While many employers use health screenings and health risk assessments to detect medical conditions early on, some have a difficult time determining the value of these wellness-related measures. Some compare the costs of testing to an estimated cost of medical claims, but in an effort to determine a more accurate return on investment, others are taking factors such as reduced absenteeism and increased overall productivity into consideration. It makes sense since improving overall health and productivity really is the objective of wellness programs.
CNBC recently featured a story about Walmart and their history of not only suggesting that employees visit Centers of Excellence for surgeries and second opinions but flying them all expenses paid. The case study revealed that between 2015 and 2018, more than half of their employees suffering from spine pain were able to avoid surgery by seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.
Shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates, fewer episodes of postsurgical care and a faster return to work were other benefits gained when results were compared to patients who chose other hospitals for treatment. Walmart reported that even though they spent more per surgery at Mayo Clinic than what other hospitals were charging, they saved money because of better outcomes and surgeries that were avoided.
The rule requiring hospitals to post their prices online, which became effective on January 1, 2019, really hasn’t done much to promote cost transparency. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into complex, coded retail-priced components that mean little to the average consumer.
As an example, determining the cost of an ER visit would require knowing the codes and locating costs for all parts involved in the visit. Few people, if any, are familiar with these complex details. While giving consumers price information in an easy-to-understand format would be a big help, it appears that CMS Administrator Seema Verma was accurate when she described this as little more than a “critical first step”.
As reported by The Phia Group on March 29, 2019, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that the new Department of Labor rules expanding the marketing of Association Health Plans (AHPs) violate existing law. TPAs, brokers and employers see this as a significant blow to AHPs, especially new self-funded AHPs that have been preparing to launch on April 1, 2019.
Federal Judge John Bates sided with several states that took issue with the DOL’s final rules several months ago, arguing that a broad availability of AHPs is not within the scope of ERISA, which defines an employer as having at least two or more employees. The final rules were going to allow small employers, including working business owners (employers of one), to join with others based on either common geography or industry affiliation to form an AHP. It appears that the Judge’s ruling means that both criteria, geography and industry affiliation, must be met and that qualifying employers must have a minimum of two employees.
Thus far, we are not aware of any response filed by the DOL. We will continue to monitor reactions to the ruling and other developments regarding Association Health Plans.
Worldwide, 226,000 people have signed up with the British charity Veganuary, agreeing to try a vegan diet free of all animal products. While some try vegan for one or two meals per day, others have gone full scale. Some are doing it for environmental reasons while others are concerned about animal welfare and, of course, their health.
Water may be the beverage of choice for health and wellness lovers, but using your reusable water bottle multiple days in a row without washing it and allowing it to dry completely can lead to bacterial growth and sickness. Infectious disease specialists recommend that, at a minimum, pouring water out of your reusable bottle at the end of each day will eliminate some germs. Getting rid of the bulk of bacteria and decreasing the likelihood of a stomach bug requires scrubbing the entire bottle, including the lid and straw and letting it air dry completely after each use. A bottle brush is good for tall bottles with thin necks and dish soap or a bleach-based cleanser labeled safe for drinkware is best.
As more workers struggle with stress in and out of the workplace, some are requesting time off in order to cope. This is not a problem for companies with sick-day policies that allow employees to use their paid personal days for any reason. In other workplaces, people who are honest about asking for a mental health day can sometimes be looked upon as suffering from a mental health issue. Regardless of how your organization may handle these issues, it is important to respect employees’ right to privacy and avoid probing for sensitive information about a person’s well-being.