Taking A Page From Pharma’s Playbook To Fight The Opioid Crisis

From Kaiser Health News, here is the latest: an interview with Dr. Mary Meengs, medical director at the Humboldt Independent Practice Association, on curbing opioid addiction through the reduction of prescription painkillers.


Dr. Mary Meengs remembers the days, a couple of decades ago, when pharmaceutical salespeople would drop into her family practice in Chicago, eager to catch a moment between patients so they could pitch her a new drug.

Now living in Humboldt County, Calif., Meengs is taking a page from the pharmaceutical industry’s playbook with an opposite goal in mind: to reduce the use of prescription painkillers.

Meengs, medical director at the Humboldt Independent Practice Association, is one of 10 California doctors and pharmacists funded by Obama-era federal grants to persuade medical colleagues in Northern California to help curb opioid addiction by altering their prescribing habits.

She committed this past summer to a two-year project consisting of occasional visits to medical providers in California’s most rural areas, where opioid deaths and prescribing rates are high.

“I view it as peer education,” Meengs said. “They don’t have to attend a lecture half an hour away. I’m doing it at [their] convenience.”

This one-on-one, personalized medical education is called “academic detailing” — lifted from the term “pharmaceutical detailing” used by industry salespeople.

Detailing is “like fighting fire with fire,” said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor who helped develop the concept 38 years ago. “There is some poetic justice in the fact that these programs are using the same kind of marketing approach to disseminate helpful evidence-based information as some [drug] companies were using … to disseminate less helpful and occasionally distorted information.”

Recent lawsuits have alleged that drug companies pushed painkillers too aggressively, laying the groundwork for widespread opioid addiction.

Avorn noted that detailing has also been used to persuade doctors to cut back on unnecessary antibiotics and to discourage the use of expensive Alzheimer’s disease medications that have side effects.

Kaiser Permanente, a large medical system that operates in California, as well as seven other states and Washington, D.C., has used the approach to change the opioid-prescribing methods of its doctors since at least 2013. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

In California, detailing is just one of the ways in which state health officials are attempting to curtail opioid addiction. The state is also expanding access to medication-assisted addiction treatment under a different, $90 million grant through the federal 21st Century Cures Act.

The total budget for the detailing project in California is less than $2 million. The state’s Department of Public Health oversees it, but the money comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a program called “Prevention for States,” which provides funding for 29 states to help combat prescription drug overdoses.

The California doctors and pharmacists who conduct the detailing conversations are focusing on their peers in the three counties hardest hit by opioid addiction: Lake, Shasta and Humboldt.

They arrive armed with binders full of facts and figures from the CDC to help inform their fellow providers about easing patients off prescription painkillers, treating addiction with medication and writing more prescriptions for naloxone, a drug that reverses the toxic effects of an overdose.

“Academic detailing is a sales pitch, an evidence-based … sales pitch,” said Dr. Phillip Coffin, director of substance-use research at San Francisco’s Department of Public Health — the agency hired by the state to train the detailers.

In an earlier effort, Coffin said, his department conducted detailing sessions with 40 San Francisco doctors, who have since increased their prescriptions of naloxone elevenfold.

“One-on-one time with the providers, even if it was just three or four minutes, was hugely beneficial,” Coffin said. He noted that the discussions usually focused on specific patients, which is “way more helpful” than talking generally about prescription practices.

Meengs and her fellow detailers hope to make a dent in the magnitude of addiction in sparsely populated Humboldt County, where the opioid death rate was the second-highest in California last year — almost five times the statewide average. Thirty-three people died of opioid overdoses in Humboldt last year.

One recent afternoon, Meengs paid a visit during the lunch hour to Fortuna Family Medical Group in Fortuna, a town of about 12,000 people in Humboldt County.

“Anybody here ever known somebody, a patient, who passed away from an overdose?” Meengs asked the group — a physician, two nurses and a physician assistant — who gathered around her in the waiting room, which they had temporarily closed to patients.

“I think we all do,” replied the physician, Dr. Ruben Brinckhaus.

Brinckhaus said about half the patients at the practice have a prescription for an opioid, anti-anxiety drug or other controlled substance. Some of them had been introduced to the drugs years ago by other prescribers.

Dr. Ruben Brinckhaus says his small family practice in Fortuna, Calif., has been trying to wean patients off opiates. (Pauline Bartolone/California Healthline)

Meengs’ main goal was to discuss ways in which the Fortuna group could wean its patients off opioids. But she was not there to scold or lecture them. She asked the providers what their challenges were, so she could help them overcome them.

Meengs will keep making office calls until August 2019 in the hope that changes in the prescribing behavior of doctors will eventually help tame the addiction crisis.

“It’s a big ship to turn around,” said Meengs. “It takes time.”

 

Source:
Bartolone P. (14 November 2017). "Taking A Page From Pharma’s Playbook To Fight The Opioid Crisis" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/taking-a-page-from-pharmas-playbook-to-fight-the-opioid-crisis/

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Data transparency, debt consolidation and ID protection lead open enrollment wish list

In the thick of open enrollment season, savvy employers and benefit advisers have eased the onslaught of information with complex benefit jargon by spreading out employee sign-up before the mad fall rush. Employee Benefit Adviser spoke with Jeffrey Faber, HUB International Midwest’s chief operating officer, to discuss how employers are urging employees to save with data transparency tools, use interactive services to learn about new benefits and to sign up for identity protection.

EBA: How is open enrollment going for you and your clients?

Faber: We’re in the middle of open enrollment season and we are trying to lock down the last-minute decisions our clients have. Predominantly our business is a renewal business.

Our large groups have made their decisions already but our smaller groups are just finding out what their renewals are from the major medical carriers. We have our hands full trying to make sense of it all. But open enrollment is the focus. This is absolutely our busiest time of year. From mid-August to Halloween, and even mid-November, it seems to be getting longer and longer every year with all the nuances our clients require.

