HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the flu cost U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings. Read this blog post to learn how HR departments are convincing their employees to get a flu shot.


Elizabeth Frenzel and her team are the Ford assembly line of flu shots: They can administer about 1,800 flu shots in four hours.

Frenzel is the director of employee health and wellbeing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and with 20,000 employees, she is no stranger to spearheading large flu shot programs. The center where Frenzel administers flu shots has roughly a 96% employee vaccination rate. Back in 2006, only about 56% of employees got their shots.

“When you run these large clinics, safety is critically important,” she says.

Problems like Frenzel’s are not unique. Every fall, HR departments send mass emails encouraging employees to get vaccinated. The flu affects workforces across the country, costing U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings, according toThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is not only a cause of absenteeism but a sick employee can put their coworkers at risk. Last year the flu killed roughly 80,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even if an employer offers a flu shot benefit, the push to get employees to sign up for the vaccine can be a two-month slough, with reminder emails going unanswered. Moreover, companies often contend with misconceptions about the shot, such as the popular fallacy that shots will make you sick, running out of the vaccine, and sometimes just plain employee laziness.

In Frenzel’s case, increasing the number of employees who got flu shots weren’t just a good idea, but it was needed to protect the lives of the cancer patients they interact with every day. The most startling fact, she says, was that healthcare workers who interact with patients daily were less likely to get vaccinated.

“So that’s how we started down the path,” she says. “Really targeting these people who had the closest patient contact.”

Frenzel credits the significant increase in employee participation in the flu shot program to several factors. They made the program mandatory — a common move in the healthcare industry — but Frenzel says their improvement also was related to flu shot education. The center made it a priority to explain to staff members exactly why they should get vaccinated. Frenzel made it more convenient, offering the vaccine at different hours of the day, so all employees could fit it into their schedule. They also made it fun, offering stickers for employees to put on their badge once they got a shot. Every year, she says, they pick a new color.

Employers outside of the medical industry are focused on improving their flu shot programs, including Edward Yost, manager of employee relations and development at the Society for Human Resource Management, who helped organize a health fair and flu shot program for 380 employees.

Yost says onsite flu shot programs are more effective than vouchers that allow employees to get vaccinated at a primary care doctor or pharmacy. The more convenient you make the program, he says, the more likely employees will use it.

“There’s no guarantee that those vouchers are going to be used,” he says. “Most people aren’t running out to a Walgreens or a CVS saying, please stab me in the arm.”

Besides the convenience, employees are more likely to sign up for a shot when they see co-workers getting vaccinated, Yost says. If a company decides to offer an onsite program, planning ahead is key. Sometimes employees will not sign up in advance for the vaccine but then decide they want to get one once the vendor arrives onsite. Yost recommends companies order extra vaccines.

“Make sure that you’re building in the expectation that there's going to be at least a handful of folks who are more or less what you call walk-ins in that circumstance,” he says.

Incentivizing employees to get the flu shot is also important, Yost says. Some firms will offer a gym membership or discounted medical premiums if they attend regular checkups and get a biometric screening in addition to a flu shot. He recommends explaining to employees how a vaccine can help reduce the number of sick days they may use.

“Employees need to see that there’s something in it for them,” Yost says. “And quite honestly, being sick is a miserable thing to experience.”

Affiliated Physicians is one of the vendors that can come in and administer flu shots in the office. The company has provided various employers with vaccines for more than 30 years, including SourceMedia, the parent company of Employee Benefit News andEmployee Benefit Adviser. In the past 15 years, Ari Cukier, chief operating officer of the company, says there’s been an increase in the amount of smaller companies signing up for onsite vaccines. HR executives should be aware of the number of employees signing up for vaccinations when scheduling an onsite visit.

“We can’t go onsite for five shots, but 20-25 shots and up, we’ll go,” Cukier says.

Cukier agrees communication between human resources departments and employees is crucial in getting people to sign up for shots. Over the years, he’s noticed that more people tend to sign up for shots based on the severity of the previous flu season.

“Last year, as bad as it was, we have seen a higher participation this year,” he says.

Brett Perkisonassistant professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, says providing a good flu shot program starts from the top down. The company executives, including the CEO and HR executives, should set an example by getting and promoting the shots themselves, he says.

It’s also important to listen to employee concerns. Before implementing a program, if workers are taking issue with the shot, it’s best to hold focus groups to alleviate any worries before the shots are even being administered, he says.

Some employees may even believe misconceptions like the flu shot will make one sick or lead to long-term illnesses, he says. Others may question the effectiveness of the shot. Having open lines of communication with employees to address these concerns will ensure that more will sign up, Perkison says.

