According to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, the United States ranks 35th among 169 recognized by the World Health Organization. This was one position lower than the U.S. earned in 2017. Spain surpassed Italy to become the world’s healthiest country and four other European nations ranked in the top 10. While Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, China dropped from 51 in 2017 to 53 in the 2019 rankings. Based on data provided by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Division, the index evaluates health factors and risks including behavioral concerns, environmental characteristics and more.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, one in six high school students admitted to using e-cigarettes in 2015, with use among teens rising. While the media and elected officials have warned Americans of the risks inherent to electronic cigarettes, it is important to be aware of the dangers.
E-cigarettes, consisting of a battery, an atomizing device and an e-liquid, are devices used to heat the liquid cartridge and release a vapor that is inhaled. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other dangerous substances including metals such as nickel, tin, lead and diacetyl, a flavoring chemical linked to lung disease. And just as second-hand smoke from regular cigarettes harms those nearby, vaping exposes those close by to toxic chemicals.
In addition to being addictive like nicotine in regular cigarettes, liquid nicotine is poisonous – especially to young children. Teenagers are at greater risk of addiction because their brains are still developing. The more nicotine a young person consumes, the more likely it is that they will become addicted for life.
Uninsured people needing medical treatment for the coronavirus will be able to get that treatment without concerns about out-of-pocket costs or unexpected charges. Thanks to the federal stimulus package passed by Congress in early April, hospitals and healthcare providers that treat these folks will be paid for unreimbursed care at current Medicare rates.
While the law does not require that health insurance carriers and employer-sponsored health plans waive cost-sharing charges such as deductibles and coinsurance for coronavirus patients requiring medical treatment, many groups are pushing for this relief. In response, some large insurance carriers and health plans have said they would waive out-of-pocket costs for in-network COVID-treatment through the end of May. Pressure for this relief is expected to mount as shutdowns of non-essential businesses continue and more and more workers are laid off or furloughed.
Relief for HDHPs and HSAs
In another emergency ruling, the IRS said that HSA users with high deductible health plan coverage can use their coverage to pay for testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 pneumonia, without having to be concerned about satisfying the minimum deductible requirements common to HSA coverage. The same flexibility will now also apply to HSA account holders who need to use their coverage to pay for treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia. The IRS has cautioned that this guidance only applies to the COVID-19 emergency and does not void the other requirements governing High Deductible Health Plans and Health Savings Accounts. Since regulations and requirements regarding benefits for COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly, plan members are advised to consult their health plan before seeking testing or treatment.
As more and more employer-sponsored health plans become self-funded, the trend from PPOs to direct provider contracting is growing. High quality health plans continue to demonstrate that direct contracting promotes a more level playing field where both parties can agree on pricing that is fair rather than trying to determine the real value of network discounts.
The Kaiser Family Foundation employee health benefits survey for 2019 shows that the cost of annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance plans have reached $20,576. While there are differences between small and large employer groups, costs are rising faster than wages for both and average contributions by employees have reached $1,242 for single coverage and more than $6,000 for families. And while wages have increased by 26% in the past decade, contributions to healthcare premiums have gone up 71%.
According to a new Harris pole conducted for TD Ameritrade, more than half of Americans age 40 and older plan to continue working after they retire. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York adds that the number of workers 55 and older has been rising since 2000. While the percentages dropped for older workers, it remained above 50% for those 70 to 79 years of age. Financial need was important to most, but many over 55 cited a desire to remain sharp and avoid boredom as their main concern.
Communication and helping plan members get the most out of their health plan should be an all year round endeavor. Surveys continue to indicate that even highly educated employees describe benefits, insurance and the enrollment process as “very confusing.”
Consider academic research by the Commonwealth Fund and a recent study by Accenture. While one points to higher deductibles and co-pays as the leading financial barrier to medical care, the other cites low health literacy as a hidden cost adding billions in administrative expense to our healthcare system. While it may never be possible for your plan to do away with co-pays and deductibles, high performance TPAs are doing many things to help plan members make more informed healthcare decisions. Here are a few ideas.
1. Simplify Summary Plan Descriptions – Remember that these are more than compliance documents. They are communication pieces and need to be written so that regular people can read them. Make it easy for employees to find information on eligibility, how they enroll, what the plan covers, what isn’t covered and how to file a claim. Move as much legal information as humanly possible to the end.
2. Put an End to Boring Content – To make things easier on the eyes and draw attention to information people care about, use different kinds of headings and add visuals or infographics to any benefit-related communications. Include links to your TPA’s website or other websites that employees can learn from. You don’t need a Hollywood producer to use video clips and after all, video is pretty much all that younger people look at these days. Seriously!
3. Create a Decision Support Taskforce – It sounds challenging, but look outside HR to recruit a team of individuals who feel comfortable with your health plan and healthcare in general. Let people know they can reach out to these individuals with questions about plan options, coverage, how to file a claim, provider networks, etc. People will appreciate this, especially your younger employees, who studies show are particularly confused and stressed over everything insurance related.
Improving your communications can make people feel much more confident about the decisions they have to make. You don’t have to tackle everything at once and even a little progress will improve morale and help people avoid making decisions they may regret later.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes – a chronic condition that happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or process sugar efficiently. The surprising thing is that about 7.5 million people are diabetic and don’t know it!
Doctors say if you’re over 45 years of age, are overweight or diabetes is part of your family history, you should be screened regularly. If these characteristics don’t apply, you may want to talk with your physician if you demonstrate any of the following symptoms:
- Increased need to urinate
- Being very thirsty or more hungry
- Bleeding or swollen gums, receding gum line and mouth pain
- Bruises and cuts that take a long time to heal
- Losing weight without trying
- Increased fatigue
- Dizzy or fainting spells
- Yeast and fungal infections
- Dark spots around your neck and armpits
- Tingling or numbness in your hands and/or feet
- Itchy, dry skin
There are several steps you can take to prevent or control diabetes, but like most serious illnesses, early detection is critical. Diabetes or pre-diabetes can be determined by a simple blood test.
As public health officials work to identify a respiratory illness putting people who vape in the hospital, negative reports continue to frighten parents. In the last month or so, two young people have died in Illinois and more than 20 others have been hospitalized throughout the state. The news is similar in other states, as more than 190 hospitalizations were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State and federal health officials are searching for answers, including details on what these people vaped.
While manufacturers say their e-cigarettes were always intended as an alternative to cigarettes for adult smokers, legal challenges are being directed at manufacturers for aggressive marketing to teenagers.
Non-technical staffing company Randstad US reports that 79% of employers offer casual, business casual or no dress code at all. Even investment bank Goldman Sachs has reportedly relaxed its dress code in response to the changing nature of workplaces. While most employers are considering increased flexibility to be a welcome benefit, many employees appreciate being able to save money on their wardrobe and related expenses such as dry cleaning.