Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value

A number of employers are seeking alternative ways to get better value for their healthcare spending. Read this blog post to learn more about alternative health options.


While employers may be the largest purchasers of healthcare outside of the federal government, rarely does one organization have enough influence when negotiating with the powerful health plans and provider systems. As a result, employers — and ultimately the consumers for whom they purchase healthcare services — pay the price.

Instead of taking these lumps of coal sitting down, there are a growing number of employers on the cutting edge of healthcare purchasing seeking alternative ways in 2019 to get better value for their healthcare spending. They are looking for the diamonds in the rough.

In more than half of the healthcare markets in the U.S., providers have merged reducing competition and leaving employers and consumers with little choice for their care. Employers must stop insisting that health insurance products provide access to the broadest network of healthcare providers — if providers know they’ll be kept “in network” no matter how they behave, employers and payers further reduce their negotiating position. Employers also should band together to be sizable enough to call the shots, but this rarely happens.

While this lack of market power and influence is a major frustration for employers, it’s far from the only one. Educated employers also know that the healthcare system produces uneven quality and high prices have nothing to do with excellent care. The amount an employer pays for a service merely represents the relative negotiating strength of the health insurance carriers and providers.

As prices continue to drive healthcare cost growth, Americans are finding their healthcare unaffordable and are willing to trade choice for affordability. Many Americans no longer view having the ability to pick any doctor they choose as essential if it means increased premiums and cost-sharing that comes at the expense of other basic needs. These shifting attitudes represent an opportunity for employers seeking diamonds to pursue the following new healthcare benefits options. Here are some.

Narrow networks: Health insurance plans built around a narrower network that cuts out care providers who are outlandishly expensive or have a particularly poor record on quality. Alternatively, center a smaller network around a direct contract with an accountable care organization selected for its potential to deliver higher quality and value. More commercial health insurance carriers and lesser known third-party administrators are offering and supporting these options. Premiums and cost-sharing are typically lower for the consumer than with broader network plans.

Centers of excellence (CoE): Steer patients to designated high-quality providers with expertise in a given medical area who are willing to enter into an alternative payment arrangement or offer a more reasonable price in return for more patients. Make CoEs attractive through more generous coverage or make them mandatory if employees want an elective or non-emergent procedure (e.g., bariatric or spine surgery). Either way, employers reduce the risk that employees will receive subpar or low value care.

Alternative sites of care: Increase access to and use of alternative sites of care including onsite or near-site clinics and telehealth services. These enhance the convenience of primary or behavioral healthcare for employees and can help the employer better control referrals to overpriced hospitals or specialists.

So, move over mainstream. When it comes to the tactics employers use to purchase healthcare, alternative is likely to become less fringe. Narrow networks, CoEs or alternative sites of care may not solve all of the frustrations. But employers’ pursuit of these new models sends a strong signal that lumps of coal aren’t going to cut it. Employers are on the hunt for a shinier, more attractive set of solutions.

SOURCE: "Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/move-over-mainstream-alternative-health-options-a-road-to-better-value?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


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Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness

Could chiropractic services be the next big thing in wellness? The American College of Physicians' care guidelines recommends the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Read on to learn more.


The next popular wellness perk could be offering chiropractic services at on-site medical centers.

On-site or near-site clinics typically offer services to employees including first aid, occupational health, condition management, wellness and ancillary services — and increasingly chiropractic care.

Employees, healthcare administrators and physicians are recognizing the health and employee satisfaction benefits of integrating chiropractic care into multidisciplinary settings, research suggests. Care guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommend the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Employers are finding that adding chiropractic care to their worksite health center teams reduces direct costs of care, decreases opioid prescriptions for neuro-musculoskeletal episodes and improves health outcomes.

Healthcare costs for employers are expected to reach $15,000 per employee in 2019, according to the National Business Group on Health. The direct and indirect costs associated with low back pain are estimated between $85 billion and $238 billion, and expenditures for back pain are rising more quickly than overall health expenditures. To help stem that growth, as many as 65% of large companies are expected to offer on-site or near-site care by 2020, NBGH reports.

Employer focus on improving workers’ health and wellness has gained momentum in recent years, as evidenced by last year’s announcement from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase that they would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees. Another example is employers with self-funded health plans contracting with narrow, high-quality provider networks and even negotiating directly with local hospitals on their prices.

Clinics offer similar cost control and oversight benefits. More importantly, they offer faster and easier access to care that keeps employees healthy, motivated and engaged — and out of the emergency room or hospital. As such, 54% of large employers currently offer on-site or near-site clinics, while another survey showed that 94% of employers reported their clinics improved employee health and 95% said they contributed to increased employee productivity.

Each clinic’s services, cost-sharing, use privileges and staffing can be customized to meet the needs of a specific organization and employer benefit plans. These decisions should be reflective of the objectives of the sponsoring employer and the healthcare needs of the population.

While most healthcare clinics are located on-site or close to the workplace, a growing number are near-site or shared clinic locations, serving populations from multiple locations of the same employer or various employers. Additionally, more care is being delivered virtually. The objective is to provide easy access and immediate attention for employees, at little or no cost, for a host of services and products that an employee would normally have to leave the work site to obtain.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, the majority of employers reported their workers had expressed interest in chiropractic services at their clinics. The nationwide cost for treatment and management of low back pain and arthritis has reached $200 billion annually. Another study attributes two-thirds of these costs to lost wages and reduced productivity.

