Apple Watches and a new health app, MyMobility from Zimmer Biomet, to share health data with their surgeons during treatment and recovery. The app is being used to provide physicians with data about the patient’s heart rate, number of steps taken and time spent standing continuously, rather than having to rely on traditional in-person visits.

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How Should Your Plan Address Medical Marijuana?

medical-marjuanaThere is a lot of misinformation surrounding medical cannabis, which can make it difficult to establish a plan document that accurately outlines its use. One particular obstacle is the lack of verified and sourced research regarding the medicinal use of cannabis, creating confusion around what the drug can and should be used for.

To address this confusion, benefit plans should limit coverage to areas where existing evidence supports the use. Create a benefit description that reflects approved applications determined by your state, while also limiting the care option to those members whose previous treatment options have failed. Experts agree that plan documents should clearly indicate that medical cannabis will not be authorized as a first line therapy.

Other parameters can be set, such as financial limitations within a certain time period, eligible products and dosages and even eligible suppliers. When addressing cost considerations, it’s important to know that medical cannabis should not be viewed as an alternative to prescription painkillers and opioids, but rather an add-on which does not eliminate those other costs.

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