In late June, the Department of Labor introduced final rules on Association Health Plans (AHP), which will allow bonafide associations to offer healthcare plans to member companies. While we had hoped for a different approach to regulating these plans, association health plans will be regulated by states as MEWAs.
According to the final rules, an association that wants to establish a healthcare plan must already exist for another purpose. In other words, an association cannot be formed for the exclusive purpose of offering healthcare plans to its members. Another stipulation is that new self-funded association health plans cannot be established until April 1, 2019.
Association Health Plans will be exempt from the federal mandate on essential health benefits, but will remain consistent with popular Obamacare rules such as coverage of pre-existing conditions and bans on lifetime limits.
While reserve requirements will vary from state to state, we expect that these plans will be quite costly to establish and closely monitored by state regulators. Nonetheless, for large associations with significant cash reserves, we expect this option to make it possible for thousands of small businesses to lower their cost of employee health benefits.
The time to think about diabetes is not when it’s diagnosed. It’s important to take steps to prevent diabetes and prediabetes before they ever develop. While more than 100 million American adults live with diabetes or prediabetes, there are easy, proven ways to prevent it. Here are just a few:
Eating better: the breakdown. Though we often hear that we should “eat better” it’s not always clear what that means. Whole, fiber-rich foods are what you should be consuming. Fill your plate with vibrant foods, having natural color and fiber, such as quinoa, brown-rice, blueberries and garbanzo beans. These foods are slow-burning, providing longer term energy and maintaining sugar levels more steadily. When eating a meal containing slow and fast burning foods, eating slower-burning foods first will slow the absorption rate of faster-burning foods.
Water is your best friend. While the call of sugary drinks such as juice, packaged iced tea and soft drinks can be hard to resist, water is always the best choice. Even diet or low calorie drinks can increase the risk of diabetes, potentially causing changes in gut bacteria that affect metabolism. Water eliminates stripped carbs and provides the hydration your body needs.
Keep moving. Exercising regularly, doing both cardio and resistance activities, not only lowers your blood sugar but makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. That’s really a two-for-one diabetes prevention action! Choosing activities that you and your family enjoy makes exercise fun.
States are moving toward telemedicine to help students access mental health services. Minnesota and Utah have proposed telemental services in order to reach students with underserved mental health needs. Students with unmet mental health needs experience many obstacles, with conditions such as depression and anxiety negatively impacting their attendance and performance.
Telemental health is being utilized to reach those in areas without child therapists or in other “healthcare deserts”. Texas has successfully implemented telemental health programs since 2012, connecting thousands of students with much needed care and treatment. One proposed Minnesota bill suggests launching four telemedicine projects aimed at improving access to telemental health services for students. Proposed grants would help provide dedicated space in schools and the technology needed for students to access telemental health services. A bill in Utah would enable the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to create a two-year program using a telemedicine platform to facilitate remote consults between children and child psychiatrists.
Legislators and school officials in a number of states see many benefits to pursuing a telemental health platform, including the potential to identify young people contemplating suicidal or homicidal actions.
While awareness of mental health concerns in the workplace is increasing, studies repeatedly show that not enough employees feel comfortable utilizing mental health benefits. Furthermore, many employees are often unaware mental health benefits are even available. With more than 40 million Americans living with depression, it’s more important than ever to make sure the workplace is taking positive steps to address it. Here are positive steps your company can take:
Take a holistic approach. Addressing the many areas of wellness, including physical, financial and mental, equally can help employees feel safe enough to seek treatment through employer provided healthcare plans. Stigma is still a major barrier to access, but employers can encourage accessing treatment by putting the necessary emphasis on mental health and wellness. Providing an open space for conversation, information and support can increase overall employee mental wellness. And of course, extending benefits to all family members can prove extremely valuable.
Keep employees informed. Though your company may have excellent programs and benefits to address mental illness and depression, it’s possible that your employees are unaware of how to access them. When bringing the discussion of mental wellness into the public space it’s important that the tools and avenues to accessing help are made very clear.
Promote flexibility. Certain industries deal with more critical situations, such as safety concerns, fatigue or a high risk of injury. While there is no “off the shelf” solution to mental wellness, employers can play a major role in bringing mental health out in the open. And today more than ever, a company is only as healthy as its employees.
Modern Healthcare and other news publications have recently written about a free mobile patient app, Belong, that is providing a platform for cancer patients to connect and explore ways of improving quality of life. The American Cancer Society and Colorectal Cancer Canada are using the app to connect with patients, which was launched in 2015 by two company executives who had lost relatives to cancer. “Belongers” can share information, connect with clinicians and detail their treatment progress. The app’s biggest success has been the “Belongers” ability to share meaningful emotional support.
Consulting firm Willis Towers Watson expects more than a third of employers to offer student loan consolidation programs by 2021. This represents huge growth, since the Society of Human Resource Management says only 4% of employers offer student loan repayment benefits now. Willis also expects 35% of employers to offer student loan refinancing arrangements by 2021. Many employers offering this benefit are doing so by distributing a lump sum benefit over 5 to 8 years. It’s no surprise that this approach seems to be boosting employee retention rates – since millennials and Gen Z employees are strapped with about $30,000 of student loan debt and in many cases, lower wages than their parents were making at their age.
After rolling out a software update for its iPhone earlier this year, Apple announced that its Health Records feature is now being piloted by 39 health systems across the U.S. The feature enables patients who have medical information from multiple institutions to organize their data in one bucket containing allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals. Data from all participating healthcare organizations can be viewed by patients, however Apple Health Records does not currently enable patients to send messages to providers or schedule appointments. Apps from electronic health record vendors Epic and Cerner currently offer this functionality.