EBA: How does this enrollment season differ from previous years? Is there confusion over the ACA’s status? Is there a greater emphasis on voluntary benefits?

Faber: On the repeal of Obamacare, a lot of those decisions have been made too late for our employers to really have to pivot and they are unaffected largely by the executive orders and the talk from Congress. Of course, there's the specter that Congress will act and make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but that impact would probably be a 2019 event instead of a 2018 event.

On the voluntary benefits side, our clients are asking for financial and holistic tools to meet the employees where they live in regard to student loans, tuition assistance and debt consolidation services. ID theft has been a big conversation point in the last three or four months and has been heightened by the Equifax breach, but it started three years ago with the Target breach. A lot of employers want to understand their role in their employee’s lives,

And for voluntary benefits, most of our customers are moving to the consumer-driven model with higher deductibles, so accident insurance, critical injury insurance, and hospitalization – those are all nice bolt-on benefits for the medical benefits they have. It almost allows the employee to self-insure their own health. And HSAs and HRAs are still popular. We see a large uptick year over year over year.

EBA: Any other trends for this year’s open enrollment?

Faber: A few years ago, we joked that overall enrollment was the HR Super Bowl. It happened once a year, it was a three hour event with a bunch of commercials and no one really talked about it a week or two later.

Our clients have asked, what can we do the other 11 months a year? We have seen an increase in requests for interactive PDFs, on-demand video, and interactive guides directing folks to microsites or apps on their phone. We introduce these in April, May or June and if the employee needs this, they don't have to go back into their memory bank and access it, they can get it online. It is that year round learning that engages the customer.

EBA: Is this because employees are bombarded with information during open enrollment?

Faber: Yes and no. There is a lot of information that is required and that is distributed this time of year and there are a lot of decision points that they have to make for themselves and the benefit of their families. We put in place decision helping tools like Jellyvision’s ALEX and some other proprietary tools, that can help employees better make decisions.

But I think it is more toward trying to be a circuit breaker in an employee's head when they are accessing healthcare. That makes them stop and check, “Is this in network, do I have to get pre-authorization? How do I check for a lower cost across the street from a benefit provider?”

These things come out of the workshops this time of year, but if you are not hitting employees where they live at the time of use, you are missing those opportunities for significant cost savings. And not on just on the employer side but the employee side especially with high-deductible plans.

EBA: Is data transparency a big push for this open enrollment season?

Faber: Yes, especially when you consider that standalone imaging facilities are three to eight times less expensive than an in-house hospital facility. Employees need to understand that they will pay 100% of that cost until they meet that deductible in that consumer-driven plan, so there is every effort being made to make sure the employee is checking those transparency tools.

At open enrolment time, we make every effort to employees in the room to ID the nearest urgent care and ER facility, to write those down on a note card and put it in the visor of their car. So, they know at the moment of crisis to know where those places are and make decisions ahead of time.

EBA: Accountants say that from January to April 15, they don't see their families. Is it the same for you during open enrollment?

Faber: (Laughs) I grew up in an accounting family and I can attest to that. It is all hands on deck but our goal is to help clients get their decisions out of the way in Q1 and Q2. We try to help them with decisions that don't require immediacy and don’t have to be made right away, like life and disability insurance, and voluntary and wellness benefits. You can make a lot of those decisions in April, May and June.

 

 

Source:
Albinus P. (30 October 2017). "Data transparency, debt consolidation and ID protection lead open enrollment wish list" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/data-transparency-debt-consolidation-and-id-protection-lead-open-enrollment-wish-list-says-hub-international-midwest-coo-jeffrey-faber?feed=00000152-1387-d1cc-a5fa-7fffaf8f0000

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5 ways to empower employees to make smart healthcare choices

As an employer, it's important to help your employees out when you can - especially when it comes to making smart healthcare choices. In this article from Employee Benefit Advisor, Anne Stowell lists five different ways to empower your employees.


As uncertainty in healthcare policy lingers, creating a benefits package with real value for both employers and employees can seem increasingly complex and difficult to achieve. Striving to provide the right care services — ones that are easy for employees to use, and designed to increase engagement in their care while being mindful of costs — is undoubtedly a tricky balancing act.

So how can employers engage to help employers offer benefits that have real and lasting value, while empowering employees to make smart care choices? Here are five tips:

1) Learn your clients’ hot buttons. Value is one of the most important factors employers consider when shopping for benefits. Rise Broadband, for example, the largest fixed wireless service provider in the U.S., has a large number of employees working in the field to service remote customers. Accessing healthcare when employees are on the road was a real challenge. Jennifer Iannapollo, the company’s director of HR, says their telehealth benefit provides employees with real value, and was the clear answer for this Colorado-based employer.

Bloomberg/file photo

2) Recognize empowerment comes with confidence. Employees won’t use what they aren’t sure of. Iannapollo also was careful to choose a telehealth platform that focused on quality. “Some people needed reassurance about who would be treating them and how they would know their medical history. We reassured them that their medical records and history are collected when they register and that the physicians are all board certified and average 20 years of experience. That provided them with peace of mind,” she says. Security practices and certifications can also add a level of comfort, and are something advisers should keep in mind in their recommendations for any product to employers.

3) Remind employees to take charge of their own healthcare destiny. A recent Teladoc survey of more than 300 employers found that a whopping 66% stated that lack of benefit awareness negatively affects employee engagement with health benefits. That’s where advisers have an opportunity to shine by emphasizing the need to communicate and educate employees not just during benefit season, but whenever/wherever their moment of need might be. “Surround sound” reminders are proven to help. One creative idea that Rise Broadband adopted was dashboard stickers that help field technicians’ keep available benefits top of mind.

