In the race to bring health-related information to your digital world, Amazon is certainly not falling behind. Beginning in early March, Amazon enabled “Alexa” users to obtain answers to medical questions. According to a press release, with help from WebMD, Alexa devices will respond to medical questions with physician-reviewed, medically appropriate answers in plain, understandable language. Answers to questions such as how to treat a sore throat or the side effects of certain substances can also be sent in text form to those using the Alexa app.
If you’ve joined the “end sugary drinks” club, you may be enjoying LaCroix or one of several other unsweetened, carbonated waters. What makes them taste so refreshing? According to scientists and registered dieticians, studies show that while drinking any cold water will avoid the 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar found in a can of soda, the carbonation found in a cold LaCroix, Perrier or other unsweetened, carbonated water does enhance water’s ability to quench a thirst.
The IRS and Department of Health and Human Services recently released new limits for contributions to HSAs and Health FSAs for 2017. Contributions by individuals to HSAs cannot exceed $3,400 in 2017, with the maximum family contribution remaining at $6,750, the same as 2016. Once again, a $1,000 catch-up contribution also applies.
Health FSA limits for 2017 have been increased by $50 from $2,550 per employee to $2,600. Health FSA transportation fringe benefits for parking, transit passes or vanpooling are remaining the same this year, with a limit of $255 for each.
The IRS began indexing affordability safe harbors to inflation last year. This year, minimum annual deductibles for High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) remain unchanged at $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families, with required out-of-pocket maximums remaining at a minimum of $6,550 for individuals and $13,100 for families.
Even though a growing number of employees are active in employer-sponsored wellness programs, the majority are not. While concerns about privacy are often expressed by non-participants, recent research by HealthFitness revealed more points to consider if your organization is considering wellness.
Personal Attention was mentioned by nearly 75% of those surveyed, meaning that support from a coach or trainer would help them take charge of their health. Convenience, meaning that anything an organization can do to remove the barriers of cost or travel will boost participation. Encouragement can make more hesitant employees want to try. It was noted that the greatest source of motivation often comes from “regular people” and not those who look like marathon runners. Support must also be part of the company culture. Actions speak louder than words and participation is needed at all levels of the organization, including management.
Objects in your home may not be as clean as they appear. In fact, germs that cause disease are found all over household items. Here are the items found to have the highest germ counts (from least to most dirty):
10. Cutting boards
9. Stove knobs
8. Kitchen counters
7. Pet toys
6. Bathroom faucet handles
5. Coffee makers
4. Pet bowls
3. Toothbrush holders
2. Kitchen sinks
1. Dish sponges and dishcloths
The kitchen is the biggest area of concern because of dirty crevices and the fact that many foods can hold highly contagious germs. But, bathrooms should still be paid attention to. Using over-the-counter cleaning products that contain bleach can be most effective and should be used multiple times per week.
The U.S. healthcare system is changing as many consumers are trying to be proactive, make financially smart and healthy choices and find more ways to get a better handle on costs. Taking charge of your health and saving money on medical expenses can truly begin with knowing how to talk to your doctors and medical providers. Here are tips to maximize communication:
- Write down the top problems you are experiencing to help your doctor focus on what to treat first.
- Bring a list of all current prescription medications as well as over-the-counter medications, vitamins or supplements and include dosage and how often you take them.
- Keep a handy record of recent test results, lab reports, surgeries and other relevant health information.
Costs should also be a part of every conversation and patients should be not be afraid to bring up the subject. While doctors are typically not afraid to discuss costs, they simply may not know exact costs or projected out-of-pocket expenses.
Another area of concern is the rising cost of prescription medications. If your doctor does not bring up a generic alternative, then you should. Here are ways to save on prescriptions:
- Skip chain drugstores and consider shopping at a warehouse store for lower prices.
- Go local to your neighborhood pharmacist and ask them to beat a competitor’s price.
- Know that some chain and big-box stores offer common generics at low prices for people who pay out-of-pocket and not with their insurance.
- Ask your pharmacist if any discounts, programs, cards or coupons could make your price lower.
- For long-term drugs, consider buying a three-month supply so you pay one co-pay rather than three.
