4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful

Recruit top talent with ease and confidence when considering these tips on attractive, creative and innovative employment perks.


A 2016 survey from Glassdoor found that 57 percent of people looking for jobs said benefits and perks are among their top considerations when weighing offers. So how can a company stack the deck in its favor when recruiting top talent? Although some companies limit their benefits packages to traditional offerings such as health insurance, 401Ks and paid time off, a today’s forward-thinking employers know they need to find more creative ways to offer benefits that make a genuine difference in employees’ day-to-day work and personal lives.

As competition for employees intensifies, the race to improve employer-based services is likely to result in better options for employees. Unconventional benefits options come in many shapes and forms, but they share one thing in common: the goal of saving time for employees, reducing their stress, and ultimately improving their health and satisfaction at work.

All other things being equal, companies that offer innovative perks that speak to the well-being of their employees are more likely to attract and retain the top talent in their field. Here are a few such perks to consider.

Expectant-parent counseling

You’ve thrown the baby shower, cut the cake, helped carry staff gifts to the car—and you’ve explained the company’s parental leave policy in detail. As you wave Julie from accounting off with best wishes, you’re confident she’ll come back to her desk in a few months’ time.

But the truth is that 43 percent of women who have babies leave the workforce permanently within a matter of months. Many say it’s because they don’t have adequate support at home to enable them to resume their careers. That is why companies like Reddit and Slack use a service called Lucy that provides expectant employees help before, during, and after parental leave, including 24/7 messaging and one-on-one sessions that can be done in the home or online.

As Reddit VP of People Katelin Holloway put it, “It’s not enough to simply offer parental leave; every child and family is different and has independent needs.” By helping expectant parents find resources that meet their specific needs, you’re making an investment in your workforce that pays enormous dividends in retention, productivity, and morale.

Caregiving support

A Gallup survey revealed more than 1 in 6 full-time or part-time American workers has difficulty balancing caring for elderly parents with their work commitments. This results in decreased productivity and frequent leaves of absence. Companies can help their employees cope and stay engaged with their work by providing concierge services that offer amenities such as taking elderly parents to doctor’s appointments and eldercare coaching when choosing between assisted living options.

To help reduce stress (and retain highly specialized employees), take a cue from companies like Microsoft and Facebook, which provide caregiver paid-leave programs to help employees care for ailing family members or sick relatives.

Dry cleaning at work

Sometimes it’s the little things that save time during the workday that can push the needle in your favor as a potential employer. It may sound trivial, but company-provided dry cleaning is a perk that’s proving to be a big draw in workplaces from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Service providers pick up employees’ laundry or dry cleaning items from work and return them to a designated employer closet in their office building—one less errand, and no more lost tickets. “People have lives to live, so I try to make it easy for them to deal with any of those personal errands that could take up time for them,” said Experian CEO Craig Boundy, speaking about his company’s employee benefits programs in an interview with the The Orange County Register.

Car maintenance and service

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household owns 1.9 vehicles and spends around 1.5 percent of its annual income on auto maintenance and repairs. Cars are a significant investment for most of us, so the more you can help potential employees save time and money on maintaining their vehicles, the more tempting you’ll become as an employer. Growing numbers of innovative companies provide car repair services to help employees save money, find the best quality mechanics, and reduce stress associated with the entire process.

Some firms also offer on-site car wash services, giving employees peace of mind and a positive outlook as they drive home after work. Several big Silicon Valley corporations —including eBay, SanDisk, Cisco, and Oracle—use BoosterFuels to fill employees’ gas tanks while they’re at work. It saves employees time and protects them from potential accidents or robberies at gas stations.

SOURCE:
Weiss Y (31 May 2018) "4 perks to make your employees' lives easier and less stressful" Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/05/11/4-perks-to-make-your-employees-lives-easier-and-le/


The Most Desirable Employee Benefits

When it comes to hiring new employees, benefits can make or break the process. Hire with confidence when considering these tips on attractive and affordable employment perks.


In today’s hiring market, a generous benefits package is essential for attracting and retaining top talent. According to Glassdoor’s 2015 Employment Confidence Survey, about 60% of people report that benefits and perks are a major factor in considering whether to accept a job offer. The survey also found that 80% of employees would choose additional benefits over a pay raise.

Google is famous for its over-the-top perks, which include lunches made by a professional chef, biweekly chair massages, yoga classes, and haircuts. Twitter employees enjoy three catered meals per day, on-site acupuncture, and improv classes. SAS has a college scholarship program for the children of employees. And plenty of smaller companies have received attention for their unusual benefits, such as vacation expense reimbursement and free books.

But what should a business do if it can’t afford Google-sized benefits? You don’t need to break the bank to offer attractive extras. A new survey conducted by my team at Fractl found that, after health insurance, employees place the highest value on benefits that are relatively low-cost to employers, such as flexible hours, more paid vacation time, and work-from-home options. Furthermore, we found that certain benefits can win over some job seekers faced with higher-paying offers that come with fewer additional advantages.