The fact that chiropractors deliver drug-free therapies should be particularly meaningful to employers in light of the country’s opioid abuse epidemic. The good news is a recent study published in “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” concludes that for adults receiving treatment for low back pain, the likelihood of filling a prescription for an opioid was 55% lower for those receiving chiropractic care than for adults not receiving chiropractic care.

In particular, chiropractors follow evidence-based and value-based guidelines to promote safety and effectiveness. Findings like these and many others show that by adding chiropractic care, employers will strengthen the opportunity for cost savings, improved outcomes, greater worker productivity and stronger employee retention.

SOURCE: Lord, D. (25 January 2019) "Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-chiropractic-services-could-be-the-next-big-thing-in-wellness?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


What to expect when your employee is expecting

How an employee's boss treats them has a major influence on whether or not they return to work after maternity leave. Read this blog post for what to expect when your employee is expecting.


Only four out of five employees return to work after maternity leave. The way their boss treats them has a major influence on that decision.

Women make up nearly half of the American workforce, and 85% of them will become mothers by age 45, according to a study by Pew Research. The same study estimates it costs organizations around $47 billion to replace employees who quit their jobs after maternity leave. Yet, employees going on maternity leave are often pushed aside.

“Women often face having their hours cut, harassment and losing out on promotions for becoming pregnant,” says Robyn Stein DeLuca, a postpartum consultant and professor at Stony Brook University. “It’s important for managers to know pregnant women are just as capable as they were before.”

Pregnancy discrimination can result in costly lawsuits and hurt a company’s reputation. For instance, pharmaceutical company Novartis in 2010 was ordered to pay $175 million to plaintiffs after a boss told female employees they should consider having an abortion if they wanted to advance within the company, DeLuca explains. And last year, thousands of Google employees staged walkouts to protest the company’s treatment of women.

“The walkouts knocked Google off their pedestal as a great place for everyone to work,” DeLuca says. “Thanks to the #MeToo movement, businesses are being held accountable for the way they treat pregnant employees.”

DeLuca spent the last 15 years of her career studying how new mothers cope after returning to work. She applies that knowledge to her consulting business, where she advises employers and working mothers on balancing personal and professional responsibilities.

During her research, DeLuca discovered women were more likely to return to work if they had supportive managers who made reasonable accommodations for their condition. The reverse was also true; employees who didn’t receive support and accommodation were most likely to quit their jobs.

“When you give talented women the opportunity, they’ll succeed,” DeLuca says.

During a webinar for the New York City chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, DeLuca discussed strategies for managing pregnant employees in the office and during maternity leave. Making reasonable accommodations for them is just as important as good communication, she says. The first thing employers can do is refrain from negatively commenting on the pregnancy.

“When she decides to go public with the news, stay neutral or give a positive response to the announcement. Don’t say it’s the worst possible time for her to go on leave, even if it is,” DeLuca says. “She shouldn’t be made to feel bad about this exciting time.”

The next step should be collaboration, DeLuca says. Once the employee has made her announcement, managers should meet with her to discuss when she’s planning to go on maternity leave, and how best to divvy up her responsibilities after the baby is born. It’s also a good idea for HR to have the phone number of the employee’s OBGYN in case she goes into labor at the office, DeLuca says.

“Women worry about leaving the team in the lurch, but making plans that spell out the details of her leave can reduce anxiety, bring order and set clear expectations,” DeLuca says.

DeLuca suggests asking the employee to make a list of her duties and projects so she and her manager can discuss how best to cover the work. This can help quell any job security anxieties by reaffirming she’s a valuable part of the team.

“It gives her the opportunity to shine and show what she’s accomplished,” DeLuca says.

Coworkers might resent being asked to do extra work for someone on maternity leave. The best way to prevent these feelings is to frame the work as an opportunity for professional growth, DeLuca says. Do this by praising employees for taking on extra work, and for the new skills they’re learning, she says.

Providing these employees with flexible hours so they can address personal needs — like furthering their education or caring for a loved one — is another way to reward them for stepping in for a coworker on maternity leave.

“It helps them feel like they’re not being taken for granted,” DeLuca says.

Most pregnant women plan on working right up until the baby is born, DeLuca says. And despite stereotypes about “mommy brain” — the idea that pregnancy decreases cognitive function — DeLuca asserts that pregnant women are mentally healthy and fully capable of performing their job duties.

“TV portrays pregnant women as flighty and crazy. But pregnancy is actually a good time for mental health,” DeLuca says. “Pregnant women are less likely to suffer from depression, to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or attempt suicide.”

However, managers should understand that pregnant employees have physical limitations. Depending on their role at the organization, pregnant women may require more breaks and lighter duty.

“She shouldn’t be on her feet all day or lifting heavy objects,” DeLuca says. “The baby is literally sitting on her bladder, so she’s going to make frequent trips to the bathroom.”

Women can be self-conscious about their changing bodies during pregnancy, which can be exacerbated by inappropriate comments and gestures from managers and peers, DeLuca said. HR can help educate the workforce about this issue during harassment training.

“Don’t touch the belly. Don’t say she’s beautiful, looks like a big round ball, or like your wife did at that stage. It’s not conducive to a comfortable working environment,” DeLuca says. “Instead, you can ask how she’s feeling.”

While making plans for an employee’s maternity leave, managers should talk to the employee about how they’d like to get back to work. Some companies allow women to ease their way back into work by letting them work short days toward the end of their maternity leave.