Regardless of the type of flu shot program, the most important part is preventing illness, SHRM’s Yost says. While missing work and losing money are important consequences of a flu outbreak, having long-term health issues is even more serious, he says. Plus, no one likes being sick.

“Who’s going to argue about that?” he says.

This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit News.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C (24 October 2018) "HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hrs-recurring-headache-convincing-employees-to-get-a-flu-shot


5 ways employers can leverage tech during open enrollment

Are you leveraging technology advancements during open enrollment? Advances in technology are creating a more seamless and interactive healthcare experience for employees. Read on for five ways employers can leverage technology during 2019 open enrollment.


Technology continues to reshape how employers select and offer healthcare benefits to employees, putting access to information at our fingertips and creating a more seamless and interactive healthcare experience. At the same time, these advances may help employees become savvier users of healthcare, helping simplify and personalize their journey toward health and, in the process, help curb costs for employers.

The revolution can be important to remember during open enrollment, which occurs during the fall when millions of Americans select or switch their health benefits for 2019. With that in mind, here are five tips employers should be aware of during open enrollment and year-round.

Make sense of big data

Big data is a buzzword, but the applications are only meaningful if employers can make sense of that information. To help with that, employers are gaining access to online resources to help enable them to more easily analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical and prescription claims, demographics, and clinical and well-being information. This can provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored clinical management and employee engagement programs, which may help improve health outcomes, mitigate expenses and help employees take charge of their health.

Help people understand their options

More than three-quarters (77%) of employees say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health insurance terms, according to a recent healthcare benefits company's survey. In fact, only 6% of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. To support employees during open enrollment, employers can adopt online platforms designed to personalize and simplify the experience to help people select a health plan based on their personal health and financial preferences while encouraging them to select a primary care physician and enroll in programs such as smoking cessation or weight loss.

Encourage your people to move more

An estimated 35% of employers now integrate wearable devices into their wellbeing programs, helping employees more accurately understand their daily activity levels. As these programs become more common, there may be opportunities for cost savings for companies and their workforces. For instance, some wearable device wellness programs may enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals, while employers can achieve premium renewal discounts based on the aggregate walking results of their employees.

Offer incentives to employees who comparison shop for care

More than one-third (36%) of Americans say they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for healthcare, up from 14% in 2012, according to a healthcare benefits company's survey. To encourage employees to participate in this trend, some employers are offering financial incentives — such as $25 or $50 gift cards — to employees for using healthcare transparency resources. Healthcare quality and cost varies widely within a city or neighborhood, so encouraging the use of online and mobile transparency resources may yield savings for employers and employees.

Integrate medical and ancillary benefits

Open enrollment is also the time for people to select important ancillary benefits, such as vision and dental coverage. While some people may overlook these plans, offering this coverage as part of an employee’s menu of benefits options may maximize the effectiveness of a company’s healthcare dollars, provide families with added peace of mind and help build a culture of health. Combining medical and ancillary benefits under a single health plan may enable for the integrated analysis of a wide range of data that can facilitate proactive outreach and clinical support for employees, including for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or to help prevent the development of such conditions.
SOURCE: Madsen, R. (12 October 2018) "5 ways employers can leverage tech during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/5-ways-employers-can-leverage-tech-during-open-enrollment

Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide

Are you ready for a self-funded health plan? Self-funding and other alternative funding options may seem risky to many HR professionals. Continue reading for three tools to help you decide if you’re ready to switch.


When your health plan is fully insured, it’s easy for your finance department to budget for the cost — you just pass on the health insurer’s annual renewal premium amount to them and that becomes the annual budget number. But you and your broker may have come to suspect that you are leaving money on the table by continuing on a fully insured basis, and you may want to test the self-funded waters.

By now, you may already know there are significant benefits to self-funding, but actually making the switch is a scary prospect for HR directors.

Before you can transition to a self-funded plan, you need to be financially stable and willing to take a bit of a risk. As a safeguard, you also need to familiarize yourself with the two forms of stop-loss insurance. One caps the impact on any one covered member’s claims (individual or specific stop loss), and the other caps your total annual claim liability (aggregate stop loss). Your broker can guide you on which stop loss levels and which stop-loss coverage periods are right for your population when transitioning from fully insured to self-funding.

Beyond these stop-loss safeguards, size will dictate how you pay. If you have fewer than 100 covered employees, you may be able to pay the same amount monthly, just as you do with your fully insured premium. This monthly payment equals projected claims plus an aggregate margin, a monthly administration fee and the stop loss charge. This eliminates unpredictable monthly payments for a small self-funded group.