As part of our study, we gave 2,000 U.S. workers, ranging in age from 18 to 81, a list of 17 benefits and asked them how heavily they would weigh the options when deciding between a high-paying job and a lower-paying job with more perks.

Better health, dental, and vision insurance topped the list, with 88% of respondents saying that they would give this benefit “some consideration” (34%) or “heavy consideration” (54%) when choosing a job. Health insurance is the most expensive benefit to provide, with an average cost of $6,435 per employee for individual coverage, or $18,142 for family coverage.

The next most-valued benefits were ones that offer flexibility and improve work-life balance. A majority of respondents reported that flexible hours, more vacation time, more work-from-home options, and unlimited vacation time could help give a lower-paying job an edge over a high-paying job with fewer benefits. Furthermore, flexibility and work-life balance are of utmost importance to a large segment of the workforce: parents. They value flexible hours and work-life balance above salary and health insurance in a potential job, according to a recent survey by FlexJobs.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they’d give some or heavy consideration to a job offering flexible hours, while 80% would give consideration to a job that lets them work from home. Both flexible hours and work-from-home arrangements are affordable perks for companies that want to offer appealing benefits but can’t afford an expensive benefits package. Both of these benefits typically cost the employer nothing — and often save money by lowering overhead costs.

More vacation time was an appealing perk for 80% of respondents. Paid vacation time is a complicated expense, since it’s not simply the cost of an employee’s salary for the days they are out; liability also plays into the cost. American workers are notoriously bad at using up their vacation time. Every year Americans leave $224 billion dollars in unused vacation time on the table, which creates a huge liability for employers because they often have to pay out this unused vacation time when employees leave the company. Offering an unlimited time-off policy can be a win-win for employer and employee. (Over two-thirds of our respondents said they would consider a lower-paying job with unlimited vacation.) For example, HR consulting firm Mammoth considers its unlimited time-off policy a successnot just for what it does but also for the message it sends about company culture: Employees are treated as individuals who can be trusted to responsibly manage their workload regardless of how many days they take off.

Switching to an unlimited time-off policy can solve the liability issue; wiping away the average vacation liability saves companies $1,898 per employee, according to research from Project: Time Off. And with only 1%–2% of companies currently using an unlimited time-off policy, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it’s clearly a benefit that can make companies more attractive.

Contrary to what employers might expect, unlimited time off doesn’t necessarily equal less productive employees and more time out of the office. A survey from The Creative Group found that only 9% of executives think productivity would decrease significantly if employees used more vacation time. In some cases, under an unlimited time-off policy, employees take the same amount of vacation time. We adopted an unlimited time-off policy at Fractl about a year ago and haven’t seen a negative impact on productivity. Our director of operations, Ryan McGonagill, says there hasn’t been a large spike in the amount of time employees spend out of the office, but the quality of work continues to improve.

Student loan and tuition assistance also ranked highly on the list of coveted benefits, with just under half of respondents reporting that these bonuses could nudge them toward a lower-paying job. A benefits survey from SHRM found that only 3% of companiescurrently offer student loan assistance, and 52% of companies provide graduate educational assistance. Although education assistance sounds costly, companies can take advantage of a tax break; employers can provide up to $5,250 per employee per year for tuition tax free.

Job benefits that don’t directly impact an individual’s lifestyle and finances were the least coveted by survey respondents, such as in-office freebies like food and coffee. Company-sponsored gatherings like team-bonding activities and retreats were low on the list as well. This isn’t to say these benefits aren’t valued by employees, but rather that these perks probably aren’t important enough on their own to convince a job candidate to choose a company.

We noticed gender differences regarding certain benefits. Most notable, women were more likely to prefer family benefits like paid parental leave and free day care services. Parental leave is of high value to female employees: 25% of women said they’d give parental leave heavy consideration when choosing a job (only 14% of men said the same). Men were more likely than women to value team-bonding events, retreats, and free food. Both genders value fitness-related perks, albeit different types. Women are more likely to prefer free fitness and yoga classes, while men are more likely to prefer an on-site gym and free gym memberships.

Our survey findings suggest that providing the right mix of benefits that are both inexpensive and highly sought after among job seekers can give a competitive edge to businesses that can’t afford high salaries and pricier job perks.

SOURCE:
Jones K (30 May 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://hbr.org/2017/02/the-most-desirable-employee-benefits


Is Ergonomics A "Must-Have" For Your Workplace Wellness Plan?

 

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Workplace wellness in most organizations centres around health promotion activity or policy development to support healthy behaviour and improve health outcomes in the workplace. A "workplace wellness" Google search reveals a range of programs focused on fitness, weight management, smoking cessation, stress management, work-life balance and occasionally flexible work scheduling. These are legitimately important aspects targeted at improving specific health outcomes.

It is important to realize that the average office worker spends over 65 per cent of their time at work in a sedentary seated position. No doubt you have seen the media campaigns touting the health concerns related to sedentary behaviour, some going as far as labelling sitting as the new smoking. Prolonged sitting has been associated with cardiovascular problems, increases in musculoskeletal discomfort, and decreases in concentration and productivity. Improper sitting and work station setup has been associated with an increase in musculoskeletal pain and injury (MSI) in the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, legs and lower back. MSI are associated with the wear and tear on the muscles, tissues, ligaments and joints of the body.