DeLuca recommends deciding beforehand how often, or if, a manager should contact an employee during maternity leave. If the employee would rather not be contacted, set a date for a return-to-work meeting, she says.

“It gives you the chance to fill her in on projects and new clients so she can hit the ground running when she returns to work,” DeLuca says.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (28 January 2019) "What to expect when your employee is expecting" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/what-to-expect-when-your-employee-is-expecting?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


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Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why

How can benefits managers utilize analytics to maximize their companies’ investments? Continue reading to learn how analytics can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs.


What do benefits managers have in common with Walmart? Both have the power to leverage data to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Like other leading retailers, Walmart mines vast quantities of data and applies predictive analytics to fuel solutions that improve store checkout processes, maximize inventory turnover and optimize product placement. Data analytics also helps the company identify shoppers’ preferences and personalize their shopping experiences. New parents, as identified by prior purchases, might receive digital coupons for infant products, for instance.

Walmart’s data intelligence gives the international retailer the ability to act upon insights quickly. One Halloween, for example, a novelty cookie generated high sales across the United States, but no sales at all in two U.S. stores. The company’s data analytics swiftly ascertained that the cookies were never put on the shelves at those stores. The problem was resolved immediately through high-visibility product placement.

Employee benefits managers have similar opportunities to maximize their companies’ investments. The effective use of disparate data can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs, and pinpoint the true value of their total rewards.

A data-driven approach to benefits analytics

Three out of five U.S. employers use health screenings and risk assessments to help employees detect conditions earlier, when treatment might be more effective and costs lower. However, the majority of employers do not measure the impact of these programs.

Those that do assess a program’s impact typically compare the dollars spent on it with the medical claims saved. Forward-thinking benefits managers, however, are examining the total value of investment (VOI) instead. This innovative approach analyzes not only the effect of a wellness initiative on medical costs but also its influence on productivity, absenteeism, disability costs and other factors.

By aggregating and analyzing different types of data — such as claims and non-claims data — benefits managers can determine crucial correlations between preventive screenings, health outcomes and healthcare costs. Thus, they can develop more targeted benefits packages that reduce costs while improving overall employee health and productivity.

Case Study: Implementation of predictive analytics in preventative screenings

One recent initiative undertaken by a state employee health plan demonstrates the power of data analytics to reveal the VOI of preventive cancer screenings.

The state provides medical benefits to around 205,000 employees and dependents. The agency that administers the benefits program wanted to know whether preventive cancer screenings improved health outcomes, and whether the program was cost effective. Analyzing screening and claims data showed that 6% to 8% of those who underwent screenings for breast, colorectal or cervical cancer received a diagnosis of cancer or a related condition. The follow-up and all-important question was: did those members experience different outcomes than members whose cancers were not detected through screenings?

The results indicated a high VOI for members’ preventive cancer screenings:

  • The majority of new cases of breast, colorectal and cervical cancer were detected through preventive screenings.
  • Among members who received preventive screenings, 5% to 11% underwent treatments because of screening results — and not just for cancer. Treatments included removal of benign tumors or polyps.
  • Those diagnosed with breast, colorectal or cervical cancer through the screenings experienced less invasive treatments and had fewer complications than those diagnosed through other means.
  • New cases of breast and cervical cancer diagnosed through the preventive screenings had lower costs, on average, than cases detected through other means.

Positive action through data

This cancer screening example illustrates how data analysis can empower benefits managers to improve employees’ health outcomes while reducing costs. Analytics can help employers invest in more effective care management resources, as well as design benefits packages that provide positive VOI in wellness, screening and preventive care.

With the cost of health benefits continuing to rise, it’s critical to leverage data to determine the total value of wellness investments. Just as retailers use data analytics to improve the retail experience and increase profits, benefits managers should use data analytics to guide the design and evaluation of benefits and other rewards.

SOURCE: Kramer, M. (21 January 2019) "Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/analytics-are-key-to-wellness-success-heres-why


Developing guidance could free employers from ACA mandate

A future path for employers to avoid ACA employer mandate penalties was outlined in a recent IRS notice. Read this blog post from Employee Benefits News to learn more.


A recent IRS notice provides a future path for employers to avoid ACA employer mandate penalties by reimbursing employees for a portion of the cost of individual insurance coverage through an employer-sponsored health reimbursement arrangement.

While the notice is not binding and at this stage is essentially a discussion of relevant issues, it does represent a significant departure from the IRS’s current position that an employer can only avoid ACA employer mandate penalties by offering a major medical plan.

Here is everything employers need to know.

Background: As described in more detail in a previous update, the ACA currently prohibits (except in limited circumstances) an employer from maintaining an HRA that reimburses the cost of premiums for individual health insurance policies purchased by employees in the individual market.

Proposed regulations issued by the IRS and other governmental agencies would eliminate this prohibition, allowing an HRA to reimburse the cost of premiums for individual health insurance policies (individual coverage HRA) provided that the employer satisfies certain conditions.

The preamble of the proposed regulations noted that the IRS would issue future guidance describing special rules that would permit employers who sponsor individual coverage HRAs to be in full compliance with the ACA’s employer mandate. As follow up, the IRS recently issued Notice 2018-88, which is intended to begin the process of developing guidance on this issue.

On a high level, the ACA’s employer mandate imposes two requirements in order to avoid potential tax penalties: offer health coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees (and dependents); and offer “affordable” health coverage that provides “minimum value” to each full-time employee (the terms are defined by the ACA and are discussed further in these previous updates).