However, for larger groups of over 100 employees, moving to self-funding will mean paying claims as they are processed (which means uneven claim payments), plus stop loss and administration.

To help you determine if you’re ready for self-funding, you may want to analyze your plan in a few different ways.

1. Look back: A look back analysis is just what it sounds like — a view of how your plan would have performed over the last couple years had you been self-funded, compared to how it did perform under a fully insured model. This should be an easy enough task for your broker to take on, especially if they have sought out self-funded quotes from claim administrators and stop-loss carriers on your behalf. In addition, they should know what your actual claims costs were. The result is that you’ll know whether you would have saved money or not.

2. Look forward: You may already know what your upcoming fully insured renewal looks like. But even if you don’t have hard numbers yet, you can work with your broker to determine a strong estimate of what your proposed premiums will be. Then, your broker should get a self-funded quote, which includes the expected and maximum claims, plus the administrative fees and stop-loss premiums. This is your expected self-funded costs for the upcoming policy period. Compare that estimate to your fully insured renewal costs. (Make sure the self-funded costs are on the same “incurred claims with runout” basis that the fully insured costs would be, for a fair apples-to-apples comparison.)
3. Probability. While the “look forward” analysis compares your fully insured costs to your expected self-funded costs, it is based on “expected” claims. The risky part of self-funding is that your actual claims will not ultimately materialize exactly as expected. There are some more sophisticated tools that combine group-specific data (such as your claims history, demographics and the proposed fixed costs) with a fairly large actuarial database to come up with thousands of possible outcomes.

By charting all of these outcomes, you can produce likelihood percentages of where your actual claims will come in at — versus the “expected” level, and versus the fully insured renewal rate. Not all brokers have this tool on hand, and as a result, there may be a cost associated with producing one. The output from this tool may appeal to your colleagues in the finance department.

Other considerations

During your analysis, you may want to set your self-funded policy year liability based on incurred claims (plus fixed costs), even though your actual paid claims within that policy year may be less due to the lag between when provider services occur and when you actually fund them. The lag is a cash-flow advantage but it does not represent a reduced claim liability.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the cost of high claimants, an important part of planning if you choose the self-funding route. Will your past high claimants continue into your renewal period? Are you aware of new high claimants on the horizon? Stop-loss carriers generally insure only “unknown risks,” not “known risks.” If a plan member has an expensive chronic condition, such as kidney failure, a stop loss carrier may “laser” that individual and set a higher individual stop-loss threshold. It’s important that you know what’s excluded and factor in any uncovered catastrophic claimants into your analysis.

In the end, it may turn out that self-funding is not a good fit, or possibly that this year is just not the year for it. But whether it is, or it isn’t, it is comforting to know that you’ve done your due diligence and have documentation supporting the decision you’ve reached.

SOURCE: DePaola, Raymond (5 October 2018) "Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/ready-for-self-funding-three-tools-to-help-you-decide


Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?

Does your organization have a plan for employee health crises? Employees are often confused and unsure about who they should turn to for assistance when they have a health crisis at work. Read on to learn more.


When talking to employers about their disability programs, I often ask, “Who do your employees go to first for assistance when they have a health condition?”

If I ask that question of a direct supervisor, it’s met with a quick response of “Me!”, which is quickly followed by the statement, “My employees know that my door is always open and I’m here to help them!”

Sadly, this is not true. Another insurance company recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition in the workplace and asked that same question: Who did you go to for assistance? The responses varied.

For example, we found that at midsize companies with 100 to 499 employees, it varied:

· 44% went to their HR manager
· 33% went to their direct supervisor
· 18% went to their HR manager and direct supervisor
· 5% went elsewhere

What this shows is that many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing employees with health conditions. This confusion or misunderstanding about whom to approach for assistance can create an inconsistent process for your clients and their workforce — potentially resulting in a negative experience for employees and lost productivity for employers.

Based on the survey findings, employees who worked with their HR manager tended to have a more positive experience and felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition.

For instance, 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor, versus only 37% of employees who went to their HR manager. In addition, 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61% of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.

There are several reasons why working with an HR manager can be more beneficial for employees, and ultimately, your clients. Typically, working with an HR manager can lead to more communication while an employee is on leave. Our research shows employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and returned to work 44% faster than when they worked with their direct supervisor.

HR managers also are usually more aware of available resources and how to connect employees to necessary programs to help treat their condition. HR managers who engaged their disability carriers saw a 22% boost in employees’ use of workplace resources, such as an EAP, or disease management or wellness program, when involved in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan.