It is for these reasons that office ergonomics should be on the workplace wellness program menu. Ergonomics is the science of matching the work to the worker. In an office environment, a major focus would be insuring that employee workstations fit the worker – not the employee made to fit the workstation. To design a healthy employee work station properly requires an understanding of the limitations of the human body, especially in terms of muscle and soft tissue fatigue. Again, a Google search on "office ergonomics" leads you to resources on the proper configuration of computer workstations to promote a neutral sitting posture aimed at reducing muscle and soft tissue pain.

This is a great place to start, but does not replace the knowledge of an experienced ergonomist to ensure that individual limitations and pre-existing health conditions are accommodated for properly. Here are some examples of the most common office ergonomic challenges I encounter when consulting with organizations. The first is the desk. The working height of a standard desk is 30 inches, for which we expect it be comfortable for both the 5-foot-2-inch and a 6-foot-2-inch employee. But the reality is that this standard desk height is appropriate for the 6-foot-2-inch employee. The average female is 5-foot-4-inches, which would suggest that the standard 30-inch working height is too high for the majority of female workers in the office. When the working height is too high, the employee will adopt a posture where the wrists are extended when keyboarding, the neck is extended, shoulders are hunched and back is flexed forward off the chair.

—theglobeandmail.com


While Talk About Opioids Continues In D.C., Addiction Treatment Is In Peril In States

How is Washington handling the opioid crisis? Let's find out in this article from Kaiser Health News.


Opioids were on the White House agenda Thursday — President Trump convened a summit with members of his administration about the crisis. And Congress authorized funds for the opioid crisis in its recent budget deal — but those dollars aren’t flowing yet, and states say they are struggling to meet the need for treatment.

The Oklahoma agency in charge of substance abuse has been told by the state’s legislature to cut more than $2 million from this fiscal year’s budget.

“Treatment dollars are scarce,” said Randy Tate, president of the Oklahoma Behavioral Health Association, which represents addiction treatment providers.

It’s like dominoes, Tate said. When you cut funding for treatment, other safety-net programs feel the strain.

“Any cuts to our overall contract,” he said, “really diminish our ability to provide the case management necessary to advocate for homes, food, shelter, clothing, primary health care and all the other things that someone needs to really be successful at tackling their addiction.”

In just three years, Oklahoma’s agency in charge of funding opioid treatment has seen more than $27 million dollars chipped away from its budget — thanks to legislative gridlock, slashed state taxes and a drop in oil prices (with the additional loss in state tax revenue that resulted).

Jeff Dismukes, a spokesman for Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says the already lean agency has few cost-cutting options left.

“We always cut first to administration,” he said, “but there’s a point where you just can’t cut anymore.”

The agency may end up putting off payments to treatment providers until July — the next fiscal year. Tate says that could be devastating.

“Very thinly financed, small rural providers are probably at risk of going out of business entirely — up to and including rural hospitals,” he said.

Getting treatment providers to open up shop in rural areas is really hard, even in good times, and more financial uncertainty could make that problem worse. In the meantime, according to an Oklahoma state commission’s opioid report, just 10 percent of Oklahomans who need addiction treatment are getting it.

That statistic is similar in Colorado. And as 2018 began, Colorado’s escalating opioid crisis got worse, when the state’s largest drug and alcohol treatment provider, Arapahoe House, shut its doors.

The facility provided recovery treatment to 5,000 people a year. Denise Vincioni, who directs another treatment center, the Denver Recovery Group, says other facilities have scrambled to pick up the patients.

Most of Arapahoe’s clients were on Medicaid. Autumn Haggard-Wolfe, a two-time Arapahoe House client who is now in recovery, worries the facility’s closing will have dire consequences, especially for people who need inpatient care, as she did.

“I feel like the only other option right now in therapy would be jail for people,” she said, “and people die in there from withdrawing.”

Arapahoe House’s CEO blamed its closure on the high cost of care and poor government reimbursement for services.

The mother of Colorado state lawmaker Brittany Pettersen struggled with addiction, and was treated at Arapahoe House. Pettersen says treatment centers rely on a crazy quilt of funding sources and are chronically underfunded — often leaving people with no treatment options.

“We have a huge gap in Colorado,” Pettersen said, “and that was before Arapahoe House closed.”

She is pushing legislation in the state to increase funding for treatment. But to get tens of millions of dollars in federal matching funds, Colorado lawmakers need to approve at least $34 million a year in new state spending.

That price tag may simply be too high for some lawmakers. But either way, she added, “It’s going to take a lot to climb out of where we are.”

Colorado did get new federal funds to fight the opioid crisis through the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in December of 2016, but it was just $7.8 million a year for two years — divvied up among a long list of programs.

Read the article.

