The Binary Foundation reports that more than half of surveyed adults have used social media networks to search for healthcare providers – a six-fold increase since 2017. More important, 75% of respondents were influenced by online ratings and reviews, with many calling these reviews somewhat or very reliable. Only 9 percent said they do not use online platforms when selecting a provider, compared to 48% in 2017.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced new proposals from the administration that would allow Americans to pay less for high-priced prescription drugs. One enables drug manufacturers to negotiate new contracts to sell lower-priced foreign versions of certain biologics. The other would enable states, wholesalers and pharmacists to import certain FDA-approved drugs from Canada. The proposals are in line with the President’s pledge to lower prescription drug costs for Americans.
In a very recent decision, a federal judge ruled against Trump Administration efforts to require drug manufacturers to include the price of prescription drugs in their television commercials. Filed in federal court in mid-June, the lawsuit claimed that HHS does not have the legal power to enforce the rule and that including prices will mislead patients and discourage them from seeking treatment. In the decision rendered on July 9th, U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta agreed, adding that the administration had overstepped its authority.
A spokesman for HHS was quoted as saying “we are disappointed in the court’s decision and will be working with the Department of Justice on next steps.” While the decision is a blow to the administration’s efforts to increase cost transparency and drive down drug prices, many expect their efforts to continue.
The IRS recently published finalized rules easing restrictions on health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) to allow employers to provide their workers with tax-preferred funds to pay for the cost of health insurance coverage they buy in the individual market. The regulation is part of the Trump Administration’s commitment to deliver more health coverage choices to Americans.
The HRA rule should be extremely valuable to small businesses that have had a really hard time providing group health coverage. So hard, in fact, that the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey recently reported that the percentage of businesses with 25 to 49 workers offering group coverage has fallen from 92% to 71% since 2010.
Two New Options Will Be Available
Effective January 1, 2020, employers will be able to help employees buy individual health insurance policies by offering two different tax free HRAs. The first is an Individual Coverage HRA, which can only be offered to similar classes of workers when a traditional group health plan is not currently available. Classes refer to groups of employees with similar circumstances, such as full-time, part-time, seasonal, salaried, temporary, etc. A class must include at least 10 employees for employers with fewer than 100 employees and 20 or more employees for employers of 200 or more workers.
The other option, an Excepted Benefits HRA, is designed to be offered with a traditional group health plan, although employees do not have to enroll in the health plan. The maximum annual benefit for an Excepted Benefits HRA is $1,800.
Tax-Preferred Benefits Can Extend to Millions
The new HRA rules will make it easier for small businesses to compete with larger organizations that provide high quality group health benefits. More importantly, the employees who buy individual health plans financed by a new HRA will receive the same tax advantages as those with traditional group coverage.
The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Treasury estimate that HRA expansion will benefit as many as 800,000 employers and more than 11 million employees and family members, 800,000 of whom will have been previously uninsured. To learn more about these new HRAs as you begin your planning for 2020, contact your account representative at your convenience.
In late June, President Trump signed an executive order directing HHS to develop rules requiring hospitals to publish clear and understandable pricing that reflects what people will actually pay for services. HHS Secretary Alex Azar added that the order should also make certain that providers and insurers provide patients with information about potential out-of-pocket costs they will face before receiving healthcare services.
While details about how the rules of the order will work are yet to be determined, hospital and health plan lobbyists criticized the order, saying it will increase prices and reduce competition. The President and CMS Administrator Seema Verma emphasized that the intention of the order is to combat the huge price variations that have long existed among healthcare facilities and make it easier for patients to find low cost, high-quality care.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projecting that 83 million people will soon have three or more chronic diseases, the number of employers working to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease is staggering.
Not only do the average medical costs for a diabetic exceed $16,000 per year, but the loss of productivity is estimated to add an additional $1,700. How can your health plan cope?
Begin with Good Information
Reviewing claims data, diagnostic tests and prescription drug data is a critical starting point. Once plan members with chronic illnesses are identified, care managers, nurse navigators or health coaches can talk with them to learn about their lifestyle, ask about medications, nutrition, their family situation and other factors that may be impacting their condition.
Chronic disease management is not a one-step process. It involves partnering with a member’s physician and other professionals to understand the patient’s needs and develop a personalized care plan. This level of personal involvement will not only help the member receive the care they need but also help them better understand how to use their health plan to their benefit.
Experience shows that 80% of a company’s healthcare spend is often attributed to 20% of plan members. Chronic illness is likely the reason, making disease management a critical part of high-quality healthcare plans.
Another major insurance carrier has cooperated with selected healthcare providers in two states to introduce a bundled payment program for maternity care. Like bundled payment programs used by Medicare and commercial carriers for total joint replacement, the bundled maternity program reimburses the care provider for an entire episode of care, including prenatal, delivery and postpartum services, with one overall fee. Insurers are encouraged with the positive outcomes, citing early access to care and open lines of communication as significant advantages of this approach.
The sensitive nature of information shared with payers and providers makes health plan members prime targets for identify theft. While no legislation is currently moving through Congress, a number of senators are taking steps to learn more about recent breaches of healthcare data involving collection agencies and diagnostics firms.
While some employers are taking very costly measures to protect their business and their employees, there are a few steps employers can implement at little or no cost:
- Encourage everyone to use strong passwords and change them often.
- Consider adding an Identify Theft protection service to your benefits package. Lifelock and Identity Guard are two common options.
- Offer educational sessions or webinars to build awareness to the cyber threats that exist today.
On-going education is critically important because the constant use of technology has made too many of us numb to the serious nature of cyber threats. As prevention measures have evolved over time, so have the ways hackers and cyber criminals go about attacking organizations and individuals.
According to Fidelity Investments, a couple retiring this year can expect to spend $285,000 on medical expenses during their retirement. And while the rate of healthcare cost increases has slowed in recent years, Americans are living longer, meaning they will need to address the cost of healthcare for a longer period of time.
The good news is that as we have noted many times, HSAs are becoming more popular all the time and a great way to save for retirement on a tax-free basis. Fidelity reports that their portfolio of HSA owners has grown to more than 830,000 individuals who currently own $3 billion in assets. In addition, consultants say that employers contributed nearly $9 billion to employees’ HSAs in 2018 alone. If our economy remains strong, we can expect these trends to continue. More and more employers will be able to provide matching contributions and funds contributed to HSAs are never taxed.
A study based on several years of data, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics,showed that increasing water consumption by one to three cups a day decreased total calorie intake by between 68 and 205 calories. Intake of sugar and cholesterol were also reduced as a result of drinking more water.
Some physicians believe that drinking more water before sitting down for breakfast, lunch or dinner will curb the appetite. With other benefits such as better brain function, improved digestion and the ability to maintain energy levels, the old adage of drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day just may be more appropriate then ever.