More Women Avoided Care

health-blogThe Kaiser Family Foundation reports that more women than men failed to receive preventive care during the pandemic. Statistics show that 38% of women skipped their annual checkup compared to 26% of men and nearly one in four women failed to get a recommended medical test or treatment versus only 15% of men. Income did not appear to be a big factor, leading consultants to believe that fear of exposure to Covid-19 and the inability to access medical facilities were big contributing factors.


Quantity Over Quality

waterDietitians recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces per day – that’s 75 ounces of water daily if you weigh 150 pounds. But what type of bottled water is best? The International Bottled Water Association offers the following descriptions.

Spring water comes from underground, flowing naturally to the earth’s surface.

Purified water is produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other approved process.

Mineral water is natural and contains a constant level of mineral elements coming from its source. No other minerals can be added.

Sparkling bottled water is treated but can only contain the same amount of carbon dioxide it had when it emerged from its source.

While well water is derived from a hole in the ground that taps the water aquifer, artesian well water comes from a source above an underground layer or rock or sand.

Alkaline water has a higher pH level than tap water, meaning that it is less acidic.

While many choices exist, health experts say the amount of water you consume is far more important than the type of water. No matter what water you prefer, keep a bottle handy and stay hydrated!


Lyft to the Doctor?

In response to a 2019 study showing that millions of patients fail to receive required medical care due to a lack of transportation, ride-sharing company Lyft is partnering with sponsoring

healthcare organizations to let patients request rides for non-emer- gency medical appointments, vaccinations or prescription pickups. While the company tried this previ- ously with employers covering the cost for employees, these “Lyft Passes,” similar to those used to provide rides to and from Covid-19 vaccinations, would be sponsored by health plans including Medicare and Medicaid.


Return, Remote or Both

member-educationSurveys showing that about half of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely have many organizations debating how to respond to loosening CDC restrictions. As of mid-May, about a third seem to be planning to bring workers back and half or more are preparing to move forward with a mix of remote and in-person staff.

Over the past year or so, many companies have learned to manage remote staffing but supervising a hybrid workforce could pose unique challenges. Scheduling, spacing people out in work areas and tracking time and performance are a few common concerns. Some employers are taking steps to make sure that in-office workers and those working at home are treated equally in future performance reviews. One interesting concern for offices bringing workers back is vaccinations. While few employers have mandated vaccinations, those making masks optional are hoping to avoid conflicts between employees who choose to wear a mask and those who do not.


Price Transparency Rules Issued

90-price-transparencyNew guidelines issued by CMS earlier this Spring state that all files uploaded by health plans and insurance carriers must be in formats the public can use. Before issuing this guidance, some files included coding that kept Google and other search engines from indexing names and prices listed by hospitals on their websites, making it very hard for consumers to access the data.

The American Hospital Association lost a suit to block the rule on the basis that HHS lacks the authority to oversee its regulation and such rates are not useful to consumers. According to CMS, hospitals are expected to comply  with these requirements to provide pricing information that is searchable and accessible without barriers.


How Are Your Employees Really Doing?

stressThe American Psychological Association reports that nearly 80% of adults say the Coronavirus pandemic was a significant source of stress in their life. The U.S. Census Bureau says the percentage of surveyed employees experiencing anxiety or depression rose from 11% in 2019 to more than 40% this Spring. There is no doubt that even as restrictions ease and more people return to their offices, employers will need to place a very high priority on mental health and wellness.

As we know, there are no one size fits all solutions to employee well-being and every organization is different. The following qualities, however, are even more important to employees when stress is running at a high level.

Connection – When remote workers are separated from co-workers and managers, personal concerns can weigh more heavily. Finding time for people to connect, even virtually, is important.

Communication – Keeping workers informed about what’s to expect in the near future is comforting. Knowing your job is safe in difficult times can relieve a great deal of pressure.

Encouragement – Recognition is more meaningful than employers often realize. Everyone wants to know the work they are doing is important and their efforts are appreciated.


2022 HSA Contribution Limits

hsa-contribution-limitsThe IRS has announced that contribution limits for 2022 are increasing by $50 for individual coverage and $100 for family coverage, to $3,650 and $7,300 respectively. This represents an increase of 1.4% from 2021 levels and those age 55 and older can still contribute an additional $1,000 per year. While minimum annual deductible levels will remain unchanged at $1,400 for individual coverage and $2,800 for family coverage, maximum out-of-pocket expense limits for HDHPs will increase to $7,050 for individual coverage and $14,100 for family coverage.

Overall, enrollment in HSAs continues to grow. Advisory firm Devenir reports that approximately 30 million Americans currently own health savings accounts with overall balances totaling more than $82 billion.


Regs Coming for No Surprise Billing Act

regs-erWhile former President Trump signed the No Surprises Act into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, CMS is still working on regulations that will become effective for insured and self-funded health plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2022. Implementing this law will be interesting, experts say. While many of its provisions were designed to protect people from getting unexpected bills for care from out-of-network providers at in-network hospitals and surprise bills from out-of-network emergency care providers including air ambulance services, many types of bills that “surprise” consumers may indeed be outside the scope of the Act.

There are other concerns as well. One of these is a part of the law that requires health plans and out-of-network providers who disagree about charges to seek arbitration. Another is a provision that lets some providers offer care on an out-of-network basis if they advise the patient about potential billing and get a consent form signed. Even though there will be challenges to work through once the law is implemented, policymakers are confident that the No Surprises Act will be a great help to consumers.


More Employers Open to Change

employeesWith healthcare costs expected to rise by some 6.5% this year and growing concerns over hospital price transparency, many employers are open to new ideas. Some who have looked at Self-Funding or Reference Based Pricing (RBP) in the past are now revisiting these options in an effort to keep healthcare affordable for their organization and their employees.

Alternative ways of funding employee health benefits have always been a concern for HR directors, charged with helping employees adapt to change. The fact is that these strategies are becoming more and more widespread every year. In most cases, moving away from a fully insured plan with a traditional PPO can often result in a health plan that is not only stronger but more cost-effective as well. If your broker has failed to speak with you about self-funding or reference based pricing, contact us to learn more.


Receiving Healthcare Data

healthcare-dataIn early April, a federal rule took effect enabling patients to view their medical records without paying any fees and without waiting days or weeks. As a result, many patients will be able to find test results, clinical notes from their doctor and other medical information posted to their electronic portal as soon as they are available. While most physicians and patients view this as long overdue, a few obstacles have arisen. In some cases, test results can be made available to a patient before their physician has seen them. This can be a problem if further explanation or comments are appropriate. Doctors are also concerned about sensitive comments being seen by a parent of an adolescent who wants to keep the information confidential.

The AMA is pushing for modifications that would provide for brief delays when results involve a difficult diagnosis, such as cancer. Representatives of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the federal agency overseeing the rule, have emphasized that patients can always decide whether they want to look at results or wait and review them with their doctor. Also, the rule does not require that parents be given access to protected health information if they did not already have that right under HIPAA. Some electronic health records enable doctors to withhold results, a step the doctor can discuss with their patient prior to ordering the test. While the overall response is positive, discussions will likely continue as patients become better informed about the tools available.