This connection to additional resources is essential, as it can help employees receive holistic support to manage their health condition — whether it’s financial wellness support, connection to mental health resources through an EAP or one-on-one sessions with a health coach. HR managers also are usually able to better engage their disability carrier to provide tailored accommodations, which can help aid in stay-at-work or return-to-work plans.

Providing your client with these findings can help them understand the importance of creating a disability process that puts HR as the main point of contact. Not only does this create a consistent experience that helps provide employees with the support they need, it can improve employee morale and reduce turnover.

SOURCE: Smith, Jeffery (16 August 2018) "Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/do-employees-know-where-to-go-in-a-health-crisis


ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Yes, employers still need to worry about the Affordable Care Act and its many rules and regulations. Read this blog post for more information.


During the coming months, employers may have questions about whether they still need to worry about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The answer is yes; the ACA is alive and well, despite renewed legal challenges and the elimination of the individual mandate beginning next year.

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the tax penalty for individuals who don’t have health coverage to $0, effective for 2019, employers are still subject to penalties for failing to comply with certain ACA rules. For example, the IRS is currently enforcing “employer shared responsibility payments” (ESRP) penalties against large employers who fail to meet the ACA requirements to offer qualifying health coverage to their full-time employees. For this purpose, large employers are those with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees. Here are four things about the ACA that employers should focus on now to avoid significant financial liabilities.

1. The IRS is currently assessing penalties using 226-J letters

In 2017, the IRS began assessing ESRP penalties against large employers that failed to offer qualifying health coverage to at least 95 percent of their full-time employees. An ESRP penalty assessment comes in the form of a 226-J letter, which explains that the employer may be liable for the penalty, based on information obtained by the IRS from Forms 1095-C filed by the employer for that coverage year, and tax returns filed by the employer’s employees. The employer has only 30 days to respond to the 226-J letter, using IRS Form 14764, which is enclosed with the 226-J letter. The employer must complete and return IRS Form 14765 to challenge any part of the assessment.

The short timeframe for responding to a 226-J letter means that staff who are likely to be the first to receive communications from the IRS should have a plan in place to react quickly. Training for staff should include information about who to notify and what documentation to keep readily available to support an appeal. Not responding to the IRS 226-J letter will result in a final assessment of the proposed penalty. These penalties can be significant. In the worst case, an employer with inadequate health coverage could pay for the cost of the coverage, as well as penalties of $2,000/year (as indexed) for every full time employee (less 30), even those who received health coverage from the employer.

Depending on the employer’s response to the initial assessment, the IRS will then send the employer one of four types of 227 acknowledgment letters. If the employer disputes the penalty, the IRS could accept the employer’s explanation and reduce the penalty to $0 (a 227-K letter). But if the IRS rejects any part of the employer’s response, the employer will receive either a 227-L letter, with a lower penalty amount, or a 227-M letter, a notice that the amount of the initial assessment hasn’t changed. These letters will explain steps the employer has to take to continue disputing the assessment, including applicable deadlines. The next phase of the appeal might include requesting a telephone conference or meeting with an IRS supervisor, or requesting a hearing with the IRS Office of Appeals.

2. ACA reporting requirements and penalties still apply

Along with the ESRP penalties, the Form 1094-C and 1095-C reporting requirements still apply to large employers. The IRS uses information on Forms 1095-C in applying the ESRP rules and deciding whether to assess penalties against the reporting employer. Large employers must file Forms 1095-C every year with the IRS and send them to full-time employees in order to document compliance with the ACA requirement to offer qualified, affordable coverage to at least 95 percent of full-time employees. Technically, the forms are due to employees by January 31, and to the IRS by March 31, each year, to report compliance for the prior year. In the past, the IRS has extended the deadline for providing the forms to employees, but not the deadline for filing with the IRS. 

Penalties can apply if an employer fails to file with the IRS or provide the forms to employees, and the penalty amount can be doubled if the IRS determines that the employer intentionally disregarded the filing requirement. These penalties can apply if an employer fails to file or provide the forms at all, files and provides the forms late, or if the forms are timely filed and provided, but are incorrect or incomplete.

In some instances, the IRS has assessed ESRP penalties based on Form 1095-C reporting errors. So, in addition to the reporting-related penalties, inaccurate information on Forms 1095-C can lead to erroneous ESRP assessments that the employer will then need to refute, using the IRS forms and procedures described above.

Employers should carefully monitor their ACA filings and reports, and consider correcting prior forms if errors are discovered. Employers should also continue tracking offers of coverage made for each month of 2018, to prepare for compliance with the Form 1095-C reporting requirement early in 2019.