Offering health coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees: Both the proposed regulations and notice provide that an individual coverage HRA plan constitutes an employer-sponsored health plan for employer mandate purposes. As a result, the proposed regulations and notice provide that an employer can satisfy the 95% offer-of-coverage test by making its full-time employees (and dependents) eligible for the individual coverage HRA plan.

Affordability: The notice indicates that an employer can satisfy the affordability requirement if the employer contributes a sufficient amount of funds into each full-time employee’s individual coverage HRA account. Generally, the employer would have to contribute an amount into each individual coverage HRA account such that any remaining premium costs (for self-only coverage) that would have to be paid by the employee (after exhausting HRA funds) would not exceed 9.86% (for 2019, as adjusted) of the employee’s household income.

Because employers are not likely to know the household income of their employees, the notice describes that employers would be able to apply the already-available affordability safe harbors to determine affordability as it relates to individual coverage HRAs. The notice also describes new safe harbors for employers that are specific to individual coverage HRAs, intending to further reduce administrative burdens.

Minimum value requirement: The notice explains that an individual coverage HRA that is affordable will be treated as providing minimum value for employer mandate purposes.

Next steps: Nothing is finalized yet. Employers are not permitted to rely on the proposed regulations or the notice at this time. The proposed regulations are aimed to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, if finalized in a timely matter. The final regulations will likely incorporate the special rules contemplated by the notice (perhaps with even more detail). Stay tuned.

This article originally appeared on the Foley & Lardner website. The information in this legal alert is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.

SOURCE: Simons, J.; Welle, N. (17 January 2019) "Developing guidance could free employers from ACA mandate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/developing-guidance-could-free-employers-from-aca-mandate?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001

 


No primary care doc, no problem: How millennials are changing healthcare

Do you have a primary care physician? Forty-five percent of 18- to 29-year-olds reported that they do not have a primary care physician. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more.


Millennials, and Generation Z behind them, are changing the way they access healthcare. In fact, 45% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they don’t have a primary care physician. Instead, they’re opting for on-demand healthcare.

Traditionally, individuals and families see primary care physicians several times a year and build relationships with their doctors over time. Visiting the same primary care physician when an illness strikes, or for an annual wellness checkup, can help the doctor notice changes in a patient’s health and catch issues before they become more serious (and costly).

But for millennials, having a primary care physician isn’t necessarily a priority.

That’s in part because they seem to prefer on-demand healthcare options, such as urgent care, drug store clinics and telemedicine services, which are easily accessible and typically include shorter wait times. The number of urgent care centers reflects the trend — they’re projected to grow by 5.8% in 2018, according to the Urgent Care Association.

Then there is employers’ shift away from health maintenance organizations, which often required that each employee choose a primary care doctor at the start of the plan. HMOs also require a referral from the primary care physician to see specialists. Recent research shows that most often, employers offer preferred provider organizations (84%), while 40% offer consumer-directed health plans and 35% offer HMOs.

Finally, physician shortages are leading to longer wait times for appointments. The U.S. population continues to grow and age, which may lead to a shortage of 120,000 primary and specialty doctors by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

For employers, it’s important to understand the reasons behind the shift to on-demand healthcare and educate employees to ensure they can get appropriate medical attention when they need it.

One crucial part of this education is helping employees understand when they should visit urgent care versus the emergency room, and reminding them that telemedicine is available. More than 95% of large employers and just over one-third of small- and mid-size employers offer telemedicine benefits. But adoption rates among employees remain low — only 20% of large employers report utilization rates above 8%, according to the National Business Group on Health.

Ensure your employees know that the service is available throughout the year and help them understand the cost if any is associated with the service. You may consider offering $0 copays for telemedicine visits to encourage employee use.

Encourage employees to get a wellness visit each year to help uncover health issues and take steps to prevent others. One way to do this without forcing employees to wait for an appointment or commit to a doctor is to bring the service in-house. Increasingly, large employers are adding this service to help employees stay healthy. In fact, one-third of employers with more than 5,000 employees and 16% of employers with 500-4,999 employees now have onsite clinics. Another 8% of midsize employers plan to add clinics in 2019.

Providing health assessments as part of a health and wellness program is another way to get employees, especially money conscious millennials, in front of a doctor. Younger workers are likely to embrace incentives or premium discounts that are tied to a physician visit.

Direct primary care is yet another employer option to provide easy-to-access primary care. With direct primary care, employers partner with primary care physicians to offer a designated doctor for their employees. The benefit for employees is more face time with a doctor and the opportunity to get personalized care.

Importantly, employees who have known chronic issues should see a primary care doctor regularly to help monitor and manage their condition.

The trend toward seeking on-demand healthcare at alternative sites isn’t likely to reverse direction any time soon. Instead, it’s up to employers to understand why it’s happening and educate employees of all ages on their options for care.

SOURCE: Milne, J. (7 January 2019) "No primary care doc, no problem: How millennials are changing healthcare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/no-primary-care-doc-no-problem-how-millennials-are-changing-healthcare?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


4 ways to help employees master their HDHPs in 2019

Do you offer High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) to your employees? Whether your employees are HDHP veterans or newbies, there are things companies can do to help improve employee understanding. Read this blog post to learn more.


With 2018 in the books, now is a great time to give HDHP veterans and newbies at your company some help understanding — and squeezing more value out of — their plans in 2019.