Source:
 Daley J.,Fortier J. (5 March 2018). "While Talk About Opioids Continues In D.C., Addiction Treatment Is In Peril In States" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/while-talk-about-opioids-continues-in-dc-addiction-treatment-is-in-peril-in-states/

Benefits to plants at your desk

Leaves on trees have turned, and a walk to the office often feels like a walk through an icebox. Open windows are a thing of months past. Cooped up, breathing dry indoor air, no one could blame you for feeling down.

But you can brighten your mood and boost your health by adding a plant or two to your workspace. You don’t even need much natural light or a green thumb.

Plants bring a bit of nature inside, along with other good stuff.

They make people happy, and taking care of them can make people even happier. That’s especially true if you’re digging in a garden – horticultural therapy helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills – but desk-side pruning can do wonders for your mental state too.

Plants are also terrific air purifiers.

The air in your office (and home) might be more polluted than air outside – especially if you’re in a big city. Furniture, carpet, plastic items and other synthetic materials are to blame, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Plants help by wicking away airborne chemicals and the carbon dioxide we puff out, and then give us oxygen, research from NASA shows.

Four decades ago, NASA scientists found more than 100 volatile organic compounds floating through the air of the Skylab space station. The bad stuff came from synthetic materials off-gassing low levels of chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene – known irritants and potential carcinogens that are in earthly buildings too.

When the chemicals are trapped in an area, people breathing within that same area can get sick because the air isn’t getting “the natural scrubbing by Earth’s complex ecosystem,” as NASA puts it.

Hail plants.

Here are two that demand next to nothing and tolerate very low light (but are just as happy with lots of it). Expect them to live for years and years, without repotting. I speak from experience, but you’ll also find them on plenty of lists and in lots of books about easy-care plants that are good for your health.

Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

A sturdy plant with upright and stiff leaves. Ideally, its soil should dry out between waterings. It will grow bigger and look better if you water it as soon as the soil dries (not wait forever) and if it’s in medium light. But it still will live for months if you ignore it, and spring back to robust happiness when you give it a little love.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
A flowing plant with vine-like stems that can easily take over your desk. Ideally, its soil should stay a little moist. But if you let the soil dry out completely, you can jolt the plant back to life with watering. It’s perfectly happy with all kinds of lighting, including florescent, but it will be fuller with better color when it gets decent natural light.

 

Read the original article.

Source:
Malek M. (4 December 2017). "Benefits to plants at your desk" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2017/12/3255/


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Apple, Fitbit to join FDA program to speed health tech

Wondering how technology can speed the process of developing health tech? In this article from BenefitsPro written by Anna Edney, gain a close insight on how Apple and Fitbit are working together with the FDA to make your health of vital importance.

You can read the original article here.


A federal agency that regulates apples wants to make regulations on Apple Inc. a little easier.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees new drugs, medical devices and much of the U.S. food supply, said Tuesday that it had selected nine major tech companies for a pilot program that may let them avoid some regulations that have tied up developers working on health software and products.

“We need to modernize our regulatory framework so that it matches the kind of innovation we’re being asked to evaluate,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

The program is meant to let the companies get products pre-cleared rather than going through the agency’s standard application and approval process that can take months. Along with Apple, Fitbit Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Verily Life Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding AG will participate.

 

A new report and video from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) identifies six promising practices for effectively integrating wearables...
The FDA program is meant to help the companies more rapidly develop new products while maintaining some government oversight of technology that may be used by patients or their doctors to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions.

Apple is studying whether its watch can detect heart abnormalities. The process it will go through to make sure it’s using sound quality metrics and other measures won’t be as costly and time-consuming as when the government clears a new pacemaker, for example. Verily, the life sciences arm of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is working with Novartis AG to develop a contact lens that could continuously monitor the body’s blood sugar.

Faster Pace

“Historically, health care has been slow to implement disruptive technology tools that have transformed other areas of commerce and daily life,” Gottlieb said in July when he announced that digital health manufacturers could apply for the pilot program.

Officially dubbed the Pre-Cert for Software Pilot, Gottlieb at the time called it “a new and pragmatic approach to digital health technology.”

The other companies included in the pilot are Pear Therapeutics Inc., Phosphorus Inc. and Tidepool.

The program is part of a broader move at the FDA, particularly since Gottlieb took over in May, to streamline regulation and get medical products to patients faster. The commissioner said last week the agency will clarify how drugmakers might use data from treatments already approved in some disease to gain approvals for more conditions. In July, he delayed oversight of electronic cigarettes while the agency decides what information it will need from makers of the products.

Rules Uncertainty

As Silicon Valley developers have pushed into health care, the industry has been at times uncertain about when it needed the FDA’s approval. In 2013, the consumer gene-testing company 23andMe Inc. was ordered by the agency to temporarily stop selling its health analysis product until it was cleared by regulators, for example.

Under the pilot, the FDA will scrutinize digital health companies’ software and will inspect their facilities to ensure they meet quality standards and can adequately track their products once they’re on the market. If they pass the agency’s audits, the companies would be pre-certified and may face a less stringent approval process or not have to go through FDA approval at all.