3. “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” disclosure forms are still required

The ACA added a new disclosure requirement for group health plans, called a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBC,” that’s intended to help employees make an “apples to apples” comparison of different benefit plan features, such as deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, and copayments for various benefits and services. This requirement still applies, and SBCs must be provided during open enrollment, upon an employee’s initial eligibility for coverage under the plan, and in response to a request from an employee. The template SBC form and instructions for completing it were updated for coverage periods starting after April 1, 2017. For 2018, a penalty of $1,128 per participant can apply to the failure to provide an SBC as required. 

4. The “Cadillac Tax” has not been repealed

The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax — an annual excise tax on high-cost health coverage — was initially scheduled to take effect in 2018. The Cadillac tax has been repeatedly delayed, and the federal budget bill passed in January delayed it again through December 31, 2021. Despite the repeated delays, the Cadillac tax has not been repealed and is currently scheduled to apply to health coverage offered on or after January 1, 2022. This might be an issue to consider for employers who are negotiating collective bargaining agreements in 2018 that include terms for health benefits extending beyond 2021. 

While uncertainty continues to surround the ACA, employers should remain aware of continuing compliance requirements to avoid the potentially significant penalties that remain in effect under the ACA. 

Boyette, J; Masson, L (21 August 2018) "ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/21/aca-4-things-employers-should-focus-on-this-fall/


15 employee benefits on the rise

A number of benefits, other than employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement plans are on the rise. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement plans are always a vital part of the employee benefits conversation. But a number of other benefits — think wellness and perks that promote work-life balance — are becoming table stakes as employers look to attract and retain talent in a tightened labor market. Here are 15 of the employee benefits that are on the rise, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s recently released annual benefits survey.

Health savings accounts

Health savings accounts continue to rise in popularity. The number of employers offering HSAs — which offer triple tax benefits for employees — rose just one percentage point from 2017 to 2018 (from 55% to 56%), but has increased by 11% in the last five years.

Paid parental leave

The availability of paid parental leave increased significantly between 2016 and 2018 for every type of parental leave, according to SHRM. Paid maternity leave increased from 26% in 2016 to 35% in 2018, and paid paternity increased from 21% to 29%. Meanwhile, adoption (20% to 28%), foster child (13% to 21%) and surrogacy (6% to 12%) leave also increased in the last two years.

A number of large employers have added or enhanced paid parental leave programs in the last year. Dollar GeneralTD Bank and Unum are among the companies that added parental leave benefits for employees, while IBMTIAA and Walmart are among those that expanded their programs.

Company-organized fitness competitions/challenges

The last year has seen a substantial uptick in employers targeting employee wellness through company-organized fitness competitions and challenges. The percentage of employers offering the perk increased from 28% in 2017 to 38% in 2018.

Standing desks

Standing desks are one of the fastest-growing employee benefits: The percentage of employers offering standing desks to workers increased from 20% in 2014 to 53% in 2018. In the last year alone, the benefit increased 8 percentage points.

Research indicates long hours of sitting are linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, so employers are looking for benefits to help combat the problem.

Critical illness insurance

One in four employers now offer critical illness insurance to their employees, according to SHRM. That’s an 8% increase from 2017 and a 10% increase from 2014. As healthcare costs continue to mount for both employers and employees, voluntary benefits offer workers some additional protections for financial emergencies at a low cost, benefit experts say.

Telecommuting

Flexible working benefits, such as telecommuting, flextime and compressed workweeks, encourage work-life balance and can result in higher productivity and more engaged employees, SHRM reports. That’s likely the reason that more than two-thirds (70%) of organizations offer some type of telecommuting, either on a full-time, part-time or ad-hoc basis, up from 62% last year and 59% in 2014.

CPR/first aid training

A growing number of employers are getting serious about safety: The prevalence of CPR/first aid training increased 7 percentage points (47% to 54%) in the past year.

Acupressure/acupuncture medical coverage

Nearly half of employers (47%) now provide acupressure/acupuncture medical coverage, according to SHRM. The benefit experienced significant growth over just the last year: 38% of employers offered the coverage in 2017.

Onsite stress management programs

A growing number of employees report they are stressed out — and the effects are showing at work. So employers are increasingly taking action. The number of employers offering workplace stress management programs is on the rise, with 12% of companies offering these programs. That’s up from 7% last year, and just 3% in 2014.

Lactation rooms

More employers are offering benefits that help new mothers adjust to getting back to work after having a baby. Nearly half (49%) of organizations now offer onsite lactation rooms, according to SHRM, up seven percentage points since 2017 and almost doubling since 2014 (28%).