Here are four simple steps your HR team can take over the next few months to put employees on the right track.

1. Post a jargon-free FAQ page on your intranet

When: Two weeks before your new plan year begins

Keep your FAQ at ten questions (and answers!), maximum. Otherwise, your employees can get overwhelmed by their health plans and by the FAQ.

When writing up the answers, pretend you’re talking directly to an employee who doesn’t know any of the insurance jargon you do. Keep it simple and straightforward.

Make sure your questions reflect the concerns of different employee types: Millennials who haven’t had insurance before, older employees behind on retirement, employees about to have a new kid, etc. To get a clear sense of these concerns, invite a diverse group of 5-7 employees out for coffee and ask them.

Some sample questions for your FAQ might be:
• Is an HSA different from an FSA?
• Do I have to open an HSA?
• How much money should I put in my HSA?
• This plan looks way more expensive than my PPO. What gives?

2. Send a reminder email about setting up an HSA and/or choosing a monthly contribution amount

When: The first week of the new plan year

When your employees don’t take advantage of their HSA not only do they miss out on low-hanging tax savings, your company misses out on payroll tax savings, too.

So right at the start of the new year, send an email that explains why it’s important to set up a contribution amount right away.

A few reasons why it’s really important to do this:

  • You can’t use any HSA funds until your account is fully set up and you’ve chosen how much you’re going to contribute.
  • If you pay for any healthcare at all next year, and don’t contribute to your HSA, you’re doing it wrong. Why? You don’t pay taxes on any of the money you put into your HSA and then spend on eligible health care…which puts real money back in your pocket. (Last year, the average HSA user contributed about $70 every two weeks and saved $267 in taxes as a result!)
  • There’s no “use it or lose it” rule! Any money you put into your HSA this year is yours to use for medical expenses the rest of your life. And once you turn 65, you can use it for anything at all. A Mediterranean cruise. A life-size Build-a-Bear. You name it.

3. Give your HDHP newbies tips on navigating their first visit to the doctor and pharmacy

When: The week insurance cards are mailed out

When employees who are used to PPO-style co-pays realize they have to pay more upfront with their HDHP, they can get…cranky. And start to doubt their plan choice — or worse, you as their employer choice.

So set expectations ahead of time to avoid employee sticker shock and to prevent you from getting an earful. Specifically, remind employees which types of visits are considered preventative care (and likely free) and which aren’t. Then explain their options when it comes to paying for — and getting reimbursed for — the visit.

4. Share tips on saving money on care with all your HDHP users

When: Any time before the end of the first quarter of the year

Specifically, you might recommend that your employees:

  • Check prescription prices on a site like Goodrx.com before they buy their meds
  • Visit an urgent care center instead of the ER, if they’re sick or hurt but it’s not life-threatening
  • Use a telemedicine tool (if your company offers one) to get free online medical advice without having to leave their Kleenex-riddled beds

Sure, following this communication schedule requires extra elbow grease. But if you defuse your employees’ stress and confusion early, they’ll feel more prepared to take control of their healthcare and get the most out of their plans. And as a bonus, you and your team get to spend less time answering panicked questions the rest of the year.

SOURCE: Calvin, H. (2 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees master their HDHPs in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-ways-to-help-employees-master-their-hdhps-in-2019


When every day is bring-your-kid-to-work day

Canopy, a software developer, has adopted many family-friendly employee benefits, including a benefit that allows employees to bring their newborns to work up until they are about 6 months old. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


When recent college graduate Hanna Arntz first interviewed for a job at Canopy, a Utah-based startup that develops practice management software for accounting firms, the recruiter asked her about her long-term career goals. Arntz wasn’t sure about what she wanted, but she was sure of one thing: She wanted to be a mom.

The recruiter told Arntz that Canopy was developing benefits for pregnant and working mothers. Arntz was interested, and accepted a position at the company in 2017. She is now a talent acquisition manager, a role that allowed her to witness the company’s development of family-friendly benefits firsthand.

“We had a lot of focus groups for parents within Canopy to understand what parents need in the workforce and how to retain them, particularly mothers,” she says.

Canopy now offers 10 weeks of maternity leave, plus a two-week ramp period where parents can work part-time to readjust to work. The company also offers two weeks of paternity leave. In addition to these policies, Canopy has an unusual offering: It allows parents to bring their newborns into work every day up until they are about 6-months-old.

Canopy CEO Kurt Avarell says many of the employees on the more than 300-person team have children, and there is a level of understanding when new parents bring their little ones to work. The company also welcomes older children into their office from time to time.

“Pretty much any day is a bring-your-kid-to-work day,” he says. “It’s pretty typical to have kids in the office.”

Arntz gave birth to her son, Jude, seven months ago. After taking maternity leave, she returned to the office with her newborn. Initially, she was nervous about bringing him to work.

“I was worried he was going to be crying in meetings,” she says. “There was so much anxiety around that.”

Since she has returned to work, though, colleagues have not treated her any differently, she says. Balancing her work with taking care of her son can be tough, she admits, but the company has been supportive.

“Even if the baby was crying and I was bouncing him, they’d still be looking at me in the eye and engaging me in conversation,” she says.

