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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Association Plans Taking Shape

In January, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) posted draft regulations that could allow trade groups to offer nationwide association health plans (AHP) for member employers. The regulations are in response to President Trump’s executive order intended to facilitate access to short-term health insurance plans and the use of HRAs by employers.

The regulations will allow a general business group to offer an AHP to all members, regardless of industry, as long as the employers are located in the group’s metropolitan area. In contrast to existing association-sponsored plans, business groups that want to sponsor an AHP can organize for the specific purpose of obtaining healthcare coverage and nothing more. The regulations would enable some general purpose AHPs, such as one offered by a chamber of commerce or other business group that has members in a bordering state, to offer coverage across state lines.

As of our publication date, comments are still being received by EBSA and officials are still working on more regulations. While the initial proposal would not alter existing statutory provisions governing multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs), recent updates tell us that future proposals could involve DOL authority to exempt self-insured MEWA plans from state regulation.

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Value-Based Care Marches On

healthMajor insurers are reporting that value-based care initiatives are yielding good results for payers, providers and patients. Employer groups and individuals covered under insured plans, Medicare and Medicaid, are receiving more consistent, quality care that is easier to navigate. This is music to the ears of Alex Azar, HHS secretary, who has been a strong supporter of value-based care.

While the concept of value-based care dates back to the Obama administration, Azar believes it can accomplish more. In a recent speech to the Federation of American Hospitals, he advocated for enabling consumers to gain more control over their health information, increasing transparency from providers and payers and easing government burdens in both Medicare and Medicaid.

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Women More Vulnerable to Stress

woman holding headA study of nearly 700 individuals with coronary artery disease has revealed that hearts in men and women react differently to a temporary reduction in blood flow to heart muscles, a common symptom caused by stress. While some men may experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, making their heart work harder, about 1 in 5 women experienced constriction in their smaller blood vessels, which can cause more serious heart complications. American Heart Association representatives recommend physical exercise as a way to manage mental stress. Exercise will make blood vessels dilate, counteracting the constriction seen by some of the women who participated in the study. Regular exercise, like a daily walk or run, can go a long way in helping us cope with mental stress.

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The Changing Definition of Wellness

wellness-programAfter decades of preaching to workers about the importance of staying fit and physically healthy, the term worksite wellness is beginning to mean much more to employers and employees alike. Leading companies are expanding their workplace wellness initiatives to address mental health and financial security – key components of their employee’s overall well-being that go way beyond physical health.

The National Business Group on Health shows that a majority of employers are addressing emotional and mental health as well as financial security as part of their overall well-being strategy. Other initiatives, such as support for community involvement and social interaction, are pointing to a growing trend of focusing on the entire person and not just physical health or fitness. Research is showing that addressing physical health is only one way to improve the workplace experience and reduce employee turnover.

More Choice Means Greater Satisfaction

While traditional wellness programs have been more “one size fits all” and lacking in personal appeal, some employers are encouraging employees to do the things they like to do by giving employees a flat dollar amount to spend on a gym or pool membership, personal trainer or other self-defined activity they find rewarding. Volunteering to help with community causes or enrolling in educational classes are not out of the realm of possibilities, since these activities can do a lot to help an employee gain a healthier perspective on work and life.

When choices are made by individuals and not for them, better decisions often result. As people share their experiences with others, the impact on a company’s culture can be extremely positive. Better well-being becomes an important priority for everyone and not just those who like spending time on treadmills or yoga mats. From the employer’s perspective, objectives can expand beyond healthcare cost savings and increased productivity. As an example, offering health coaching is a great way to focus on the needs of individuals rather than the group as a whole. It can help companies address emotional and mental needs as well as physical needs.

If worksite wellness is a priority for your organization, this might be a good time to review the goals of your program and then to make sure the activities you are offering are in line with those objectives. There is a lot more to be gained from worksite wellness than lower medical claim costs and redefining wellness may be just what your organization needs.

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It’s Never Too Early for Sunscreen

sunscreenThe American Cancer Society reminds us that more skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. Most are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, most of which come from exposure to the sun. One thing to remember is that you don’t have to be spending a day at the pool to be at serious risk. Simply staying in the shade will make a huge difference. If you do want to catch some rays, slip on a shirt, wear a hat and apply sunscreen with a SPF value of 30 or more. UV blocking sunglasses will help protect the delicate skin around your eyes and help you avoid certain eye diseases as well.

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