4) Combat “vendor fatigue.” Employers are inundated by the staggering number of benefits options, not to mention trying to manage countless vendors that all have a piece of the benefits package puzzle. Advisers can help clear the confusion by working closely with their clients to help them source solutions that meet a broad array of needs for everything from sinus infections to behavioral health to getting second opinions.

5) Educate employers that employee engagement is a winning strategy. Advisers agree with us that technology that provides real-time information for decision-making and access to quality healthcare for employees provides real value. Reed Smith, SVP/employee benefits practice leader, CoBiz Insurance, in Denver, believes that like other disruptive innovation (think Apple and Amazon) that has transformed consumer interactions, engaged telehealth, when deployed effectively, can result in a happier, healthier and more involved employee, which means a healthier bottom line for the employer.

 

Source:
Stowell A. (8 November 2017). "5 ways to empower employees to make smart healthcare choices" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/5-ways-to-empower-employees-to-make-smart-healthcare-choices

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10 signs your workplace culture is toxic (and how to fix it)

Having a positive work environment is vital to the success and engagement of your employees. However, mainting that positivity, especially during busy quarters, can be dificult or even forgotten about. Today, we wanted to provide you with an informative article on staying away from toxic environments. From HRMorning.com, here are 10 signs your workplace culture is toxic (and how to fix it).


It’s a hard thing to admit … that your work culture may be toxic. But identifying the symptoms and finding the antidotes for them can quickly improve morale, engagement, retention and productivity. Let’s get started. 

Here to help is Ross Kimbarovsky, founder and CEO of crowdspring, who has some unique insights into the signs of a toxic workplace and how to remedy them.

Are your employees tired? Discouraged? Burnt out?

If the answer is yes, you may have a toxic culture at work.

That’s a problem.  Unhappy workers are less productive, make more mistakes, and are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Work culture exists on multiple levels. It isn’t just behaviors. It’s also an infrastructure of beliefs and values. To create real and lasting change, your business must tackle cultural issues on all levels.

You must act quickly to improve a negative work environment before productivity lags and employees abandon ship.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you turn around a toxic work culture:

1. Identify problem behaviors

Every company is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for repairing a damaged work culture.

The first step is always to examine your business’s culture to identify your specific challenges.

Start by taking a critical look around you. Before you can change for the better, you have to face uncomfortable truths head-on.

Ten common warning signs a workplace is turning toxic are:

  • gossiping and/or social cliques
  • aggressive bullying behavior
  • poor communication and unclear expectations
  • dictatorial management techniques that don’t embrace employee feedback
  • excessive absenteeism, illness or fatigue
  • favoritism and imbalanced working conditions (discriminatory policies/wage gaps)
  • workaholic behavior that sacrifices healthy work/life balance
  • unrealistic workloads or deadlines
  • little (or strained interaction) between employees or employees and management, and
  • unsafe or morally questionable working conditions.

You probably won’t find all of these, and you may find problems not listed here. But whatever problems you find – take note. Those issues will inform your plan to rescue your work culture.

2. Evaluate the underlying support network

A toxic culture can’t take root without a fertile environment, and its symptoms can’t survive without a supportive infrastructure.

So, it’s time to dig deeper. What shared values and actions are helping to support those behaviors?

Examine your company’s leadership and their values. Then work your way from the top of the ladder to the bottom looking for issues like:

  • discriminatory beliefs
  • treating employees as assets, not people
  • information guarding (poor communication/unclear expectations)
  • aggressive or hostile leadership styles
  • belief that employees are lazy, stupid and/or expendable
  • resentment of Authority
  • contrariness
  • lack of accountability
  • lack of appreciation for (or recognition of) good work

All of these are problematic and set the foundation for a negative work culture.

3. Plan your repair strategy

With a clear understanding of the illness, you can now strategize your treatment plan.

And remember – change is hard. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Prioritize.

Tackle the problem behaviors that have the biggest impact first, and smaller issues will likely begin to right themselves. Here are some strategic antidotes to many of the most common workplace problems:

  • Listen to your employees. Hear their grievances, validate their experiences and make the changes necessary to address their issues. This can come in the form of one-on-one conversations, a town hall meeting with HR, or simple blind surveys. Listen, validate, and work together to find solutions.
  • Assign realistic workloads and deadlines. This means taking the time to learn what your employees actually do. What are they responsible for, and how long do those tasks take? Remember that there are only 60 minutes in every hour and assign tasks accordingly.
  • Communicate transparently. Employees can’t do their jobs well without understanding the context. Having the information to do one’s job reduces confusion and frustration, making employees happier and more efficient. Hold weekly meetings, and send frequent memos or a company newsletter. Share the information they need to know.
  • Acknowledge work well done. A study by the Boston Consulting Group reports “appreciation for your work” as the most important factor to job happiness. Find ways to show appreciation. Tell employees what they’re doing well – they’ll feel appreciated (and be more likely to continue doing it). Build a supportive environment by sharing employee successes and make positive encouragement a group activity.
  • Treat all employees by the same rules. Playing favorites breeds resentment. Examine your company policies – do they unfairly benefit one group over others? Be open to feedback; employees may see problems that you don’t. Then even the playing field, and require all employees to follow the rules.
  • Foster emotional intelligence. The BCG Study included good relationships with colleagues and superiors among the top five elements leading to job satisfaction. Banish bullying, disrespect and dismissive behavior. Prioritize emotional intelligence. Provide resources to help employees expand their emotional intelligence. Improved emotional intelligence can cure a number of ills.

While these are all great suggestions for every company, be mindful of your business’ challenges, and choose your action items accordingly.

