Association Plans Taking Shape

In January, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) posted draft regulations that could allow trade groups to offer nationwide association health plans (AHP) for member employers. The regulations are in response to President Trump’s executive order intended to facilitate access to short-term health insurance plans and the use of HRAs by employers.

The regulations will allow a general business group to offer an AHP to all members, regardless of industry, as long as the employers are located in the group’s metropolitan area. In contrast to existing association- sponsored plans, business groups that want to sponsor an AHP can organize for the specific purpose of obtaining healthcare coverage and nothing more. The regulations would enable some general purpose AHPs, such as one offered by a chamber of commerce or other business group that has members in a bordering state, to offer coverage across state lines.

As of our publication date, comments are still being received by EBSA and officials are still working on more regulations. While the initial proposal would not alter existing statutory provisions governing multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs), recent updates tell us that future proposals could involve DOL authority to exempt self-insured MEWA plans from state regulation.

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Getting People to Use Telemedicine

mobile-device24/7 physician access by phone or video has the potential to do great things for health plans and consumers. Getting a doctor’s help without waiting in a medical office is a great convenience, especially if you’re traveling or your primary care physician is unavailable. The challenge, however, is that telemedicine does not sell itself – it needs to be communicated over and over again if we want members to remember they have this great, easy-to-use benefit instead of driving to an urgent care center. Technology is great, but it won’t activate itself. People are creatures of habit and it takes a good deal of effort to change behavior. Low tech tactics like email reminders, flyers or refrigerator magnets may just be what the doctor ordered when trying to drive home the benefits of telemedicine.

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Robotic Coronary Intervention

healthResponding to an anticipated shortage of cardiologists and other specialists, Mayo Clinic is using a $3.3 million charitable grant to conduct a preclinical study enabling doctors working at a remote location to use telemedicine to place heart stents by guiding a robotic arm. The study, being done in collaboration with a robotic equipment manufacturer, is being referred to as “telestenting” because it takes telemedicine to a new level.

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IRS Penalties Are Being Issued

healthThe Internal Revenue Service is finally issuing penalty letters to employers who failed to provide health coverage, in compliance with the employer shared responsibility provisions of the ACA, for the 2015 tax year. Some letters may describe a no coverage excise tax while others may assess an excise tax for failure to provide “adequate or affordable” coverage. The notices are catching many employers off guard because issuance of these letters was delayed several times.

Those who receive a letter describing the specific violation, could be liable for penalties ranging from $2,080 to $3,480 per affected employee, depending on the violation and the plan year involved. Regulatory experts recommend that employers refer to the data submitted on forms 1094-C and 1095-C and respond to the IRS on time, even if they don’t believe the tax is owed.

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Reference Based Pricing Gaining

While plenty of folks talk about reference based pricing as though it’s a fad that has come and gone, we’re finding more interest from employers all the time. This may be because many like to brand it as another form of disruption, but regardless of how you brand it, reference based pricing is becoming a more important part of our value proposition all the time. It’s becoming more widespread because it enables a self-funded plan to limit costs to an extent that few other measures, if any, can match. This is primarily because by negotiating in advance with hospitals to accept a schedule of fixed payments for certain healthcare services, carrier-sponsored provider networks can be bypassed.

The fact is that while reference based pricing may be considered disruptive by many hospitals, it works. It is a transparent approach that can save a lot of money for self-funded health plans and their members. And finding ways to help self-funded employer plans provide high quality, high value healthcare to their members is our most important job.

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Helping with Prescription Adherence

doctor patient talkingWhile prescribed medications are critical to the management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, they can only help when taken correctly and research shows that at least half are not taken as prescribed. This not only has a huge impact on the health of individuals but on health plan costs since failure to take medications as prescribed can result in costly emergency room visits and hospital readmissions.

Since failing to follow a doctor’s prescription plan will likely result in higher dollar claims for treatment, examining claims data is the first step to take in order to monitor this problem. Once the employees involved are identified, a health coach or support team can be assigned to help these individuals begin managing and taking their medications correctly. If cost is an issue, which is fairly common in the case of chronic problems, financial incentives or help with prescription copays might be wise.

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The Changing Definition of Wellness

wellness-programAfter decades of preaching to workers about the importance of staying fit and physically healthy, the term worksite wellness is beginning to mean much more to employers and employees alike. Leading companies are expanding their workplace wellness initiatives to address mental health and financial security – key components of their employee’s overall well-being that go way beyond physical health.

The National Business Group on Health shows that a majority of employers are addressing emotional and mental health as well as financial security as part of their overall well-being strategy. Other initiatives, such as support for community involvement and social interaction, are pointing to a growing trend of focusing on the entire person and not just physical health or fitness. Research is showing that addressing physical health is only one way to improve the workplace experience and reduce employee turnover.

More Choice Means Greater Satisfaction

While traditional wellness programs have been more “one size fits all” and lacking in personal appeal, some employers are encouraging employees to do the things they like to do by giving employees a flat dollar amount to spend on a gym or pool membership, personal trainer or other self-defined activity they find rewarding. Volunteering to help with community causes or enrolling in educational classes are not out of the realm of possibilities, since these activities can do a lot to help an employee gain a healthier perspective on work and life.

When choices are made by individuals and not for them, better decisions often result. As people share their experiences with others, the impact on a company’s culture can be extremely positive. Better well-being becomes an important priority for everyone and not just those who like spending time on treadmills or yoga mats. From the employer’s perspective, objectives can expand beyond healthcare cost savings and increased productivity. As an example, offering health coaching is a great way to focus on the needs of individuals rather than the group as a whole. It can help companies address emotional and mental needs as well as physical needs.

If worksite wellness is a priority for your organization, this might be a good time to review the goals of your program and then to make sure the activities you are offering are in line with those objectives. There is a lot more to be gained from worksite wellness than lower medical claim costs and redefining wellness may be just what your organization needs.

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