Employers like Canopy are beginning to recognize the value of adding family-friendly benefits with many beefing up paid parental leave, breast milk shipping, and free babysitting services. For example, dozens of companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, CVS Health, Dollar General, Eataly and General Mills made changes to their paid parental leave benefits in 2018. Meanwhile, Home Depot, Trip Adviser, Vox Media and Pinterest added breast milk shipping benefits, and Starbucks began offering subsidized child care as a benefit.

In addition to its maternity and paternity leave benefits, Canopy has a flexible paid time off policy that allows new parents to work from home. The company also has separate mothers’ and fathers’ rooms in the office and provides new parents with a gift of diapers, clothes, baby care products and gift cards.

Avarell says offering family-focused benefits is a good way to retain employees because it shows workers that they are supported at home and in the office. It’s a part of Canopy’s culture that he hopes to maintain long-term.

As for Arntz, the benefits have played an integral part of her staying at the company.

“The company has invested in me for a reason,” she says. “They want to retain me.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 January 2019) "When every day is bring-your-kid-to-work day" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/when-every-day-is-bring-your-kid-to-work-day?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat

Are you looking for ways to help your employees reach their wellness goals? The RAND Corporation reported that 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition. Read this blog post to learn more.


Doughnuts in the conference room. Soda and chips from the vending machine. Cookies in the office kitchen. A recent CDC study of employees across the U.S. found that the foods people get at work tend to contain high amounts of salt, sugar and empty calories.

When people are busy and on-the-go — a common reality for full-time employees who spend more than a third of their day at work — it’s all too easy to fall into poor eating habits. And poor eating habits contribute to poor health. According to a RAND Corporation Study, 60% of American adults suffer from at least one chronic condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure) and 42% have more than one. These conditions are costly, and not just for individuals themselves. The CDC estimates that productivity losses related to health issues cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

For employers that care about wellness, improving food and beverage offerings represents an untapped opportunity: Better nutrition at work can not only have a powerful impact on employee health but also contribute to a happier, more focused and productive workforce. Making large-scale changes across an organization is not always easy, however, especially when it comes to ingrained habits and preferences. What can today’s employers do to incentivize their employees to make healthier choices?

1. Make healthy food and beverages a benefit.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 survey on Global Human Capital Trends, 63% of employees surveyed cited healthy snacks as something they value highly when it comes to wellness. People want to eat healthier, which is great, but when they are busy, they’ll pick up what’s easy and available. And in too many of today’s offices, that means vending machines and office kitchens stocked with ultra-processed foods high in sugar and salt. Not only are these items unhealthy, they can also lead to sluggishness and lethargy as blood sugar levels spike and then crash.

It’s pretty simple: When more nutritious offerings are readily available — and especially if they are free or subsidized — people are more likely to try them. Companies that offer high-quality food and beverages as a benefit will reap rewards not just in terms of a healthier and more productive workforce, but also in attracting and retaining people, like millennials, who value wellness and appreciate the fact that their employer is investing in their health and happiness.

2. Get personal.

Different people have different drivers and different needs. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to changing habits rarely works. Before making big decisions about your company’s food and beverage services, ask questions: Are some people on special diets or do they keep unusual schedules? What do people like and dislike about current available options? What kinds of foods and drinks do they wish were offered, but aren’t?

With a better understanding of habits, preferences and what drives people to the kitchen or break room in the first place (boredom? low energy? social time?), employers can begin to build a food and beverage profile that’s tailored to their workforce’s individual needs and thus more likely to be embraced.

3. Consider the “psychology” of snacking.

People don’t always make rational decisions — even more so when they are tired, stressed or “hangry.” But when corporations make the healthy choice the easy (and delicious!) choice, it helps. Everything from where snacks and drinks are positioned — are the more nutritious options at eye level? — to the design of kitchen and break room spaces can make a difference in promoting better eating habits.

For example, kitchen spaces that are attractive, comfortable and inviting encourage people to take a little more time and put more thought into selecting their snacks, and can also serve as a welcome place for people to connect with each other and de-stress. Taste is another important consideration. People sometimes assume that healthy food won’t taste as good as the bad stuff, but this is often just a misconception. Special tastings or fun office activities like offering a “snack of the week” can get people to try more nutritious options and see for themselves that they can be just as — if not more — delicious than what they were eating before.

4. Nudge, don’t push.

Don’t expect people to move from potato chips to veggie and quinoa salad overnight. Organizations that start with a few key changes — replacing sugary sodas with flavored water, for example, or swapping out highly-processed snacks and foods with similar, but more nutritious options — will face less initial resistance, and can then build up their healthy offerings over time. Every workplace has their guilty pleasures, whether it’s a specific brand of soda or a favorite candy. Rather than turning people off by taking their “comfort snacks” away, sometimes the best approach is to simply add healthier alternatives and then wait for people discover on their own that these can be equally fulfilling and delicious, and most importantly, make them feel better too.

Workplace wellness initiatives continue to grow in popularity, but there are still questions about whether these programs are as effective as they could be. While health screenings, smoking cessation programs and gym memberships are a good start, corporations shouldn’t overlook a key driver of good health — what their people eat and drink. Providing easy access to a great diet at work is a smart strategy for improving wellness, and one that employees will come to appreciate as a valuable benefit. Plus, healthy, enthusiastic and energized people makes for a much happier and more productive workplace — a win-win for employees and employers alike.