4. Implement your plan

John Kotter of Kotter International asserts that leaders are catalysts for workplace change. If you’re in charge, you have a powerful platform for motivating change. But, be prepared to live the changes you want to see if you want anyone to take those changes seriously.

Making change easy, rewarding and socially acceptable are the keys to success. Humans have a strong drive to be a part of the group. Normalize the behaviors you seek by asking the social influencers in your business to promote those behaviors, too.

Make it easy for your employees to implement positive changes by removing barriers to success. This, again, will require that you listen to your employees to know what those barriers are.

Finally, help your employees see how the changes you’re proposing will reward them with a more positive workplace.

5. Reflect and adapt

Give your new policies and practices time to take root. Change won’t happen overnight.

After a few months, take stock. What has changed? What hasn’t?

Meet with the influencers you enlisted to help with your implementation. Reflect on how things have gone. Different perspectives can offer useful insight.

Assess your progress, and adapt your efforts as needed. Keep the lines of communication open.

Cultural change is a big undertaking; but well worth the effort. Perseverance will lead you to success.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Guest Author (6 October 2017). "10 signs your workplace culture is toxic (and how to fix it)" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/10-signs-your-workplace-culture-is-toxic-and-how-to-fix-it/


How data analytics is changing employee benefit strategies

As technology continues to grow and expand, more employers are turning to digital platforms when it comes to managing their employee benefits program. With more access to technology, employers can use data accumulated from their employees to better personalize their employee benefits package to fit each individual's needs. Take a look at this column by Eric Helman from Employee Benefit Advisor and find out some more tips on how you can better leverage the data from an employee benefits program to fit your employees'es needs.

In the realm of employee benefits, surveys, focus groups and anecdotes about specific employee encounters with the benefits program typically drive the discussions about how that program should evolve in the future. Unlike the situation at Outback, it is difficult to “observe” how people actually consume benefits and tailor a program that is attractive to them.

Fortunately, recent developments in data analytics have unlocked the potential of using consumer behavior insights to drive employee benefits strategy.

Leading practitioners are beginning to leverage these developments to change the annual renewal process. The technologies that support data aggregation, normalization and reporting have been aggressively developed to support the provider and payer communities. Only now have these advancements been made available to employers and their advisers.

The most successful practitioners point to the value of standardized claims reporting based upon credible data. By combining current claims data with industry benchmarks and predictive analytics, employers gain insight into the ongoing performance of their benefit plans. They “see” for themselves what industry professionals have been telling them for years. Plan performance is based upon claims, both in terms of the number of units of healthcare consumed and the price of those units. In recent surveys, benefit professionals report the difficulty they have in convincing CFOs and CEOs to make the necessary changes to benefit programs. Standardized reporting from a credible analytics platform can greatly enhance the ability for benefit professionals to communicate their agenda.

But standardized reporting is not the panacea. Benefits are complex. And the relationship between risk and consumption of healthcare add to the complexity. Even in the best reporting environments where executives are well informed about the performance of their plans and how the key metrics compare to industry norms, they are often perplexed about what to do with the information. Advancements in the realm of “actionable analytics” are beginning to address this problem as well.

While artificial intelligence or AI is all the rage, the underlying concept of having a computer suggest a course of action based upon data is not a new idea. The new application to employee benefits is the ability to provide “suggestions” in the context of standardized financial reporting. The number of ideas to bend the cost curve are numerous. The challenge is matching these ideas with the appropriate populations, convincing decision makers to invest and engaging the appropriate cohorts of employees to take specific actions necessary to realize the return on investment for these initiatives.

New systems are now available to close the gaps on this execution continuum. The foundation for these new systems is a robust analytics platform. But actionable analytics build upon this foundation by evaluating the employer’s data to discern whether a specific cost-saving initiative might generate savings worthy of the investment. These new systems present the output of that analysis in an easy to understand graphical format for benefit consultants and HR professionals to effectively communicate the potential of cost savings initiatives to decision makers.

Targeted engagement maximizes compliance and ROI
Getting executives to commit to intentional actions to affect the rising costs of benefits solves one half of the problem. The second half of the problem is one of focus. Rather than attempting to engage all employees with generalized messaging, these new systems use analytics to focus their engagement on a specific cohort of individuals in order to drive the greatest impact. This focus allows for a concentration of resources on the targeted populations, resulting in increased compliance and larger return on investment. The best implementations are integrated with benefits administration platforms and can incorporate multiple initiatives simultaneously. Point solutions, from an engagement perspective, have been proven to result in single-digit compliance. The power of an integrated engagement solution allows for initiatives that, because they are both focused and automated, can be executed simultaneously.

Advancements in technology have created a new era in which the democratization of big data allows for non-technical professionals to access detailed information and convert that information into intelligence. According to a recent survey, more than 65% of employers confess they are not strategic when it comes to benefits cost management. In spite of the many cost savings ideas available, more than 40% say they are not engaging in any new initiatives in the upcoming year. While the future of healthcare reform is in doubt, the potential for actionable analytics to significantly change the trajectory of the employer’s benefits costs is certain.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Helman E.  (2017 September 5). How data analytics is changing employee benefit strategies [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/closing-the-execution-continuum-on-employee-benefit-cost-savings


Avoid these 12 Common Open Enrollment Mistakes

Open enrollment season is right around the corner. Check out this great column by Alan Goforth from Benefits Pro and find out the top mistakes employers and HR have made during open enrollment and what you can do to avoid them.

Every employer or human resources professional has made mistakes during open enrollment.

Trying to accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce in a short timeframe against the backdrop of increasing options and often bewildering regulations, can be a challenge even in the best-run companies.

Avoiding mistakes is impossible, but learning from them is not. Although the list may be limitless, here are a dozen of the most common pratfalls during open enrollmentand how to avoid tripping over them.

