Know Your Numbers

numbersHave you tried to monitor your health by counting carbs, calories or protein? While health can feel like a game of numbers, it can help to know measurements that matter most. Here are a few numbers that may help:

50%. That’s the proportion of your plate that should contain vegetables. The rest of your plate should include 25% whole grain, such as brown rice and 25% of protein rich food, such as fish, beans or chicken. Using a plate model can be much easier than counting calories.

25-35 grams. Aim to take in 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Most Americans only take in 16 and low fiber can cause issues with high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, increased risk of certain cancers and digestion problems.

7-8 hours. Sleep is necessary for a healthy lifestyle, so try to get 7 to 8 hours. A lack of sleep can increase risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, and lead to complications such as loss of focus, impaired memory retention and irritability.

150 minutes. Aim for 150 minutes of activity per week, spread throughout each day, with a minimum of 10 minutes per session. Activities you enjoy are the ones you’re more likely to do regularly.

120/80. Blood pressure is called the “silent killer,” as it can often be present without any symptoms. Unchecked or untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Monitoring is key, as well as frequent exercise and a healthy diet.

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Traditional Plans Decrease

stethescope for healthcareSince 2007, adults ages 18 to 64 with employment-based coverage have increasingly chosen High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP), both with and without Health Savings Accounts  (HSA), over traditional plans.

In 2017, the number enrolled in HDHPs without an HSA rose to 24.5%, while HDHPs with HSAs rose to 8.9%. Some employers are choosing to only offer HDHPs, helping shift employees away from traditional plans.

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Employers Investing More in Benefits

stethescope for healthcareHealth and wellness are integral to employee performance, which helps explain why employers are investing more in their employee benefit offerings.

In June of 2018, the average cost of benefits rose by 2.9%, while wage costs rose by 2.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the rise is paid leave, which has seen a 4% cost per employee increase since 2017. This includes paid parental leave, which allows time off for a birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child.

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More Patients Texting

Healthcare professionals that aren’t utilizing text communications are failing to meet their patients where they are. A 2018 survey found 11% of patients would rather communicate via text message, a number that is expected to grow as the Millennial population begins to outnumber Boomers. Text alerts and communications can be used for a variety of services, including preventative care such as periodic appointments and flu shots, post-treatment care information, remote health monitoring and chronic disease management.

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Four Ways to Avoid Diabetes

diabetesThe time to think about diabetes is not when it’s diagnosed. It’s important to take steps to prevent diabetes and prediabetes before they ever develop. While more than 100 million American adults live with diabetes or prediabetes, there are easy, proven ways to prevent it. Here are just a few:

Eating better: the breakdown. Though we often hear that we should “eat better” it’s not always clear what that means. Whole, fiber-rich foods are what you should be consuming. Fill your plate with vibrant foods, having natural color and fiber, such as quinoa, brown-rice, blueberries and garbanzo beans. These foods are slow-burning, providing longer term energy and maintaining sugar levels more steadily. When eating a meal containing slow and fast burning foods, eating slower-burning foods first will slow the absorption rate of faster-burning foods.

Water is your best friend. While the call of sugary drinks such as juice, packaged iced tea and soft drinks can be hard to resist, water is always the best choice. Even diet or low calorie drinks can increase the risk of diabetes, potentially causing changes in gut bacteria that affect metabolism. Water eliminates stripped carbs and provides the hydration your body needs.

Keep moving. Exercising regularly, doing both cardio and resistance activities, not only lowers your blood sugar but makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. That’s really a two-for-one diabetes prevention action! Choosing activities that you and your family enjoy makes exercise fun.

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Fighting Depression in the Workplace

While awareness of mental health concerns in the workplace is increasing, studies repeatedly show that not enough employees feel comfortable utilizing mental health benefits. Furthermore, many employees are often unaware mental health benefits are even available. With more than 40 million Americans living with depression, it’s more important than ever to make sure the workplace is taking positive steps to address it. Here are positive steps your company can take:

Take a holistic approach. Addressing the many areas of wellness, including physical, financial and mental, equally can help employees feel safe enough to seek treatment through employer provided healthcare plans. Stigma is still a major barrier to access, but employers can encourage accessing treatment by putting the necessary emphasis on mental health and wellness. Providing an open space for conversation, information and support can increase overall employee mental wellness. And of course, extending benefits to all family members can prove extremely valuable.

