Will New Healthcare Laws Help?

healthcareWhile price transparency rules have taken effect, the provision intended to make hospitals and health plans display healthcare costs in an easy-to-compare web based format has been delayed in order to allow hospitals to focus on the demands of the pandemic. Nonetheless, experts see some benefits in the ongoing quest to identify the cost of patient care.

The No Surprises Act, also in effect this month, continues to be challenged as several provider-based associations have filed lawsuits to change the way arbitrators will decide how much insurers will pay toward out-of-network bills. Regardless of how these suits play out, health plans and consumers are expected to benefit.

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Why Are HSAs So Under Utilized?

hsaThe trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, reports that of the 22 million Americans who own Health Savings Accounts, more than half have not contributed in over a year. More discouraging is that while about a third say they can’t afford to contribute, even more say they haven’t even considered it. This would cause one to believe that the majority of people who have this tool at their disposal simply do not understand its many benefits.

Unlike Section 125 accounts, unspent HSA balances carry over from year to year. Offering a triple tax advantage, qualifying contributions are made pre-tax, earnings accumulate tax-free and withdrawals are made tax-free as long as funds are used to cover qualified medical expenses. The ability to carry unspent balances forward makes an HSA a great retirement planning tool since funds can be used to pay for more than healthcare once the member reaches retirement age.

At a time when financial wellness offerings are in demand, it would seem that Health Savings Accounts are a gift that keeps on giving. Rather than positioning your HDHP/HSA option in the back of your enrollment kit, promote it as a valuable benefit that can help cover healthcare costs to and through retirement.

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What Gen Z Wants at Work

genz-workIf you’re not shaping your benefits around the needs and wants of Generation Z, you’d better broaden your thinking. Statistics tell us that by 2025, young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 will make up 27% of our nation’s workforce. What interests Z’ers? Here are a few observations from generational experts.

Fair pay and benefits are extremely important, but no substitute for integrity. Gen Z is the first generation to put purpose above pay and will leave if they believe the organization is hiding bad business practices, promoting toxic workplace culture or ignoring their social or environmental responsibilities.

Most prefer a hybrid work model, but after being forced to settle for virtual internships most want to get out and meet other young professionals. They want to establish a routine and experience a sense of community by interacting with peers and mentors face to face.

Gen Z’ers are focused on mental health and wellness. As such, they value paid time off to care for their mental health and health benefits that include therapy and a commitment to work/life balance.

Finally, as our nation’s most diverse generation to date, Gen Z’ers want to be part of an organization that works to improve diversity across all levels. While they want to be treated fairly as an individual, they are even more concerned about what their organization does to serve the greater good.

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Is Your Health Plan Delivering Value?

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The American Benefits Council reports that employer-sponsored healthcare plans deliver a healthy return on investment for U.S. taxpayers. In fact, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Joint Committee on Taxation say in 2019, every dollar U.S. companies saved due to tax exemptions resulted in $5.34 spent on employee healthcare.

For plan sponsors, there is no question that their plan members receive value. Virtually all health plans provide much stronger benefits than members could afford on their own. What about your plan? Are there steps you can take to achieve greater value for your organization and your people?

Time for Examination

While COVID is still concerning, this is a good time for close examination. One strategy yielding cost savings and quality outcomes for many self-funded plans is the use of Centers of Excellence (COE). These programs, often focused on specialized care such as joint replacement surgeries, cardiovascular procedures and maternity care, may prove very valuable as people pursue screenings and treatments that were delayed during the pandemic. You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to pursue a COE program. Knowledge of the local provider land- scape and value-based claims expertise enable your TPA to pursue these and other opportunities on your behalf.

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Benefits Employees Want Most

benefitsThe pandemic has had an enormous impact on every aspect of our lives, including the way employees view employee benefits. A recent Wall Street Journal article chronicled the changing attitudes of workers who are working remotely or in hybrid settings. In virtually all cases, needs have shifted to things that contribute to employee well-being beyond the office.