1. Failing to communicate

"What we've got here… is failure to communicate." – Cool Hand Luke

This mistake likely has topped the list since open enrollment first came into existence, and it will probably continue to do so. That's because enrollment is a complex procedure, and few challenges are greater that making sure employers, employees, brokers and carriers are on the same page.

Employers have both a stick and a carrot to encourage them to communicate as well as possible. The stick is the Affordable Care Act, which requires all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to communicate with employees about their health-care coverage, regardless of whether they offer benefits.

As a carrot, an Aflac study found that 80 percent of employees agree that a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave their jobs

2. Neglecting technology

The integration of new technology is arguably the most significant innovation in the enrollment process in recent years.

This is especially important as younger people enter the workforce. Millennials repeatedly express a preference for receiving and analyzing benefits information by computer, phone or other electronic devices.

The challenge is to make the use of technology as seamless as possible, both for employees who are tech-savvy and for those who are not.

Carriers and brokers are making this an emphasis, and employers should lean on them for practical advice.

See the original article Here.

3. Over-reliance on technology

At the other end of the spectrum is the temptation to rely on technology to do things it never was meant to do.

"Technology is so prevalent in the enrollment space today, but watch out for relying on technology as the one thing that will make or break enrollment," says Kathy O'Brien, vice president of voluntary benefits and nation client group services for Unum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "Technology is great for capturing data, but it won't solve every problem and doesn't change the importance of the other work you need to do."

4. Succumbing to inertia

It can be frustrating to invest substantial time and effort into employee benefit education, only to have most of the staff do nothing.

Yet that is what happens most of the time. Just 36 percent of workers make any changes from the previous enrollment, and 53 percent spend less than one hour making their selections, according to a LIMRA study.

One reason may be that employees don’t feel assured they are making the right decisions.

Only 10 percent felt confident in their enrollment choices when they were done, according to a VSP Vision Care study. One good strategy for overcoming inertia is to attach dollar values to their choices and show where their existing selections may be leaving money on the table.

5. Cutting too many corners

One of the most difficult financial decisions employers make each year is deciding how much money to allocate to employee benefits.

Spending too much goes straight to the bottom line and could result in having to lay off the very employees they are trying to help. Spending too little, however, can hurt employee retention and recruiting.

Voluntary benefits offer a win-win solution. Employees, who pick up the costs, have more options to tailor a program that meets their own needs.

In a recent study of small businesses, 85 percent of workers consider voluntary benefits to be part of a comprehensive benefits package, and 62 percent see a need for voluntary benefits.

6. Not taking a holistic approach

"Holistic" is not just a description of an employee wellness program; it also describes how employers should think about employee benefit packages.

The bread-and-butter benefits of life and health insurance now may include such voluntary options as dental, vision and critical illness. Employers and workers alike need to understand how all of the benefits mesh for each individual.

Businesses also need to think broadly about their approach to enrollment

"Overall, we take a holistic approach to the customer’s enrollment program, from benefits communication to personalized benefits education and counseling, as well as ongoing, dedicated service," says Heather Lozynski, assistant vice president of premier client management for Colonial Life in Columbia, South Carolina. "This allows the employer to then focus on other aspects of their benefits process."

7. Unbalanced benefits mix

Employee benefits have evolved from plain vanilla to 31 (or more) flavors.

As the job market rebounds and competition for talented employees increases, workers will demand more from their employers.

Benefits that were once considered add-ons are now considered mandatory.

Round out the benefits package with an appealing mix of standard features and voluntary options with the objective of attracting, retaining and protecting top-tier employees.

8. Incomplete documentation

Employee satisfaction is a worthy objective — and so is keeping government regulators happy.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers who self-fund employee health care to report information about minimum essential coverage to the IRS, at the risk of penalties.

Even if a company is not required by law to offer compliant coverage to part-time employees, it still is responsible for keeping detailed records of their employment status and hours worked.

As the old saying goes, the job is not over until the paperwork is done.

9. Forgetting the family

The Affordable Care Act has affected the options available to employers, workers and their families.

Many businesses are dropping spousal health insurance coverage or adding surcharges for spouses who have access to employer-provided insurance at their own jobs.

Also, adult children can now remain on their parents' health policies until they are 26.

Clearly communicate company policies regarding family coverage, and try to include affected family members in informational meetings.

Get to know more about employees' families — it will pay dividends long after open enrollment.

10. Limiting enrollment options

Carriers make no secret about their emphasis on electronic benefits education and enrollment.

All things considered, it is simpler and less prone to copying and data-entry errors.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the high-tech option is the first choice of every employee.

Be sure to offer the options of old-fashioned paper documents, phone registration and face-to-face meetings. One good compromise is an on-site enrollment kiosk where a real person provides electronic enrollment assistance.

11. Letting benefits go unused

A benefit is beneficial only if the employee uses it. Too many employees will sign up for benefits this fall, forget about them and miss out on the advantages they offer.

Periodically remind employees to review and evaluate their available benefits throughout the year so they can take advantage of ones that work and drop those that do not.

In addition to health and wellness benefits, also make sure they are taking advantage of accrued vacation and personal days.

Besides maximizing the return on their benefit investment, it will periodically remind them that the employer is looking out for their best interests.

12. Prematurely closing the 'OODA' loop

Col. John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force was an ace fighter pilot. He summarized his success with the acronym OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Many successful businesses are adopting his approach.

After the stress of open enrollment, it's tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on something else until next fall.

However, the close of enrollment is a critical time to observe by soliciting feedback from employees, brokers and carriers.

What worked this year, and what didn't? What types of communications were most effective? And how can the process be improves in 2017?