Remember that walk-in clinics are suitable for common procedures like flu shots, sports physicals and minor injuries and they are always more cost efficient than emergency rooms. Staying healthy is still the optimal way to save money on healthcare, so take time for your own health. Know your blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol and family medical history and always make efforts to control weight.
Whether it comes as a shock or not, it’s a simple truth that the majority of employees don’t fully understand their health benefits. And, even if the benefit managers fully understand, sometimes they don’t have the tools to administer the kind of change needed to actually reduce healthcare costs.
Alithias is a platform that allows EBSO to give providers, employers and patients everything they need to take control of and better understand healthcare benefits. Sure, there are plenty of “transparency tools” out there that promise to make healthcare easier to understand and more affordable while also helping to engage employees. But, the people behind Alithias know that transparency tools have a utilization rate of less than 5%. That’s why Alithias is different – it offers features that truly help people “get it” and get the benefits assistance they need.
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Something the average patient does not realize is that more than 30% of healthcare costs are “shoppable”. Alithias’ technology lets patients begin a search by first choosing a common medical procedure within a certain radius of their zip code. The search results then list options of available physicians or groups along with their location, average price for that chosen procedure and quality ratings. And, as if that weren’t simple enough, the patient will also see a detailed description of the procedure and the option to start a live chat with someone who’s ready to give them online support if they need it.
We believe that offering a personal relationship or live help might just be the only approach to ensure plan members seek appropriate care. Because, let’s face it, when people don’t understand their healthcare sometimes their only solution is to avoid it all together, especially when the fear of the unknown cost kicks in. Alithias uses assigned individuals, called Care Navigators, that are there to answer questions that patients don’t know the answers to and teach them what they need to know about healthcare, while also helping them find the best costs or the best doctors. With this kind of help, employees become more educated and involved in their own healthcare, ultimately making smarter decisions and saving on costs. In fact, the average savings for plan members using a Care Navigator is greater than $1,000 per procedure!
These are just two of the beneficial features Alithias can offer. If you’re struggling to give your employer groups and employees the benefits help they need, it’s time you talked to EBSO about Alithias.
The article below is from benefitsPro.com, written by Michael Levin on April 18, 2017.
Now that the American Health Care Act has failed to advance, small businesses, and the brokers who serve them, are looking for ways to manage health care costs within the status quo of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As it did with individuals, the ACA community rating methodology benefited some while burdening others. The community rating methodology spreads the costs associated with the differing risk of group (or individual) profiles over the entire risk pool. In the case of small groups, older and/or sicker groups benefited from lower rates while younger and/or healthier groups pay more. Those small groups for which this “peanut-buttered” risk solution has resulted in increases to their health insurance may want to look at level-funded plans, an alternative to fully-insured plans.
But what if the group has a really bad year? In a bad year, the stop-loss kicks in to protect the employer. Again, the entire concept of the level-funded plan is that the employer never has to pay more than the level monthly amount. But as an underwritten plan, it is reasonable to expect an increase — perhaps even an untenable increase — in the level-funded plan. Here is where it really gets interesting. Today, in such a situation, the group can simply revert back to a community-rated ACA plan. Here, small groups have an advantage that large groups do not: they can revert back to a non-underwritten plan; one that is likely to be to their financial benefit.
So, for small groups, the question is why not explore a level-funded plan? With savings of up to 30 percent, protection against extraordinary costs, and the ability to fall back on an ACA plan, there is very little reason not to do so.
After numerous articles advocating technology and social media as the only sources of information valued by young workers, a recent study by MetLife has shown that nearly two-thirds of millennials favored a one-on-one discussion with a benefits specialist when trying to understand their employee benefits.
Believe it or not, millennials even lead other generations in consulting with family and friends on benefit-related issues, showing that they value the personal experience when it comes to complex matters. Because they have become accustomed to the way technology streamlines information, they are looking for the facts without a lot of fluff. Nonetheless, one-on-one consultations and phone conversations are proving to be effective in giving young people the personalized information they need to understand their healthcare benefits and make informed decisions.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that nearly 20% of mid-sized employers made the jump to self-insurance from 2013 to 2015. A major attraction is the availability of data and analytics, enabling the employer to learn how healthcare dollars are being spent. A growing number of employers are using this data to incentivize employees who lower claim costs by choosing more efficient hospitals or free standing imaging centers when tests such as an MRI are needed.