More than 100 companies were interested in the pilot, according to the FDA. The agency plans to hold a public workshop on the program in January to help developers not in the pilot understand the process and four months of initial findings.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Edeny A. (27 September 2017). "Apple, Fitbit to join FDA program to speed health tech" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/27/apple-fitbit-to-join-fda-program-to-speed-health-t

 


Absent federal action, states take the lead on curbing drug costs

What's your state's stance on the cost of prescription drugs? See how Maryland has moved forward in their decision making for drug prices, giving themselves the ability to say "no" in this article from Benefits Pro written by Shefali Luthra.

You can read the original article here.


Lawmakers in Maryland are daring to legislate where their federal counterparts have not: As of Oct. 1, the state will be able to say “no” to some pharmaceutical price spikes.

A new law, which focuses on generic and off-patent drugs, empowers the state’s attorney general to step in if a drug’s price climbs 50 percent or more in a single year. The company must justify the hike. If the attorney general still finds the increase unwarranted, he or she can file suit in state court. Manufacturers face a fine of up to $10,000 for price gouging.

As Congress stalls on what voters say is a top health concern — high pharmaceutical costs — states increasingly are tackling the issue. Despite often-fierce industry opposition, a variety of bills are working their way through state governments. California, Nevada and New York are among those joining Maryland in passing legislation meant to undercut skyrocketing drug prices.

Maryland, though, is the first to penalize drugmakers for price hikes. Its law passed May 26 without the governor’s signature.

The state-level momentum raises the possibility that — as happened with hot-button issues such as gay marriage and smoke-free buildings — a patchwork of bills across the country could pave the way for more comprehensive national action. States feel the squeeze of these steep price tags in Medicaid and state employee benefit programs, and that applies pressure to find solutions.

“There is a noticeable uptick among state legislatures and state governments in terms of what kind of role states can play in addressing the cost of prescription drugs and access,” said Richard Cauchi, health program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many experts frame Maryland’s law as a test case that could help define what powers states have and what limits they face in doing battle with the pharmaceutical industry.

The generic-drug industry has already filed a lawsuit to block the law, arguing it’s unconstitutionally vague and an overreach of state powers. A district court is expected to rule soon.

The state-level actions focus on a variety of tactics:

“Transparency bills” would require pharmaceutical companies to detail a drug’s production and advertising costs when they raise prices over certain thresholds. Cost-limit measures would cap drug prices charged by drugmakers to Medicaid or other state-run programs, or limit what the state will pay for drugs. Supply-chain restrictions include regulating the roles of pharmacy benefit managers or limiting a consumer’s out-of-pocket costs.

A New York law on the books since spring allows officials to cap what its Medicaid program will pay for medications. If companies don’t sufficiently discount a drug, a state review will assess whether the price is out of step with medical value.

Maryland’s measure goes further — treating price gouging as a civil offense and taking alleged violators to court.

“It’s a really innovative approach. States are looking at how to replicate it, and how to expand on it,” said Ellen Albritton, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Families USA, which has consulted with states including Maryland on such policies.

Lawmakers have introduced similar legislation in states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Montana. And in Ohio voters are weighing a ballot initiative in November that would limit what the state pays for prescription drugs in its Medicaid program and other state health plans.

Meanwhile, the California legislature passed a bill earlier in September that would require drugmakers to disclose when they are about to raise a price more than 16 percent over two years and justify the hike. It awaits Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

In June, Nevada lawmakers approved a law similar to California’s but limited to insulin prices. Vermont passed a transparency law in 2016 that would scrutinize up to 15 drugs for which the state spends “significant health care dollars” and prices had climbed by set amounts in recent years.

But states face a steep uphill climb in passing pricing legislation given the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical industry, which can finance strong opposition, whether through lobbying, legal action or advertising campaigns.

Last fall, voters rejected a California initiative that would have capped what the state pays for drugs — much like the Ohio measure under consideration. Industry groups spent more than $100 million to defeat it, putting it among California’s all-time most expensive ballot fights. Ohio’s measure is attracting similar heat, with drug companies outspending opponents about 5-to-1.

States also face policy challenges and limits to their statutory authority, which is why several have focused their efforts on specific parts of the drug-pricing pipeline.

Critics see these tailored initiatives as falling short or opening other loopholes. Requiring companies to report prices past a certain threshold, for example, might encourage them to consistently set prices just below that level.

Maryland’s law is noteworthy because it includes a fine for drugmakers if price increases are deemed excessive — though in the industry that $10,000 fine is likely nominal, suggested Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who researches drug regulations.

This law also doesn’t address the trickier policy question: a drug’s initial price tag, noted Rena Conti, an assistant professor in the University of Chicago who studies pharmaceutical economics.

And its focus on generics means that branded drugs, such as Mylan’s Epi-Pen or Kaleo’s overdose-reversing Evzio, wouldn’t be affected.

Yet there’s a good reason for this, noted Jeremy Greene, a professor of medicine and the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who is in favor of Maryland’s law.

Current interpretation of federal patent law suggests that the issues related to the development and affordability of on-patent drugs are under federal jurisdiction, outside the purview of states, he explained.