"Make sure you know what is working and what is not," said Linda Garcia, vice president for human resources at Rooms to Go, a furniture retailer based just outside Tampa. "We are doing a communications survey right now to find out the best way to reach each of our 7,500 employees. We also conduct quarterly benefits surveys and ask for their actual comments instead of just checking a box."

Source:

Goforth A. (2017 Aug 22). Avoid these 12 common open enrollment mistakes [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/08/22/avoid-these-12-common-open-enrollment-mistakes?ref=hp-in-depth&page_all=1


6 employee benefits trends in 2017

2018 is almost upon us. More employers are beginning to start their search for new talent next year. If you are in the process of hiring check out this great article put together by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro and find out the top employee benefit trends for attracting new talent in 2017.

Employers looking to attract the best new employees need to look closely at their benefits offerings.

That’s according to a CBS report that highlights the six trends in benefits that are of the most interest to prospective employees. With millennials having outpaced GenXers as the largest demographic in the workplace, the report says, “it has become abundantly clear over the course of the last half decade that millennials have very different career priorities than their predecessors.”

With that in mind, here are six types of benefits employers might want to consider, if they’re not already on offer.

Flex hours are high on the list for millennials, who regard life/work balance as very important. In fact, according to a PwC study, it’s more important to them than financial compensation. Flexible schedules provide a way for employers to give that balance to employees, allowing them to work hours other than 9-to-5, or from home part of the week. As a result, the report says, employees will have better job satisfaction and be more likely to stay.

Workplace wellness programs are another way to provide a perk that pays off for both employer and employee — and not necessarily at a high cost, the report says. Not only do such programs foster a strong sense of team unity that will help drive job satisfaction and productivity, they also cut health care costs.

Continuing education not only gives employees a leg up, but also provides employers with better-trained staff who are able to cope with modern challenges and less likely to jump ship in search of a more congenial workplace. While the report concedes that most small and midsize businesses don’t have the budget to provide postgrad tuition to employees, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t focus on such investments in language and software certification classes.

Digital health care solutions enable masters of the cyber world in the workforce to reach out to health practitioners via mobile devices and computers, resulting in faster and more personalized treatment. In addition, the report says, “digital health programs are also incredibly cost effective and are estimated to save billions in medical costs over the next four years.”

Fringe benefits and perks — even if not on the scale of big-budget Silicon Valley companies — are another way to woo millennial employees. Public transportation passes, reimbursing employees for yoga classes and massage sessions and providing free lunches or snacks, can give recruiting an edge over companies that do nothing along these lines, the report points out.

Last but not least, there’s a bigger budget of vacation days. Employers may think that’s too expensive, but employee burnout is responsible for 50 percent of employee churn— and the cost of replacing even an entry-level employee can cost a company up to 50 percent of his or her annual salary. The money spent on extra vacation to avoid burnout could be more than offset by the losses of not doing so. Plus, the knowledge that well-rested employees are more productive will also help to counter the down time that might be caused by those additional days off.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 September 5 ). 6 employee benefits trends in 2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/05/6-employee-benefits-trends-in-2017?page=2&page_all=1


Why Employee Engagement Matters – and 4 Ways to Build It Up

An engaged employee is a productive employee. Employee engagement is a very important piece of a company's operations. They are some of the best assets a company can have and without engaged employees, your company's operations could be negatively impacted. Take a look at this great article by Joe Wedgewood from The Happiness Index and check out some of the helpful tips on how you can boost engagement across your organization.

Organizations with high employee engagement levels outperform their low engagement counterparts in total shareholder returns and higher annual net income.” — Kenexa.

Your people are undoubtedly your greatest asset. You may have the best product in the world, but if you can’t keep them engaged and motivated — then it counts for very little.

By making efforts to keep your people engaged, you will maximize your human capital investment and witness your efforts being repaid exponentially.

The benefits of an engaged workforce

Increase in profitability: 

Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year.” — Workplace Research Foundation.

 There is a wealth of research to suggest that companies that focus on employee engagement will have an emotionally invested and committed workforce. This tends to result in higher profitability rates and shareholder returns. The more engaged your employees are the more efficient and productive they become. This will help lower operating costs and increase profit margins.

An engaged workforce will be more committed and driven to help your business succeed. By focusing on engagement and investing in your people’s future, you will create a workforce that will generate more income for your business.

Improved retention and recruitment rates:

“Replacing employees who leave can cost up to 150% of the departing employee’s salary. Highly engaged organizations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%; the disengaged are four times more likely to leave the organization than the average employee.” — Corporate Leadership Council

Retaining good employees is vital for organizational success. Engaged employees are much less likely to leave, as they will be committed to their work and invested in the success of the company. They will have an increased chance of attracting more qualified people.

Ultimately the more engaged your people are, the higher their productivity and workplace satisfaction will be. This will significantly reduce costs around absences, recruitment, training and time lost for interviews and onboarding.

Boost in workplace happiness:

“Happy employees are 12%t more productive than the norm, and 22% more productive than their unhappy peers. Creating a pleasant workplace full of happy people contributes directly to the bottom line.” – Inc.

Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees are productive employees. A clear focus on workplace happiness, will help you to unlock everyone’s true potential. On top of this, an engaged and happy workforce can also become loyal advocates for your company. This is evidenced by the Corporate Leadership Council, “67% of engaged employees were happy to advocate their organizations compared to only 3% of the disengaged.”

Higher levels of productivity:

“Employees with the highest levels of commitment perform 20% better than employees with lower levels of commitment.” — The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Often your most engaged people will be the most dedicated and productive, which will give your bottom line a positive boost. Employees who are engaged with their role and align with the culture are more productive as they are looking beyond personal benefits. Put simply, they will work with the overall success of the organization in mind and performance will increase.

More innovation:

“Employee engagement plays a central role in translating additional job resources into innovative work behaviour.” — J.J. Hakanen.