Casual dress benefits

Dressing down is going up: More employers are embracing casual dress benefits, according to SHRM statistics. The most common practice is to allow employees to “dress down” one day per week, up six percentage points since 2014 (to 62%) and three percentage points since 2017. Half of employers say they allow casual dress every day, up six percentage points since 2017 and 18 percentage points since 2014. And about one-third (34%) of organizations offer the perk on a seasonal basis, up seven percentage points since 2017 and 15 percentage points since 2014.

Service anniversary awards

The percentage of employers offering service anniversary awards, the most common type of compensation benefit, rose by nine percentage points — to 63% — since 2017, SHRM reports.

Spot bonuses

Nearly half (48%) of employers told SHRM they offer employees spot bonuses/awards. That’s a 3% increase from 2017 and a 7% increase since 2014. A number of employers, including Comerica BankHostessLowe’s and McCormick, have announced bonuses for employees in the last six months as a result of financial savings from the GOP tax law.

Life insurance

Company-paid group life insurance is offered by 85% of organizations, and 80% of organizations offer supplemental life insurance for employees, a four-percentage-point increase from 2017, SHRM reports. A substantial increase was seen for life insurance for dependents with more than two-thirds of organizations (70%) offering this benefit in 2018, an increase of 13 percentage points since 2017 and 16 percentage points since 2014.

Paid time off to volunteer

An increasing number of employees are interested in volunteer opportunities — and employers are listening. SHRM reports that 24% of employers now offer employees paid time off to volunteer, up from 22% in 2017 and 16% in 2014.
SOURCE: Mayer, K (6 August 2018) "15 employee benefits on the rise" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/slideshow/telecommuting-life-insurance-trending-employee-benefits

Amazon has just entered the drug-distribution business

Amazon is on top, knocking big competitors out one by one. Today, they take down pharmacies by offering online health-care services. See what Amazon has in store here.


Amazon.com Inc. agreed to buy the online pharmacy startup PillPack, jumping into the health-care business with a deal that will give the retail giant an immediate nationwide drug network.

The move represents a formidable threat to pharmacy chains including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., which earlier Thursday reported tepid U.S. same-store sales, and rival CVS Health Corp. Walgreens was down 10 percent at 10:18 a.m. in New York, while CVS shares shed 8.9 percent.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018, according to a statement from the companies.

The U.S. market for prescription medicine is huge. In 2016, U.S. consumers spent $328.6 billion on retail prescription drugs, according to the U.S. government. CVS reported prescription sales of $59.5 billion last year, and Walgreens sold $57.8 billion worth of drugs in its fiscal 2017.

PillPack has mail-order pharmacy licenses in all 50 U.S. states, which could allow Amazon to expand quickly. PillPack also has relationships with most major drug-benefit managers, including Express Scripts and CVS, and says it works with most Medicare Part D drug plans. Those ties will give Amazon access to much of the prescription drug market in the U.S.

PillPack sells pre-sorted packets of prescriptions drugs, delivering them to customers in their homes. The closely held firm has software that automates many routine pharmacy tasks, such as verifying when a refill is due, determining co-pays, and confirming insurance. That eliminates much of the manual work that pharmacists often are saddled with now.

The pact follows months of speculation about Amazon’s plans to get into the pharmacy or drug-distribution business. Despite the retailer’s vast reach, entering the market presented a daunting logistical challenge in terms of licensing and dealing with a range of private and government payers. Acquiring PillPack’s networks helps Amazon surmount those hurdles.

Michael Rea, chief executive officer of Rx Savings Solutions, said PillPack could transform the industry and that employers and health plans would benefit from the deal, which he called a “sign of the times.”

“This move signals just how big of a market opportunity there is to change the pharmacy landscape,” Rea said in an email.

Amazon has been disrupting businesses from electronics to household staples and even package delivery. Pharmacy and health-benefits companies have long fretted that they’d be next. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos signaled his interest in health-care earlier this year when he teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon to form a health-care company to manage the health plans of their more than 1 million employees.

The selloff in drugstore stocks was reminiscent of the food-industry swoon that resulted in June 2017 when Amazon said it was buying Whole Foods Market Inc. Kroger Co., the biggest U.S. supermarket chain, saw $2 billion in market value wiped out in one day. Big packaged food stocks also took a hit.

“When Amazon sneezes, everybody else catches a cold,” said Joseph Feldman, an analyst with Telsey Advisory. “And I think that that’s more likely than not what you’re going to see today.”’

Long time coming

Prescription drugs sales are largely intertwined with groceries and personal items like makeup and shampoo and Amazon already sells bulk packs of latex gloves, bed pads and syringes. It recently began selling medical devices and instruments, as well.