In Maryland, “the law was drafted narrowly to address specifically a problem we’ve only become aware of in recent years,” he said. That’s the high cost of older, off-patent drugs that face little market competition. “Here’s where the state of Maryland is trying to do something,” he said.

Still, a ruling against the state in the pending court case could have a chilling effect for other states, Sachs said, although it would be unlikely to quash their efforts.

“This is continuing to be a topic of discussion, and a problem for consumers,” said Sachs.

“At some point, some of these laws are going to go into effect — or the federal government is going to do something,” she added.

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation. KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Source:

Luther S. (29 September 2017). "Absent federal action, states take the lead on curbing drug costs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/29/absent-federal-action-states-take-the-lead-on-curb?page=2


5 Crucial Wellness Strategies for Self-Funded Companies

In the article below from Care ATC, you will learn the importance of health care coverage - self-funded or not - and how to leverage different programs to the benefit of your company and its employees. Explore these five strategies for self-insured companies and find what will work best for you.

You can read the original article here.

Instead of paying pricy premiums to insurers, self-insured companies pay claims filed by employees and health care providers directly and assume most of the financial risk of providing health benefits to employees. To mitigate significant losses, self-funded companies often sign up for a special “stop loss” insurance, hedging against very large or unexpected claims. The result? A stronger position to stabilize health care costs in the long-term. No wonder self-funded plans are on the rise with nearly 81% of employees at large companies covered.

Despite the rise in self-insured companies, employers are uncertain as to whether they’ll even be able to afford coverage in the long-term given ACA regulations. Now more than ever, employers (self-insured or not) must understand that wellness is a business strategy. High-performing companies are able to manage costs by implementing the most effective tactics for improving workforce health.

Here are five wellness strategies for self-insured companies:

Strategy 1: Focus on Disease Management Programs

Corporate wellness offerings generally consist of two types of programs: lifestyle management and disease management. The first focuses on employees with health risks, like smoking or obesity, and supports them in reducing those risks to ultimately prevent the development of chronic conditions. Disease management programs, on the other hand, are designed to help employees who already have chronic disease, encouraging them to take better care of themselves through increased access to low-cost generic prescriptions or closing communication gaps in care through periodic visits to providers who leverage electronic medical records.

According to a 2012 Rand Corporation study, both program types collectively reduced the employer’s average health care costs by about $30 per member per month (PMPM) with disease management responsible for 87% of those savings. You read that right – 87%! Looking deeper into the study, employees participating in the disease management program generated savings of $136 PMPM, driven in large part by a nearly 30% reduction in hospital admissions. Additionally, only 13% of employees participated in the disease management program, compared with 87% for the lifestyle management program. In other words, higher participation in lifestyle management programs marginally contributes to overall short-term savings; ROI was $3.80 for disease management but only $0.50 for lifestyle management for every dollar invested.

This isn’t to say that lifestyle management isn’t a worthy cause – employers still benefit from its long-term savings, reduced absenteeism, and improved retention rates – but it cannot be ignored that short-term ROI is markedly achieved through a robust disease management program.

Strategy 2: Beef Up Value-Based Benefits

Value-Based Benefit Design (VBD) strategies focus on key facets of the health care continuum, including prevention and chronic disease management. Often paired with wellness programs, VBD strategies aim to maximize opportunities for employees make positive changes. The result? Improved employee health and curbed health care costs for both employee and employer. Types of value-based benefits outlined by the National Business Coalition on Health include:

Individual health competency where incentives are presented most often through cash equivalent or premium differential:
Health Risk Assessment
Biometric testing
Wellness programs
Condition management where incentives are presented most often through co-pay/coinsurance differential or cash equivalent:
Adherence to evidence-based guidelines
Adherence to chronic medications
Participation in a disease management program
Provider Guidance
Utilization of a retail clinic versus an emergency room
Care through a “center of excellence”
Tier one high quality physician
There is no silver bullet when it comes to VBD strategies. The first step is to assess your company’s health care utilization and compare it with other benchmarks in your industry or region. The ultimate goal is to provide benefits that meet employee needs and coincide with your company culture.

Strategy 3: Adopt Comprehensive Biometric Screenings

Think Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) and Biometric Screenings are one and the same? Think again. While HRAs include self-reported questions about medical history, health status, and lifestyle, biometric screenings measure objective risk factors, such as body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, stress, and nutrition. This means that by adopting a comprehensive annual biometric screening, employees can review results with their physician, create an action plan, and see their personal progress year after year. For employers, being able to determine potentially catastrophic claims and quantitatively assess employee health on an aggregate level is gold. With such valuable metrics, its no surprise that nearly 51% of large companies offer biometric screenings to their employees.

Strategy 4: Open or Join an Employer-Sponsored Clinic

Despite a moderate health care cost trend of 4.1% after ACA changes in 2013, costs continue to rise above the rate of inflation, amplifying concerns about the long-term ability for employers to provide health care benefits. In spite of this climate, there are still high-performing companies managing costs by implementing the most effective tactics for improving health. One key tactic? Offer at least one onsite health service to your population.

