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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There’s More to Know About AHPs

stethescope for healthcareMany employers will find it interesting that AHPs will continue to be categorized as MEWAs – Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements. This consideration will make association health plans subject to some state regulations that severely restrict the formation of self-funded MEWAs.

Having to comply with the rules of each state will make AHPs more difficult to organize. While associations can create a plan that extends across state lines, they will have to follow the rules of the state they are in that has the most restrictive laws. As an example, an AHP based in New Jersey that extends into New York would still have to follow the more restrictive laws of New York.

Even though the regulations are more restrictive than many would like, AHPs should enable many small employers to offer their employees better health benefits at more affordable rates.

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Getting Creative About Behavioral Health

behavioralhealthWith behavioral health conditions impacting one in five Americans, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more employers search for ways to provide members with better access to behavioral healthcare benefits.

Statistics show that many employees, including some that are insured, fail to get the mental healthcare they need. Because self-funded health plans provide plan design flexibility, some plans are taking bold steps to address this growing need. While many are using telemedicine to improve access and lower costs, some employers are treating out-of-network behavioral health treatment as in-network, enabling employees to pay the same amount for treatment regardless of which provider they use. Others are covering out-of-network behavioral healthcare services even when their plan doesn’t cover out-of-network services for other types of care.

When you consider that mental illness has become the greatest cause of disability claims in the U.S., it is not surprising that employers are looking for ways to help employees obtain the care they need.

Significant Action is Warranted

There is plenty of research to show that Americans are not getting the mental healthcare they need. According to Mental Health America, despite having health insurance, 56.5% of adults with mental illness received no treatment in the past year.

Another problem is that behavioral health treatments are rarely classified as primary care, and are regarded instead as specialty treatment. This makes people find an in-network provider, go out-of-network, pay higher out-of-pocket costs or avoid treatment altogether. Claims data from Collective Health shows that more than 40% of the 2017 behavioral health spend was out-of-network, which is many times the amount spent on primary or preventative care.

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Safe Disposal of Unused Medications

pills with bottleIf you’ve stopped taking a prescription, you’ve probably forgotten about it. This can cause a problem when unused or outdated medications just sit around. Disposing of medications can be safe and convenient, especially since guidelines were established by the Controlled Substance Act of 2014. While regulations can vary from state to state, here are five safe ways you can dispose of your leftover medications.

Medication Take Back Programs. These take back programs have been run by the Drug Enforcement Administration for 15 years and have been effective. Local events are often held on a quarterly basis, while the DEA hosts an annual National Drug Take Back Day.

Police & Pharmacy Drop Offs. Pharmacies throughout the country have been adding medication disposal boxes to their stores. If you can’t make it to a pharmacy during store hours, police stations are a 24/7 option. Before you drop off the medication, use a permanent marker to cover your personal details, but leave the medication information visible in case the contents need to be identified.

Submit Them for Incineration. If your pharmacy does not have a drop-off box, ask if they can help you send your medications off to be incinerated. The pharmacy will provide you with an envelope, which you can safely ship to the destruction site.

Destroying Your Medications. If you choose to throw away your medication with your regular trash, there are ways to prevent harmful medications from getting into the wrong hands. Pour liquid into the bottle to destroy the meds or make them impossible to take by pouring kitty litter or coffee grounds into the bottle. While not the case for every medication, flushing the medication down the toilet is the safer option. The eco-toxicological impact is negligible, and the risk of misuse is too high to just keep them around.

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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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