Employee engagement and innovation are closely linked. Disengaged employees will not have the desire to work innovatively and think of new ways to improve your business; whereas an engaged workforce will perform at a higher level, due to increased levels of satisfaction and interest in their role. This often breeds creativity and innovation.

If your people are highly engaged they will be emotionally invested in your business. This can result in them making efforts to share ideas and innovations with you that can lead to the creation of new services and products — thus improving employee profitability.

Strategies to increase employee engagement

Communicate regularly:

Every member of your team will have valuable insights, feedback and suggestions. Many will have concerns and frustrations too. Failure to effectively listen and respond to everyone will lower their engagement and negatively affect the company culture.

Create open lines of communication and ensure everyone knows how to contact you. This will create a platform for your people to share ideas, innovations and concerns with you. It will also bridge gaps between senior management and the rest of the team.

An effective way to communicate and respond to everyone in real-time is by introducing pulse surveys — which will allow you to gather instant intelligence on your people to help you understand the sentiment of your organization. You can use this feedback to create relevant action plans to boost engagement and make smarter business decisions.

Take the time to respond and share action plans with everyone. This will ensure your people know that their feedback is being heard and can really make a difference.

Recognize achievements:

“The engagement level of employees who receive recognition is almost three times higher than the engagement level of those who do not.” — IBM Smarter Workforce Institute.

If your people feel undervalued or unappreciated then their performance and profitability will decrease. According to a survey conducted by technology company Badgeville, only 31% of employees are most motivated by monetary awards. The remaining 69% of employees are motivated by job satisfaction, recognition and learning opportunities.

Make efforts to celebrate good work and recognize everyone’s input. Take the time to personally congratulate people and honor their achievements and hard work. You will likely be rewarded with an engaged and energized workforce, that will make efforts to impress you and have their efforts recognized.

Provide opportunities for growth:

Career development is key for employee engagement. If your people feel like their careers are stagnating, or their hard work and emotional investment aren’t being reciprocated — then you can be certain that engagement will drop.

By meeting with your people regularly, discussing agreed targets and time frames, and clearly highlighting how they fit into the organizations wider plans, you can build a “road map” for their future. This will show that their efforts and hard work aren’t going unnoticed.

Improve company culture:

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” — Simon Sinek.

Building a culture that reflects your brand and creates a fun and productive working environment is one of the most effective ways to keep your employees engaged. It’ll also boost retention and help recruitment efforts. If your culture motivates everyone to work hard, help each other, become brand ambassadors, and even keep the place clean — then you have won the battle.

An engaged and committed workforce is a huge contributor to any organization’s bottom line. The rightculture will be a catalyst to help you achieve this.

Here’s how you can improve the company culture within your organization:

  • Empower your people: Empowered employees will take ownership of their responsibilities, solve problems and do whatever it takes to help your company succeed. This will drive your company culture forward. Demonstrate you have faith in your people and trust them to fulfill their duties to their best of their abilities. This will ensure they feel valued, which can lead to empowerment.
  • Manage and communicate expectations: Your people may struggle to understand your cultural vision. By setting clear and regular expectations and communicating your vision via posters, emails, discussions and leading by example, you will prevent confusion and limit deviation from your desired vision.
  • Be consistent: To sustain a consistent culture, you must show uniformity with your actions and communications. Make efforts to have consistent expectations and standards for all your workers, and communicate everything in the same way.

By focusing on employee engagement and investing in your people, they will repay your efforts with an increase in performance, productivity and — ultimately — profit.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Wedgewood J. (2017 June 8). Why employee engagement matters - and 4 ways to build it up [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-engagement-ways-to-build-it-up/


Preparing for 2018 Open Enrollment

As open enrollment season nears, make sure you are staying compliant and up-to-date with everything that is happening in ACA. Here are some great tips by Carl C. Lammers from Benefit News on what you need to know to prepare yourself for open enrollment this upcoming year.

Open enrollment for employer-sponsored health and welfare benefits comes every year; usually with little fanfare as employers generally have a system in place to seamlessly handle enrollments.

This changed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but now seven years later, employers again mostly have open enrollment standardized. This year brings a new challenge – the Summary of Benefits and Coverage document that was created by the ACA has undergone its first major restructuring since 2012 when employers were first required to provide the SBC.

The new SBC template must be used for open enrollments that occur on or after April 1, 2017. For calendar year plans, the upcoming 2018 open enrollment is the first open enrollment where the new SBC templates must be used.

If you need a quick refresher, the SBC summarizes group health plan coverage for employees, describing many important plan features, such as deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, and services covered, so that employees can better understand and make more informed choices about the available coverage options.

SBCs have a required uniform format and must contain certain information and examples, so that employees can compare an employer’s coverage options and options from more than one employer.

The uniform standard definitions of medical and health coverage terms and the required SBC template are distributed by the IRS, DOL, and HHS.

While the insurance carrier or third party administrator normally provides the SBC to an employer for distribution with open enrollment materials, employers are ultimately responsible for the SBC’s accuracy and distribution and for the recently increased penalties – of $1,087 per failure – for failure to distribute the SBC.

Employers should review the SBC’s provided for the upcoming open enrollment to be sure they have changed to reflect the new rules. Employers should also distribute the Section 1557 nondiscrimination notice with the SBC to avoid potential penalties.

The new finalized guidance on SBCs was issued by the Departments in April of 2016. The guidance states that while all prior formatting must still generally be complied with; SBCs can now have certain language and formatting alterations, such as differing font styles and margins in order to maintain the four page requirement. Definitions were also added to the Uniform Glossary, and the Departments state that SBCs may hyperlink the terms to a micro-site that HHS will maintain.

The required content of the SBC has also changed, with some of the most significant changes being:
A description of what an SBC is and where consumers can find more information, located at the beginning of the SBC.