I know what you’re thinking: employer-sponsored clinics are expensive and only make sense for large companies, right? Not anymore. There are a few innovative models out there tailored to small and mid-size businesses that are self-funded, including multi-employer, multi-site sponsored clinics. Typically a large company anchors the clinic and smaller employers can join or a group of small employers can launch their very own clinic. There are a number of advantages to employer-sponsored clinics and it is worthwhile to explore if this strategy is right for your company.

Strategy 5: Leverage Mobile Technology

With thousands health and wellness apps currently available through iOS and Android, consumers are presented with an array of digital tools to achieve personal goals. So how can self-insured companies possibly leverage this range of mobile technology? From health gamification and digital health coaching, to wearables and apps, employers are inundated with a wealth of digital means that delivering a variation of virtually the same thing: measurable data. A few start-ups, including JIFF and SocialWellth, have entered the field to help employers evaluate and streamline digital wellness offerings.
These companies curate available consumer health and wellness technology to empower employers by simplifying the process of selecting and managing various app and device partners, and even connecting with tools employees are already be using.

Conclusion:

Self-insured companies have a vested interest in improving employee health and understand that wellness is indeed a business strategy. High-performing companies are able to manage costs by implementing the most effective tactics for improving workforce health including an increased focus on Chronic Disease Management programs; strengthening value-based benefit design; adopting comprehensive biometric screening; exploring the option of opening or joining an employer-sponsored clinic; and leveraging mobile technology.

Which strategies or tactics are you considering to implement in 2015?

 

Source:

Spears, T. (2014 December 19). 5 Crucial Wellness Strategies for Self-Funded Companies[Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.careatc.com/ehs/5-wellness-strategies-for-self-funded-companies


Employers Spend $742 per Employee for Wellness Program Incentives

Are you looking for new incentives to help your employees participate in your wellness program? Check out this interesting article by Brookie Madison from Employee Benefit Advisor on how employers are offering financial incentives in order to increase participation in their wellness programs.

Wellness programs are popular with employers but employees continue to need motivation to participate. Seventy percent of employers are investing in wellness programs, while 73% of employees say they are interested in wellness programs, but 64% of employees undervalue the financial incentives to join the wellness programs, according to UnitedHealthcare’s Consumer Sentiment Survey entitled “Wellness Check Up.”

Only 7% of employees understand the four basic terms of health care —premium, deductible, copayment and coinsurance — which is why UHC didn’t find it surprising that workers underestimate their financial incentives in wellness programs, says Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare.

Despite this disconnect between what employers are offering to help ensure their employees’ health and what employees are willing to do to maintain a healthy well-being, the most appealing incentives to employees for wellness programs are health insurance premium reductions (77%), grocery vouchers (64%) and health savings accounts (62%).

Employees find the financial incentives of the wellness programs appealing, yet only 24% of employees are willing to give up one to three hours of their time per week to exercise, attend wellness coaching sessions or research healthier recipes to eat.

“Unwilling to engage is part of the problem why a third of the country is obese and another third is overweight. We have a real problem in terms of keeping people healthy and that’s what we want to help address,” says Madsen.

Madsen recommends that employers promote their wellness programs and incentives multiple times throughout the year. Gift cards, reduction of premiums and contributing to health savings accounts are leading ways to reward employees. “Incentives on an ongoing basis get people engaged and motivated to participate for a long period of time,” says Madsen.

Wellness programs also provide a way for employers to adjust their benefit packages to be customized and be more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. “Look at your insurance claims, work with insurance providers and identify common health challenges. See where you have prevalent healthcare needs and who your high risk populations are to develop programs that target those results,” suggests Madsen.

Wellness programs need endless support from advisers, insurance providers, consultants, consumers, friends, family members and employers in order to encourage employees to live healthy lifestyles, according to UnitedHealthcare.

Madsen suggests that employers have onsite biometric screenings. “Helping people know their numbers will help them understand where they have an opportunity to improve their health, which would make them motivated to engage more,” says Madsen.
New trends of wellness programs incorporate the use of activity trackers. Twenty-five percent of employees use an activity tracker and 62% would like to use one as part of a wellness program.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Madison B. (2017 June 28). Employers spend $742 per employee for wellness program incentives [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-spend-742-per-employee-for-wellness-program-incentives


Advisers Seek a Tech Solution to Financial Wellness

Have you been looking for a new solution to increase your client's investment into their financial well-being? Check out this great article by Cort Olsen from Employee Benefits Advisors on how advisers are using technology to help their clients invest in their financial wellness.

With many employers taking advantage of wearable wellness devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches, advisers and consultants say they would like to see a similar platform that will efficiently monitor a person’s financial wellbeing.

“For physical wellness there are health assessments like biometric screenings to gather information and then there is the wearable data that tells people where they need to be to stay on track with their health goals,” says Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant for EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants. “The difference with the financial piece is that there isn’t a way to track users’ spending habits or monitoring their retirement funding to make their financial status more budget friendly.”