SOURCE: Heinrich, M. (3 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-ways-to-help-employees-make-better-choices-about-what-they-eat?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Compliance: Yearly Deadlines for Health Plans

Do you offer group health plans coverage to your employees? Employers that provide coverage are subject to multiple compliance requirements throughout the year. Certain requirements have been around for many years, while others have been recently added by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Continue reading for a summary of the many compliance requirements and their associated deadlines that health plan providers should be aware of throughout the year. Certain deadlines for non-calendar year plans may vary from what is outlined in this summary. This summary only covers recurring calendar year compliance deadlines. Other requirements that are not based on the calendar year are not included below.

January

Deadline Requirement Description

January 31

Form W-2 Deadline for providing Forms W-2 to employees. The ACA requires employers to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health plan coverage on their employees’ Forms W-2. The purpose is to provide employees with information on how much their health coverage costs. Certain types of coverage are not required to be reported on Form W-2.

This Form W-2 reporting requirement is currently optional for small employers (those who file fewer than 250 Forms W-2). Employers that file 250 or more Forms W-2 are required to comply with the ACA’s reporting requirement.

January 31 Form 1095-C or Form 1095-B—Annual Statement to Individuals Applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules must furnish Form 1095-C (Section 6056 statements) annually to their full-time employees. Employers with self-insured health plans that are not ALEs must furnish Form 1095-B (Section 6055 statements) annually to covered employees.

The Forms 1095-B and 1095-C are due on or before Jan. 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the statements relate. Extensions may be available in certain limited circumstances. However, an alternate deadline generally is not available for ALEs that sponsor non-calendar year plans.

 

Update: The IRS extended the deadline for furnishing the 2018 employee statements, from Jan. 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.  

February

Deadline Requirement Description

February 28   (March 31, if filing electronically)

Section 6055 and 6056 Reporting Under Section 6056, ALEs subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules are required to report information to the IRS about the health coverage they offer (or do not offer) to their full-time employees. ALEs must file Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C with the IRS annually.

Under Section 6055, self-insured plan sponsors are required to report information about the health coverage they provided during the year. Self-insured plan sponsors must generally file Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B with the IRS annually.

ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans are required to report information to the IRS under Section 6055 about health coverage provided, as well as information under Section 6056 about offers of health coverage. ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans will generally use a combined reporting method on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C to report information under both Sections 6055 and 6056.

All forms must be filed with the IRS annually, no later than Feb. 28 (March 31, if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. Reporting entities that are filing 250 or more returns must file electronically. There is no alternate filing date for employers with non-calendar year plans.

March

Deadline Requirement Description

March 1   (calendar year plans)

Medicare Part D Disclosure to CMS Group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare Part D eligible individuals must disclose to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) whether prescription drug coverage is creditable or not. In general, a plan’s prescription drug coverage is considered creditable if its actuarial value equals or exceeds the actuarial value of the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Disclosure is due:

  • Within 60 days after the beginning of each plan year;
  • Within 30 days after the termination of a plan’s prescription drug coverage; and
  • Within 30 days after any change in the plan’s creditable coverage status.

Plan sponsors must use the online disclosure form on the CMS Creditable Coverage webpage.

July

Deadline Requirement Description

July 31

PCORI Fee Deadline for filing IRS Form 720 and paying Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fees for the previous year. For insured health plans, the issuer of the health insurance policy is responsible for the PCORI fee payment. For self-insured plans, the PCORI fee is paid by the plan sponsor.

The PCORI fees are temporary—the fees do not apply to plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2019. This means that, for calendar year plans, the PCORI fees do not apply for the 2019 plan year.

July 31

Form 5500 Plan administrators of ERISA employee benefit plans must file Form 5500 by the last day of the seventh month following the end of the plan year, unless an extension has been granted. Form 5500 reports information on a plan’s financial condition, investments and operations. Form 5558 is used to apply for an extension of two and one-half months to file Form 5500.

Small health plans (fewer than 100 participants) that are fully insured, unfunded or a combination of insured/unfunded, are generally exempt from the Form 5500 filing requirement.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) website and the latest Form 5500 instructions provide information on who is required to file and detailed information on filing.

September

Deadline Requirement Description

September 30

Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) Rebates The deadline for issuers to pay medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates for the 2014 reporting year and beyond is Sept. 30. The ACA requires health insurance issuers to spend at least 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on health care claims and health care quality improvement activities. Issuers that do not meet the applicable MLR percentage must pay rebates to consumers.

Also, if the rebate is a “plan asset” under ERISA, the rebate should, as a general rule, be used within three months of when it is received by the plan sponsor. Thus, employers who decide to distribute the rebate to participants should make the distributions within this three-month time limit.

September 30

Summary Annual Report Plan administrators must automatically provide participants with the summary annual report (SAR) within nine months after the end of the plan year, or two months after the due date for filing Form 5500 (with approved extension).

Plans that are exempt from the annual 5500 filing requirement are not required to provide an SAR. Large, completely unfunded health plans are also generally exempt from the SAR requirement.

October

Deadline Requirement Description

October 15

Medicare Part D – Creditable Coverage Notices Group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare Part D eligible individuals must disclose whether the prescription drug coverage is creditable or not. Medicare Part D creditable coverage disclosure notices must be provided to participants before the start of the annual coordinated election period, which runs from Oct. 15-Dec. 7 of each year. Coverage is creditable if the actuarial value of the coverage equals or exceeds the actuarial value of coverage under Medicare Part D. This disclosure notice helps participants make informed and timely enrollment decisions.

Disclosure notices must be provided to all Part D eligible individuals who are covered under, or apply for, the plan’s prescription drug coverage, regardless of whether the prescription drug coverage is primary or secondary to Medicare Part D.