Keep employees informed. Though your company may have excellent programs and benefits to address mental illness and depression, it’s possible that your employees are unaware of how to access them. When bringing the discussion of mental wellness into the public space it’s important that the tools and avenues to accessing help are made very clear.

Promote flexibility. Certain industries deal with more critical situations, such as safety concerns, fatigue or a high risk of injury. While there is no “off the shelf” solution to mental wellness, employers can play a major role in bringing mental health out in the open. And today more than ever, a company is only as healthy as its employees.

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Connecting Cancer Patients

stethescope for healthcareModern Healthcare and other news publications have recently written about a free mobile patient app, Belong, that is providing a platform for cancer patients to connect and explore ways of improving quality of life. The American Cancer Society and Colorectal Cancer Canada are using the app to connect with patients, which was launched in 2015 by two company executives who had lost relatives to cancer. “Belongers” can share information, connect with clinicians and detail their treatment progress. The app’s biggest success has been the “Belongers” ability to share meaningful emotional support.

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How clients can help curb healthcare costs during open enrollment

This article was published on August 29, 2018 on Employee Benefit Adviser, written by Rebecca Madsen.

Technology continues to reshape how employers select and offer healthcare benefits to employees, putting access to information at our fingertips and creating a more seamless and interactive healthcare experience. At the same time, these advances may help employees become savvier users of healthcare, helping simplify and personalize their journey toward health and, in the process, help curb costs for employers.

The revolution can be important to remember during open enrollment, which occurs during the fall, when millions of Americans select or switch their health benefits for 2019. With that in mind, here are five tips employers should be aware of during open enrollment and year-round.

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Make sense of big data. Big data is a buzz word, but the applications are only meaningful if employers can make sense of that information. To help with that, employers are gaining access to online resources to help enable them to more easily analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical and prescription claims, demographics, and clinical and well-being information. This can provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored clinical management and employee engagement programs, which may help improve health outcomes, mitigate expenses and help employees take charge of their health.

Help people understand their options. More than three-quarters (77%) of employees say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health insurance terms, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. In fact, only 6% of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. To support employees during open enrollment, employers can adopt online platforms designed to personalize and simplify the experience to help people select a health plan based on their personal health and financial preferences, while encouraging them to select a primary care physician and enroll in programs such as smoking cessation or weight loss.

Encourage your people to move more. An estimated 35% of employers now integrate wearable devices into their well-being programs, helping employees more accurately understand their daily activity levels. As these programs become more common, there may be opportunities for cost savings for companies and their workforce. For instance, some wearable device wellness programs may enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals, while employers can achieve premium renewal discounts based on the aggregate walking results of their employees.

Offer incentives to employees who comparison shop for care. More than one-third (36%) of Americans say they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for healthcare, up from 14% in 2012, according to the UnitedHealthcare survey. To encourage employees to participate in this trend, some employers are offering financial incentives — such as $25 or $50 gift cards — to employees for using healthcare transparency resources. Healthcare quality and cost varies widely within a city or neighborhood, so encouraging the use of online and mobile transparency resources may yield savings for employers and employees.

Integrate medical and ancillary benefits. Open enrollment is also the time for people to select important ancillary benefits, such as vision and dental coverage. While some people may overlook these plans, offering this coverage as part of an employee’s menu of benefits options may maximize the effectiveness of a company’s healthcare dollars, provide families with added peace of mind and help build a culture of health. Combining medical and ancillary benefits under a single health plan may enable for the integrated analysis of a wide range of data that can facilitate proactive outreach and clinical support for employees, including for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, or to help prevent the development of such conditions.

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More Time Off

employer-planFor the first time in years, Americans took more time off from work in 2017. A survey of 4,400 workers conducted by the travel industry showed that on average, 17.2 days of vacation were used last year. This was more than a full day greater than in 2014. While more vacation time was enjoyed, work pressures still kept more than half of those surveyed from using all their earned vacation days in 2017.

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Student Loan Benefits Catch On

student-loanConsulting firm Willis Towers Watson expects more than a third of employers to offer student loan consolidation programs by 2021. This represents huge growth, since the Society of Human Resource Management says only 4% of employers offer student loan repayment benefits now. Willis also expects 35% of employers to offer student loan refinancing arrangements by 2021. Many employers offering this benefit are doing so by distributing a lump sum benefit over 5 to 8 years. It’s no surprise that this approach seems to be boosting employee retention rates – since millennials and Gen Z employees are strapped with about $30,000 of student loan debt and in many cases, lower wages than their parents were making at their age.

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