Bezos has been thinking about the drug business for nearly two decades; in 1999, Amazon purchased a stake in Drugstore.com. That effort ultimately failed and Walgreens purchased the money-losing startup in 2011 and ultimately shut it down.

Pharmacist TJ Parker and computer scientist Elliot Cohen founded PillPack in 2013 after meeting at a medical-technology program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company raised more than $118 million from brand-name investors including Accel, Sherpa Capital and New York rapper Nas’s Queensbridge Venture Partners.

A September 2016 funding round valued the Boston-based startup at around $360 million, according to venture-capital database PitchBook. In April, CNBC reported Walmart Inc. was in talks to buy the company for “under $1 billion,” citing unnamed sources.

Standing firm

For now, Walgreens indicated that it was in no hurry to find a deal to respond to Amazon, despite the damage to its stock. On an earnings conference call, Walgreens CEO Stefano Pessina faced multiple questions from analysts about the PillPack deal.

“It is a declaration of intent from Amazon,” said Pessina.

He said Walgreens knew that PillPack was for sale as “it had been for sale for a while,” but that the retailer wouldn’t do deals based on emotions or make moves that could destroy value. Pessina insisted that physical pharmacies would continue to be “very important.”

The slump in Walgreens shares weighed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which added the stock to its index of 30 companies this month, replacing General Electric Co.

SOURCE:
Langreth R and Tracer Z (29 June 2018) "Amazon has just entered the drug-distribution business" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/28/amazon-has-just-entered-the-drug-distribution-busi/


Half of Americans think the ACA marketplace is collapsing

Most Americans are happy with the insurance they buy on the individual market, yet those same people think the markets are collapsing before their eyes.

A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation  (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation), released Tuesday, found that 61 percent of people enrolled in marketplace plans are satisfied with their insurance choices and that a majority say they are not paying more this year compared with last year’s premium costs.

Yet, more than half of the overall public — 53 percent — also think the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces are “collapsing.”

Experts have warned that some policy actions supported by the Trump administration would undermine the market, including repealing the penalty for going without insurance and giving people the option to buy short-term plans. Such plans are often less expensive but cover fewer benefits. They are not automatically renewable, and insurers are able to charge people with medical conditions more — or exclude them altogether.

But only about one-fifth of people who obtain coverage on the individual market were even aware that the mandate penalty had been repealed as of 2019, according to the poll. It is still in effect this year.

Nine in 10 enrollees said they would still buy insurance without the penalty, and 34 percent said the mandate was a “major reason” they chose to buy insurance at all.

“They may have been prompted to buy the coverage in the first place because of the mandate,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But now that they’ve got it, they clearly value it.”

Most of the people who buy plans because they don’t get coverage through work or the government, 75 percent, said they bought insurance to protect against high medical bills, and 66 percent said peace of mind was a major reason.

In February, President Donald Trump eased some of the restrictions on short-term insurance plans, allowing them to cover people for 12 months instead of three.

Critics worried this alternative would draw people away from traditional insurance plans and weaken the individual market. According to the poll, though, only 12 percent of respondents buying on that market said they’d be interested in buying one of the short-term plans.

Georgetown’s Corlette cautioned that these numbers could change when people are faced with an actual choice next open enrollment season.

“If you look at how these things are marketed, your average consumer will not be able to tell that these products are any different from a traditional health plan,” she said.

Most people said they didn’t face a premium increase this year. Thirty-four percent said their premiums were “about the same” as last year and 23 percent said they actually went down.

That’s not surprising, said Joseph Antos, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who follows the health industry. Many consumers saw their premium subsidies rise too.

Thirty-five percent of people said one of the major reasons they bought insurance was because government subsidies made it affordable.

The subsidies that people receive, Antos noted, went up to offset the premium increase in many cases, especially if consumers took the advice of experts and shopped around for coverage.

“They’re buying because they feel they need insurance and that their net premiums and deductibles add up to something they’re willing to buy,” Antos said.

The poll was conducted Feb. 15-20 and March 8-13 among 2,534 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/-2 percentage points for the full sample, +/-7 percentage points for all non-group enrollees and +/-9 percentage points for marketplace enrollees.

Source: Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Julie Appleby contributed to this report.
By Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News | April 03, 2018 at 10:06 AM | Originally published on BenefitsPro


Healthcare analytics market grows as providers take aim at cost-cutting

Electronic medical conceptData-enriched tools have cut the communication gap between caregivers and patients even as they provide a large amount of data that can be used to create personalized treatments. (Image: Shutterstock)

 

The need by hospitals and other health care providers to cut the cost of providing care is helping to drive up the global health care/analytics market, to reach an anticipated worth of $53.65 billion by 2025.

