PPACA expected to aggravate job absences

Originally posted August 23, 2013 by Dan Cook on http://www.benefitspro.com

Under pressure to meet the basic requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers may be overlooking the law’s implications for employees’ attendance at work.

This observation comes from a survey of employers and insurance providers sponsored by the Disability Management Employer Coalition and Pacific Resources.

The researchers polled 169 benefits policy decision-makers in large organizations and 118 senior professionals in the insurance industry involved with absence management and disability issues. It asked a series of questions designed to measure their employers’ preparedness for the act’s full implementation, including whether they had thoughtfully considered how the reforms might change employee attendance at work and issues around worker disability.

Most have not, the researchers concluded. “While organizations may be prepared for the changes to health care and health insurance, most were not thinking about the impact of PPACA on disability and absence management,” the study said.

Another major finding: both employers and insurers surveyed anticipate “increased incidence and duration of long-term absences.”

Both employers and insurers tended to believe that employee absences will be more frequent and longer. The reason? With more Americans enjoying the benefits of health coverage, there will be longer waiting periods for access to care providers. This will be exacerbated, the report said, by the dwindling numbers of primary care physicians entering the profession.

“Most respondents believe access to routine care will change – 42 percent believe that the ability of employees to see a physician for routine care in a timely manner will get worse, while only 21 percent believe it will improve,” the study reported.

But when it came to questions about the act’s influence on disability issues, there was less clarity among respondents.

“There is more uncertainty about how PPACA will impact the number of disability claims, although those who feel knowledgeable enough to predict what will happen are more likely to believe the number of claims will rise due to employees no longer fearing a loss of health care coverage from a long-term absence,” the study said.

Overall, insurers took a more pessimistic view of the ways in which Obamacare might influence attendance and disability.

“Carriers are more likely than employers to think that PPACA will have an impact on absence and disability,” the study said.  “A third of employers and a majority of carriers believe PPACA will increase the incidence and duration of absences and disability. However, many have not yet considered this aspect of the law, as a quarter are not sure what will happen to absence and disability outcomes.”


Extended absences put small, mid-size companies at risk

Source: http://eba.benefitnews.com
By Tristan Lejeune

Disability insurance experts with the Guardian Life Insurance Company are in the final stages of developing an index for measuring and predicting the success of companies’ absence management programs in conjunction with their short-term and long-term disability. Guardian’s Andrew Hutchison, assistant vice president of group life and disability products, and Judy Buczek, manager of group disability products, are taking the opportunity to encourage small and mid-size employers who haven’t yet implemented absence management to do so.

“Absence management is not new, but it’s really kind of a large-case concept," Buczek says. "Larger employers understand the importance of managing absenteeism, but it’s just as important for mid-size and smaller employers. And actually, they’re usually the folks who don’t have access to the type of tools they need to manage a program. ... We're trying to help employers recognize the need for absence management programs, and also to help bring some of those programs downstream to the smaller employers."

Hutchison recommends that every company explore their absence management options, especially those without enough human resources personnel to dedicate exclusively to the cause. “To outsource” a coordinated, umbrella approach to reining in absenteeism and long-term disability, he says, may seem like a big expense, but it “really becomes a cost-saving measure, and it takes away a lot of the worry.” Small companies, he says, are particularly vulnerable to extended absences.

“These days, everyone is asked to do two jobs,” Hutchison says. “So having a person out, really, really has an impact on the organization today. Getting people back to work sooner … really does impact the bottom line.”

To that end, Buczek says, Guardian is planning a spring release for its Absence Management Activity Index Report and Tool.

“It’s an employer tool that they can use to find out the effectiveness of what they have in place,” she says. “We’ve done some research on our existing plan holders, both large and small, and we’ve looked at what type of programs they have in place, from wellness to a seamless FMLA program to an STD/LTD program and we said, ‘OK, what programs work the best and what are most effective at managing absences?’ It’s geared toward making sure that the appropriate tools are put in place.”