Holistic Well-Being

When popular job search site Indeed surveyed 1,000 remote workers about the future of work, results made it clear that the need to support people’s mental and physical health outside of the workplace will continue long after the pandemic is over. Perks such as paid time off, flexible and remote working options and paid family leave are giving employees the support they need in a changing world. Depending on age and other workforce demographics, free therapy, personal financial planning advice and access to parenting coaches are doing a great deal to improve quality of life.

Changes to Family Leave

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reports that 63 percent of employers have made at least some change to their leave policies because of the pandemic. For employees who are also parents or caregivers, many have introduced emergency leave for childcare and eldercare. More than 10 percent are identifying resources and referrals for childcare, tutoring and backup or emergency child and eldercare with some providing financial assistance.

Companies are also supporting mental and physical health by instituting mandatory time off. Some do this by adding holidays or creating 4-day weekends while others have shut down for entire weeks because workers are unable to take customary vacations. Either way, employers and employees view these changes as some of the best things their companies could have done during the pandemic.

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Dress More Casual

millenialsNon-technical staffing company Randstad US reports that 79% of employers offer casual, business casual or no dress code at all. Even investment bank Goldman Sachs has reportedly relaxed its dress code in response to the changing nature of workplaces. While most employers are considering increased flexibility to be a welcome benefit, many employees appreciate being able to save money on their wardrobe and related expenses such as dry cleaning.

Support for Caregivers

According to a new Harvard University study, 73% of employees surveyed are caring for a child, parent or friend. More importantly, 80% of those admit that caregiving has had a negative impact on their productivity at work and kept them from doing their best work. Employers are beginning to take a more proactive role in helping employees balance these priorities by shaping their benefit programs to accommodate their needs. We’ll take a closer look at some of the steps being taken in our next newsletter.

Flexibility Means Retention

Research reported by the Execu Search Group shows that flexibility may very well be the key to keeping millennials engaged. Allowing more vacation time, better training and a more flexible work schedule, including the ability to work at home when needed, are keys that will make young people happier and more productive. The SHRM says that more companies are offering these benefits in order to retain young workers in today’s competitive labor market.

 

Employers Investing More in Benefits

wellness-programHealth and wellness are integral to employee performance, which helps explain why employers are investing more in their employee benefit offerings.

In June of 2018, the average cost of benefits rose by 2.9%, while wage costs rose by 2.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the rise is paid leave, which has seen a 4% cost per employee increase since 2017. This includes paid parental leave, which allows time off for a birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child.

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Empowering Employees: Big Talk, Little Action

telemedicineTelemedicine offers a lot of potential for everyone – added convenience for busy families and lower costs than a traditional office visit. But as helpful as this service can be, it will only make a difference if it is used.

Low utilization is not unique to telemedicine. It’s a common problem with many new, well designed and well-intended health care services. Encouraging plan members to actually use new offerings is a challenge for employer groups, large and small. And while utilization is often higher in self-funded health plans, all employers need help turning talk into action. Here are a few ideas to consider:

It’s all about them – With health care consuming more of everyone’s income and attention, we all have a vested interest in our benefits. And while wonderful tools like telemedicine keep coming to the table, you need to look at these offerings from your member’s perspective rather than your own. Talk with your employees; ask if a service will help them and listen to their feedback. If it can add real value to your employee’s lives, utilization will follow.

Talk about health, not cost – Research indicates that when it comes to their health and wellbeing, there are many things members would prefer to hear about than fees and costs. A majority are interested in improving their health. It takes time, but focusing on current health risks and personalizing communications as much as possible will help members want to get more engaged.

Educate to empower – Transparency tools and online portals are no different than other modern advances. If people don’t understand them, they will never catch on. Like telemedicine, unless employees understand how to use it and when they can use it, they will never realize the benefit of having an experienced, board certified physician, with access to their medical records, available to help them 24/7.

While it seems that other new disruptive innovations, such as Alexa, catch fire overnight, they do take time. Since your employee communication budget likely pales in comparison to those driving consumers to Amazon, talk with your TPA about new ways to zero in on the needs of your employees. Doing so can lead to increased utilization and a happier, healthier workforce in 2018 and beyond.

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