Student Loans and Standing Desks

appleFinancial wellness, standing desks and other wellness strategies are high on the list of benefits trending upward in 2018. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a growing number of organizations are offering programs to help employees improve their financial well-being. Some companies are providing debt counseling and help with repayment of student loans. Standing desks are becoming very popular, with a growing number of companies offering them to employees as a new wellness benefit.

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Seeking a Second Opinion

second-opinionHealth policy researchers at Mayo Clinic recently found that only 12% of patients who sought a second opinion for a complex medical condition at Mayo Clinic received confirmation that their initial diagnosis was correct and complete. This should be reason enough to begin educating employees about the benefits of second opinions and how to get them. Common concerns expressed by patients include a fear of offending their physician, a feeling of urgency to begin treatment and of course, concern that their health plan may not cover the cost of a second opinion.

Whether you use employee newsletters, printed handouts and posters or a lunch and learn, it is important to let employees know that most doctors welcome a second opinion and they should never be afraid to ask their physician how much time they can take to obtain a second opinion before making a decision on treatment. Make sure members know if they have a second opinion benefit and consider offering an incentive for taking an active role in health management.

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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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Doing What We Can

ebso-doing-what-we-can-blogWe often hear of professional athletes succeeding under pressure by staying “in the moment” and remaining focused on the things that are within their control. This challenge can be applied to the uncomfortable position all of us find ourselves in today – somewhere between complying with existing laws and anticipating the unknowns coming from Washington.

While the IRS has relaxed enforcement of the individual mandate and acknowledged problems in the ACA reporting system, it has confirmed that an applicable large employer is still subject to an employer shared responsibility payment if it fails to offer coverage to 95% of its full-time employees. We continue to help large employers offer minimum essential coverage to avoid penalties, when appropriate, and track offers of coverage to comply with reporting requirements on IRS forms 1094 and 1095.

Other matters remain up in the air as well, including the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans and any changes in maximum contributions that may be made to HSAs, which would require legislative action. While any significant ACA repeal, replace or repair efforts appear to be overshadowed by the Administration’s interest in tax reform, we continue to monitor developments in healthcare reform and keep our clients and partners informed. It’s our way of doing what we can and remaining “in the moment.”

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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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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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Achieving Your Health Goals

appleAs we pass the mid-point of 2017, now is a good time to evaluate the resolutions you set months ago. Sometimes we tend to create goals that are too broad, such as “eat better” or “lose weight”. Rather than focusing on the end goal, it can help to break it down into steps.

Crafting S.M.A.R.T. goals can help you make positive changes that have staying power – here’s how:

Specific: Instead of a vague objective such as “manage stress”, come up with a specific action item, such as “do a 3-minute breathing exercise before work and before bed.”

Measurable: How will you know if you reach your goal? Track your progress in a journal or calendar.

Attainable: If you’ve been sedentary and want to start exercising it’s best to start with something you know you can do, like a 15-minute walk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and build on your progress.

Relevant: Do your goals align with your interests and values? Don’t just take up running because your best friend is a runner. Go with something you love and really enjoy, like walking or swing dancing.

Time-specific: Rather than setting a goal to meditate for 15 minutes, 3 times a week for eternity, set an end-point – say, one month. When you reach that goal, assess your progress, make adjustments and set another short-term goal.

It’s never too late in the year to revise your resolutions and establish goals you can achieve.

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Fighting Specialty Drug Costs

prescriptionTo help control rising specialty drug costs, the National Business Group on Health has issued a lengthy report including 5 public policy recommendations they hope will educate the marketplace and encourage effective, strategic partnerships.

According to NBGH officials, plan design is the key to managing the use of specialty prescriptions as well as the costs. The report details progress resulting from the aggressive use of utilization review, case management and prior authorization for specialty drugs. Other measures yielding positive results are the design of a specialty tier into the benefits plan and taking measures to administer specialty prescriptions in a facility separate from the hospital. Prescriptions authorized by a hospital or billed under the medical benefit are harder to track and often more costly.

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Paid Sick Leave Bug Spreading

paid-sickAs if businesses in Illinois don’t have enough concerns, the General Assembly has introduced bills mandating a minimum of five (5) paid sick days per year for Illinois workers. Employees would be able to use the time to care for themselves or a family member, attend a medical appointment for themselves or a family member, miss work due to a public health emergency or because they or a family member has experienced domestic violence abuse. The bills were presented for a second reading earlier this spring, with no resolution to date.

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Protecting Your Health Information

medical-recordsWhile health information is protected in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, that simply isn’t the case in the online world. The Department of Health and Human Services warns that HIPAA privacy regulations do not apply to information you reveal on social media, in emails and web searches or when using health apps. The unfortunate fact is that information you provide when using these applications is fair game, often being gathered by data aggregators for sale to insurers, employers and others.

Another problem is that the privacy policies included by websites contain pages of small print and are seldom read. Too many people just assume their information is protected, click “accept” and move on. In 2014, the State of California adopted a law that extends HIPAA-like protection to online medical information, requiring medical apps to meet the same standards of confidentiality required by healthcare providers. Many believe that with more and more medical information moving online, it’s time for other states to follow.

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