That’s according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., which says that hospitals are already using health care analytics to manage the number of workers working in a particular shift.

Citing the example of a hospital in Paris that uses health care analytics to predict the number of patients that may be hospitalized, the report points out that such data can be used to decide the number of staff members that will be needed for a particular shift, thus assisting in driving down the cost of labor in hospitals.

Data-enriched tools such as mHealth, eHealth, Electronic Health Records and mobile applications have cut the communication gap between caregivers and patients even as they provide a large amount of data that can be used to create personalized treatments. However, patients might hesitate to use such tools; that could weigh on the implementation of analytics.

But a combination of artificial and human intelligence data analytics, offering the opportunity to bring greater customization to medical approaches, is expected to expand demand for such tools over the next few years.

Among other findings in the report is the significant market share held by descriptive analytics in 2015 because of its applications in process optimization in organizations. In addition, the services category dominated the component segment in 2015, with outsourcing of big data services contributing to their growth in aiding the high volume of services rendered.

The hardware systems category came out the winner in the component segment, with the high cost of hardware contributing to its growth, while on-premise delivered analytic services dominated the delivery mode category in 2015, capturing a market share of approximately 54.0 percent.

North America has captured a significant share in the global market, the report finds, with advanced health care infrastructure in the region and growing per capita health care spending supporting greater consumption of these services.

Source:
By Marlene Satter 
| April 02, 2018 at 12:13 PM | Originally published on BenefitsPro


Direct Primary Care Begins to Change the Mindset Behind Healthcare

 

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A new kind of doctor's office that doesn't take insurance and charges a monthly fee is 'popping up everywhere' — and that could change how we think about healthcare

Bryan Hill spent his career working as a pediatrician, teaching at a university, and working at a hospital. But in March 2016 he decided he no longer wanted a boss. Soon after, Hill learned about a different way to run a doctor's office. "It's the most fun I've ever had," Hill said. Now almost 18 months into his practice, he said, "I couldn't imagine practicing any way else." Hill's practice is something known as direct primary care. Instead of accepting insurance for routine visits and drugs, these practices charge a monthly membership fee that covers most of what the average patient needs, including visits and drugs at much lower prices. Hill is part of a small but fast-growing movement of pediatricians, family-medicine physicians, and internists opting for this different model. It's happening at a time when high-deductible health plans are on the rise.

A survey in September 2016 found 51% of workers had a plan that required them to pay up to $1,000 out of pocket for healthcare until insurance picks up most of the rest. That means consumers have a clearer picture of how much they're spending on healthcare just as they're having to pay more. At the same time, primary-care doctors in the traditional system are feeling the pressure under the typical fee-for-service model in which doctors are pressured to see more patients. The direct primary-care movement — in which practices are set up on a doctor-by-doctor basis — has been slowly but steadily growing over the past few years, adding about 170 practices in the past year despite some larger practices shutting down.

Direct primary care has the potential to simplify basic doctor visits, giving doctors time to focus just on the patient and care for them in ways they might not have had time for otherwise. But there are also concerns from insurers about what separating insurance from primary care will mean for people who still ultimately need insurance. Members of direct primary-care practices pay a monthly fee, which, depending on the practice, your age, and the number of family members you have on the plan, can run from $50 to $150. Included in that monthly fee are basic checkups, same-day or next-day appointments, and — a boon to patients — the ability to obtain medications and lab tests at or near wholesale prices.

Direct primary care also comes with near-constant access to a doctor — talking via FaceTime while the family is on vacation, or taking an emergency trip to the office to get stitches after a bad fall on a Saturday night. Because direct primary care doesn't take insurance, there are no copays and no costs beyond the monthly fee. Doctors can also take the time to keep in touch with patients in between visits to see how they're doing. Paul Thomas, whose practice in Detroit has grown from 50 members to 250 in the past year, will text his patients once a week working on long-term goals like losing weight, eating better, or quitting smoking. He'll check in with the patient, initiating a conversation and keeping the goal in their mind in a way that an infrequent visit to the doctor's office might not. The number of people in a particular practice who have insurance varies, according to the 17 direct primary-care practices Business Insider spoke to. At some practices, all but a handful had some form of insurance, while at others a little more than half didn't have insurance. To describe how coverage functions under direct primary care, doctors use the example of car insurance.

You don't use your car insurance for small transactions like oil changes, but it's there for you if you get in a car accident. Likewise, health-insurance plans — especially those with high deductibles — can be there if you require healthcare beyond just a standard checkup. While the number of direct primary-care practices is growing, it's not exploding in the same way a national chain might be able to. For the most part, doctors build their own practice, which keeps it local.

—businessinsider.com