A description of how family members must meet their own individual deductibles before the overall family deductible is met, and what services are covered.

  • Changing of the term "person" to "individual."
  • A statement that copays may not be included in out-of-pocket limits.
  • The removal of the definitions of copayments and coinsurance.
  • Change of the "Limitations & Exceptions" column to "Limitations, Exceptions, & Other Important Information" which must now include:
  • When the plan does not cover a certain service category, or a substantial portion of a service category.
  • When cost sharing for covered in-network services does not factor into the out-of-pocket limit.
  • Visit and/or dollar limits.
  • When services require preauthorization.
  • Note: cross-referencing is allowed if including all information in this section would cause the SBC to exceed four pages.
  • New language about minimum essential coverage, minimum value, and language access services.
  • The addition of a third Coverage Example about costs for a fracture, and slightly altered formatting to the Coverage Examples section.
  • A statement regarding whether abortions are covered by the plan.

One thing that is not part of the new SBC guidance is also important for employers: SBCs are likely considered "significant communications" for purposes of the nondiscrimination rules found in Section 1557 of the ACA, and the notice required by Section 1557 should be included with the SBC.

The Section 1557 notice must be included with all “significant communications” involving the medical plan. It is not clear whether the Departments have considered the addition of the Section 1557 language and its impact on the four page SBC limit.

We suggest including the 1557 notice with the new SBCs, but not as part of the new SBCs, in order to maintain the four-page length. Be sure to review any draft SBCs prepared by your insurer or TPA before distribution to ensure they meet the new formatting requirements.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Lammers C. (2017 July 31). Preparing for 2018 open enrollment [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/preparing-for-2018-open-enrollment


Benefits Technology: What do Employers Want?

Do you know which technolgy will be the most benefical for your employee benefits program? Take a look at this article by Kimberly Landry from Benefits Pro on what employers should be looking for when searching for the right technology for the benefits program.

It’s no secret that we are in the midst of a revolution in how employers manage their insurance benefits. Enrolling and administering benefits was once a manual process involving plenty of paperwork, but much of this work has now shifted to electronic benefits platforms. A recent LIMRA survey, Convenient and Connected: How Are Employers Using Technology Today?, found that 59 percent of employers are now using a technology platform for insurance benefit enrollment, administration, or both. In addition, more than 1 in 3 firms that do not use technology are currently looking for a platform.

Brokers can provide value to their clients by helping them find a technology system that meets their needs. In fact, over one quarter of employers say their broker should have primary responsibility for researching and evaluating possible technology solutions. However, to do this successfully, it is necessary to understand what problems employers are trying to solve with technology.

The advantages of benefits technology tend to fall into two categories: improving the experience for HR/benefits staff and improving the experience for employees. While employers see the value of both aspects, it is clear that the desire for technology is driven more by HR needs such as reducing costs, improving management of benefits data, and reducing the time and resources needed to administer benefits, rather than employee needs (Figure X). In seeking technology, employers are, first and foremost, trying to make their own lives easier.

This provides insight into some of the key features employers are seeking in technology, many of which revolve around greater convenience in managing benefits. For example, 80 percent of employers say it is important for a technology platform to be accessible all year so they can use it for ongoing administration and updates, rather than a “one-and-done” enrollment system. Ongoing access is one of the top features employers look for in a platform, with sizable portions also specifying that they want a system that can enroll new hires and support ongoing life event and coverage changes.

I would love to find a product … that would allow us to reduce the amount of time that we spend during the enrollment process and also during the course of a year, adding employees or terminating employees.

—Employer with 65 employees (Voice of the Employer,LIMRA, 2016)

Similarly, 77 percent of employers want a technology system that can manage all of their benefits on the same platform, regardless of which carriers are providing the products. Consolidating benefits on one platform helps employers save time and allows them to quickly get a complete view of their overall benefits package in one place. In fact, employers that currently manage all of their benefits on one platform are more satisfied with their technology than those that don’t have this capability. Moreover, roughly 1 in 6 employers say the ability to handle all benefits in one place would motivate them to switch technology platforms.

Employers also want the convenience of a platform that integrates smoothly with other technology systems, including carrier, payroll, and HRIS systems. When it comes to carrier systems, employers want to feel confident that no errors are occurring in the data transfer and don’t want to spend a lot of time checking for mistakes.

Our HR benefits administrator has spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to, literally person by person, dependent by dependent, go through each little piece and figure out why somebody's kid is getting dropped…So I think I'd like to see those communications [work] a little bit better.

—Employer with 320 employees

Employers also want technology to integrate with their payroll and other HRIS systems so they do not have to make changes in multiple systems, which is perceived as time-consuming and inefficient.

And those two systems...they don't communicate with each other... Without that communication, it's almost like double work because if there's an address change or anything like that, you have to go to one system, then go to another, and that just seems broken to me.

—Employer with 32 employees

While employers are primarily seeking convenience for their own HR staff, it is important to note that they would like this value to extend to their employees as well. Overall, 85 percent of employers think it’s important that an enrollment platform be easy and intuitive for their employees to use. In fact, user-friendliness is often one of the first priorities that comes to mind when employers describe their ideal platform.

I want to make sure it's easy, as simple as possible, as fast as possible, and I don't want it to be a burden every year.

—Employer with 30,000 employees 

When it comes to selecting benefits technology, it is clear that convenience is key. By guiding employers to technology solutions that will make it quicker and easier to administer benefits, brokers can improve the experience for everyone involved and help the industry move into the future.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Landry K. (2017 July 21). Benefits technology: what do employers want? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/07/21/benefits-technology-what-do-employers-want?kw=Benefits+technology%3A+What+do+employers+want%3F&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170721&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Daily&page_all=1