Maybe You Should Eat Earlier

eat-earlierThe old saying “timing is everything” may even apply to when you eat your meals, according to Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. Skipping breakfast or having an occasional late dinner is fine, but sticking to an earlier eating schedule may contribute to healthier living by helping you maintain a healthy weight. Findings were based on a small study implemented over an 8-week period in which adults had three meals and two snacks between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., followed by a two week break and eight weeks of a later schedule, which included three meals and two snacks eaten between noon and 11 p.m.

The later eating schedule resulted in weight gain and a negative impact on insulin levels, cholesterol and fat metabolism. The study also showed that when people ate earlier, they stayed satisfied longer, which helped them prevent overeating. Given our hectic schedules, eating later occasionally is hard to avoid. But it will help if you can make an effort to get back to an earlier schedule.

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Questions for Your Doctor

doctor-patientAccording to a Medscape survey of more than 19,000 physicians, the average patient spends between 13 and 16 minutes with their physician during an office visit. Given the short amount of time, it is probably best to focus on two or three things you want your doctor to address. It may also help to prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Here are a few you may want to consider.

  1. Which health websites do you trust?
  2. What is this medication I’m taking and why am I taking it?
  3. If you’re a smoker, how can I get help to stop?
  4. Are my screenings and vaccinations up to date?
  5. What is a healthy weight for me and how can I get to that?
  6. What do you do to stay in shape?
  7. If you’re taking a prescribed opioid painkiller, ask if it’s really necessary and what else you might take?
  8. What are some things I can do before my next appointment to make me healthier?
  9. If a test is ordered, ask what it is for and what are you trying to learn from it.
  10. When a specific treatment is recommended, don’t hesitate to ask about other alternatives.

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Food Allergies Spread

walnutsAn analysis by FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit that reviews health and dental claims filed by individuals, shows that severe allergic reactions to foods like peanuts have increased five-fold in the past 10 years. Studies now show that as many as 8% of children have a food allergy, with nearly 40% reflecting a history of severe reactions. More than a fourth of all claims were linked to peanuts, while tree nuts such as walnuts, pistachios and seeds accounted for 18%. One interesting fact is that a third of all claims were in people over the age of 18.

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Paid Sick Leave in Minnesota

Sick LeaveAs a result of identical ordinances passed by both City Councils, workers in the Twin Cities became entitled to paid sick time leave on July 1st of this year. While the state legislature tried to protect employers, businesses are now required to offer employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The Minneapolis ordinance allows companies with five or fewer workers to offer unpaid time, but St. Paul does not offer this exemption. Overall, employees can accrue up to 48 hours per year and roll that over to the next year.

Time off can be used for illness or medical care of the employee or family, a closure of daycare facilities or schools and for counseling, legal support or related services due to an incident of domestic or sexual violence.

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Patient Satisfaction Goes Public

healthWhile the University of Utah Health Care System began publishing data from patient satisfaction surveys 5 years ago, dozens of hospitals and health systems are following suit. One Midwest-based system is listing Yelp-like reviews and a star rating next to each qualifying physician’s name. Research shows that 45% of consumers have looked at online provider reviews, with nearly two-thirds saying their selection or avoidance of a certain provider was based on a review.

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Healthcare Tech Sector Hot

ebso-mobile-marketing-blogMention healthcare startup and you probably think of Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, there’s plenty of healthcare technology happening in the Midwest, with Minnesota leading the way. According to Twin Cities magazine, 98 health technology startups raised more than $420 million in capital in 2016 alone, bringing the total to $2.75 billion since 2009. From mobile app developers to medical device manufacturers, more than 430,000 Minnesotans are employed by healthcare-related companies.

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Doctors Go Retail

healthIf you live near a large shopping mall, chances are you’ve noticed vacant stores, thanks to the rapid growth of online shopping. Many retail vacancies are being filled by doctors, dentists, physical therapists and other healthcare professionals looking for ways to become more accessible to their communities. To generate more foot traffic, one dental network will open clinics in 36 retail centers this year.

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Rapid Growth for HSAs

hsa-piggy-bankHealth savings accounts are hot, with nearly two-thirds of respondents to a Plan Sponsor Council of America survey saying they believe that even those without a high deductible health plan should qualify. A benefit often cited by employers and employees alike is that HSAs can be a valuable part of one’s retirement strategy, since healthcare expenses are viewed as one of the largest people face in retirement.

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There’s an App for That

phone-appThe majority of employers now educate employees about health and wellness through apps and portals – a practice expected to increase significantly in the year ahead. As a result, more and more health-related smartphone apps and wearables are coming on the scene.

The movement should come as no surprise, since poor diet is a major problem in the U.S. and technology is doing more to help employees make behavioral changes. It makes sense that employers become part of the solution. As health plan sponsors, they want to do everything possible to help employees improve their overall health and keep healthcare costs in check.

One app designed to improve employee nutrition is called Zipongo, created in 2011 by a physician named Jason Langheier. The app presents the healthiest options via a mobile device, whether the user is grocery shopping or eating out. It offers healthy recipes and highly personalized solutions based on the user’s biometric data, while considering existing food allergies and personal preferences. Zipongo’s solutions are currently in use at more than 150 companies, including Google and IBM.

Now is the time for employers to intervene for better health among employees. With a wide-ranging number of health-related apps to choose from, employers should investigate their options thoroughly and be sure that the ones they select work as advertised and are a good match for their organization and their employees.

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Responding to Growing Demand for Transparency

Experts agree that a lack of true price transparency has contributed significantly to the inefficiency in healthcare. Several websites compare the costs for certain procedures at varying hospitals, but it’s still very difficult, if not impossible, to make an informed choice when preparing for a non-emergency procedure. As a result, most people still go to doctors participating in a covered network and follow physician referrals when a specialist is required. In most cases, these choices are made without any knowledge of the cost.

Powerful Mobile Technology

Today, leading TPAs are providing self-funded health plan members with a variety of very powerful mobile transparency tools. One new mobile app enables members to identify fair pricing for more than 200 common procedures, including surgeries, imaging and diagnostic testing. By linking a rewards program, the app awards financial incentives when high quality, competitively priced providers are selected over those with lesser ratings.

Another software maker that describes a third of healthcare procedures as “shoppable”, has introduced a mobile app that enables plan members to search for physicians by procedure, location and price. This tool even goes beyond facts and figures to provide detailed descriptions of the procedure being searched. When members need further assistance, care navigators are available to provide online support via a live chat option.

Expert Administration Still Matters

While a totally open pricing system may never be possible in a business as complex as healthcare, TPAs are making self-funded health plans more transparent all the time. Strategies such as Reference Based Pricing and Concierge Health Advocacy are having a tremendous impact on cost and employee engagement. And while insurance carriers typically withhold claims data from fully insured groups, TPAs are experts at helping their clients put valuable claims data to work to identify cost drivers and manage chronic conditions in ways that help the plan avoid catastrophic claims in the future.

As the transition from volume to value-based healthcare continues, more responsibility will land in the hands of plan members. Smart employers know that a well-designed health plan can foster positive change and lower costs only if members understand their benefits. As long as self-funded plans, highly personal service and creative ideas are allowed to flourish, the number of engaged consumers capable of making economically wise healthcare decisions will continue to grow.

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