While Schmidt says he has not been able to find a platform that monitors financial status at such a personal level, John Tabb, chief product officer of Questis, has put together a platform that manages to gather data and make suggestions on what employees should be focusing their investments on such as paying off student loan debt or investing in their Roth IRA.

Tabb estimates that there are roughly 30 companies that call themselves financial wellness firms but adds that none of them are “holisitic.” “Not to say that they are not good, but there are only a handful of companies that can allow advisers at financial institutions to utilize their platform as a tool,” he says.

Saving for retirement vs. paying off student debt
Shane Bartling, retirement consultant for Willis Towers Watson, says they have developed a program with their clients that addresses gaps in the market and increases the value of the overall lineup of financial well-being services offered by employers generally around retirement readiness.

“As a result of requests from clients and the needs we have identified with our consulting work, we have built out a technology solution to compliment the line-up of other resources that clients have available,” Bartling says. “We wanted to find the indicators of poor financial wellbeing in the workforce, how to measure it and then how do we engage the parts of our workforce that are going to see the highest value from the resources we are providing.”

The WTW program offers clients an initial assessment from an adviser to determine where employees are struggling the most with their finances. “There is a way to look at behaviors employees are signaling when they are in a poor financial situation,” Bartling says. “They begin to do things like using loans, taking hardship withdrawals and then ultimately you see issues like wage garnishment tend to pop up on the radar and are opting out of the 401(k).”

SoFi has expanded its business focus from student loan refinancing firms into the workspace by helping employers offer a student loan repayment benefit.

“Looking at the employee benefits space today, student loans are generally a pretty big hole in most employers benefit offerings,” says Catesby Perrin, vice president of business development at SoFi. “The main stays of employee benefit offerings are healthcare and 401(k), which we all know are essential, but in many respects don’t address the most pressing financial concerns of the largest demographic in the workforce, which are millennials.”

Perrin adds that 401(k) and other forms retirement saving is imperative for everyone in the workforce, however retirement is not a top priority for millennials due to other financial stressors that are taking place in their day-to-day lives.

“As great as a 401(k) is and how important it is intrinsically, if you have $500 or $800 a month due in student loan payments, which is totally plausible for somebody coming out of undergrad today, the 401(k) is a total luxury,” Perrin says. “Most employers are not doing much about student loan problem, so we are offering two primary benefits today for employers… a student loan refinancing benefit and a benefit set for employers to help pay down the principle balance of their employee’s loan.”

Alternative tech gaining traction
One option is the increasing popularity of mobile push notifications. Ayana Collins, wellness consultant out of EPIC’s Atlanta office, says she is seeing a greater response from users who utilize these alerts on their smartphones to view wellness tips and strategies that they may not read if they are delivered in the form of an e-mail.

“Employees receive thousands upon thousands of e-mails and one more e-mail coming from HR or from a wellness company may not be opened,” Collins says. “If they receive a push notification from their mobile phone they are more likely to check out what financial wellness tips we are sending to them.”

Privacy invasion?
Meanwhile, new legislation determining how wellness plans are regulated has sparked a renewed interest in finding a streamlined financial wellbeing platform.

Shan Fowler, senior director of employer portfolio and product strategy at Benefitfocus, says legislation such as the Employer Participation in Repayment Act and the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, will help fuel the creation of a financial wellbeing platform.

“Financial regulation is very similar to healthcare regulation,” Fowler says, “due to so many branches that are contingent with legislative support. Seeing bipartisan support for this national epidemic [has me feeling] very optimistic.”

However, employees may not be as enthusiastic. Many workers are concerned about the level of data employers could have access to, seeing it as an invasion of privacy, Fowler adds.

“I think you need to put yourself into the shoes of the employee and ask if I want my company to have access to my personal information,” he says. “That speaks to that very fine line employers have to walk of having their employees’ best interests in mind, but not going too far into a ‘big brother’ mentality.”

Tabb says that while the Questis platform does offer individual advice on financial direction based off an initial assessment, the data collected is stored in an aggregate form that protects employees’ personal information from being viewed by their superiors or colleagues.

“If the employer wants some data, they are going to pay for it to help them make decisions, but it is all on an aggregate level,” Tabb says. “There is certainly a perception that needs to be addressed to ensure employees that their data is safe and that nothing is being shared with their employer that does not need to be shared.”

Both Bartling and Perrin also say their platforms offer data to employers only in an aggregate form to give them an idea of how many employees are utilizing the benefit and also the projected success rates, but when it comes to the personal finances of each individual employee, security is in place to ensure private financial information is protected.

EPIC’s Collins says no matter what branch of wellness an employer invests in, whether it be financial, physical or mental, there needs to be a reason behind the technology that they are using. If there is no payout for the employee, there will be no demand to carry the program.

“There has to be a ‘so what’ behind it,” Collins says. “If the employer is just doing a simple challenge with nothing behind it, people are not going to gravitate toward it, because it doesn’t create a moment where the users discover an improvement to themselves. That is the whole point behind wellness.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olsen C. (2017 May 11). Advisers seek a tech solution to financial wellness [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/advisers-seek-a-tech-solution-to-financial-wellness