Model disclosure notices are available on CMS’ website.

Annual Notices

Type of Notice Description
WHCRA Notice The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) requires group health plans that provide medical and surgical benefits for mastectomies to also provide benefits for reconstructive surgery. Group health plans must provide a notice about the WHCRA’s coverage requirements at the time of enrollment and on an annual basis after enrollment. The initial enrollment notice requirement can be satisfied by including the information on WHCRA’s coverage requirements in the plan’s summary plan description (SPD). The annual WHCRA notice can be provided at any time during the year. Employers with open enrollment periods often include the annual notice with their open enrollment materials. Employers that redistribute their SPDs each year can satisfy the annual notice requirement by including the WHCRA notice in their SPDs.

Model language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.

CHIP Notice If an employer’s group health plan covers residents in a state that provides a premium subsidy under a Medicaid plan or CHIP, the employer must send an annual notice about the available assistance to all employees residing in that state. the annual CHIP notice can be provided at any time during the year. Employers with annual enrollment periods often provide CHIP notice with their open enrollment materials.

The DOL has a model notice that employers may use.

Group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to provide an SBC to applicants and enrollees each year at open enrollment or renewal time. The purpose of the SBC is to allow individuals to easily compare their options when they are shopping for or enrolling in health plan coverage. Federal agencies have provided a template for the SBC, which health plans and issuers are required to use.

The issuer for fully insured plans usually prepares the SBC. If the issuer prepares the SBC, an employer is not also required to prepare an SBC for the health plan, although the employer may need to distribute the SBC prepared by the issuer.

The SBC must be included in open enrollment materials. If renewal is automatic, the SBC must be provided no later than 30 days prior to the first day of the new plan year. However, for insured plans, if the new policy has not yet been issued 30 days prior to the beginning of the plan year, the SBC must be provided as soon as practicable, but no later than seven business days after the issuance of the policy.

Grandfathered Plan Notice To maintain a plan’s grandfathered status, the plan sponsor or must include a statement of the plan’s grandfathered status in plan materials provided to participants describing the plan’s benefits (such as the summary plan description, insurance certificate and open enrollment materials). The DOL has provided a model notice for grandfathered plans. This notice only applies to plans that have grandfathered status under the ACA.
Notice of Patient Protections If a non-grandfathered plan requires participants to designate a participating primary care provider, the plan or issuer must provide a notice of patient protections whenever the SPD or similar description of benefits is provided to a participant. This notice is often included in the SPD or insurance certificate provided by the issuer (or otherwise provided with enrollment materials).

The DOL provided a model notice of patient protections for plans and issuers to use.

HIPAA Privacy Notice The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires self-insured health plans to maintain and provide their own privacy notices. Special rules, however, apply for fully insured plans. Under these rules, the health insurance issuer, and not the health plan itself, is primarily responsible for the privacy notice.

Self-insured health plans are required to send the privacy notice at certain times, including to new enrollees at the time of enrollment. Thus, the privacy notice should be provided with the plan’s open enrollment materials. Also, at least once every three years, health plans must either redistribute the privacy notice or notify participants that the privacy notice is available and explain how to obtain a copy.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has model Privacy Notices for health plans to choose from.

HIPAA Special Enrollment Notice At or prior to the time of enrollment, a group health plan must provide each eligible employee with a notice of his or her special enrollment rights under HIPAA. This notice should be included with the plan’s enrollment materials. It is often included in the health plan’s SPD or insurance booklet. Model language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.
Wellness Notice HIPAA Employers with health-contingent wellness programs must provide a notice that informs employees that there is an alternative way to qualify for the program’s reward. This notice must be included in all plan materials that describe the terms of the wellness program. If wellness program materials are being distributed at open enrollment (or renewal time), this notice should be included with those materials. Sample language is available in the DOL’s compliance assistance guide.
Wellness Notice ADA To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), wellness plans that collect health information or involve medical exams must provide a notice to employees that explains how the information will be used, collected and kept confidential. Employees must receive this notice before providing any health information and with enough time to decide whether to participate in the program. Employers that are implementing a wellness program for the upcoming plan year should include this notice in their open enrollment materials. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided a sample notice for employers to use.

Resources: https://www.ada.gov/; https://www.dol.gov/; https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/model-notices-privacy-practices/index.html; https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/CreditableCoverage/Model-Notice-Letters.html; https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plan-participant-notices-when-the-end-of-the-plan-year-has-passed; https://www.cms.gov/cciio/programs-and-initiatives/health-insurance-market-reforms/medical-loss-ratio.html; https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/compliance-assistance-guide.pdf; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/affordable-care-act/for-employers-and-advisers/preexisting-condition-exclusions; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/affordable-care-act/for-employers-and-advisers/summary-of-benefits; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/chipra/working-group; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/laws-and-regulations/laws/whcra; https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/reporting-and-filing/forms; https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/patient-centered-outcomes-research-institute-fee; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/form-1095-b-what-you-need-to-do-with-this-form; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/form-1095-c-what-you-need-to-do-with-this-form; https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/CreditableCoverage/index.html?redirect=/CreditableCoverage/; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/questions-and-answers-on-information-reporting-by-health-coverage-providers-section-6055; https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/employers/questions-and-answers-on-reporting-of-offers-of-health-insurance-coverage-by-employers-section-6056; https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-w-2;


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