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.
For the first time in years, Americans took more time off from work in 2017. A survey of 4,400 workers conducted by the travel industry showed that on average, 17.2 days of vacation were used last year. This was more than a full day greater than in 2014. While more vacation time was enjoyed, work pressures still kept more than half of those surveyed from using all their earned vacation days in 2017.
Major insurers are reporting that value-based care initiatives are yielding good results for payers, providers and patients. Employer groups and individuals covered under insured plans, Medicare and Medicaid, are receiving more consistent, quality care that is easier to navigate. This is music to the ears of Alex Azar, HHS secretary, who has been a strong supporter of value-based care.
While the concept of value-based care dates back to the Obama administration, Azar believes it can accomplish more. In a recent speech to the Federation of American Hospitals, he advocated for enabling consumers to gain more control over their health information, increasing transparency from providers and payers and easing government burdens in both Medicare and Medicaid.
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.
24/7 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.