Rising cost of healthcare is hurting HSAs

With HSA's providing a way for users to be able to reduce out-of-pocket costs for healthcare, deductibles still continue to rise. Read this blog post to learn more about why continuously raised healthcare costs are hurting current HSA's and HSA's that could be used for retirement.


Employees are increasingly putting money aside for their HSAs, but they’re using almost the entirety of it to cover basic health needs every year instead of saving the money for future expenses, according to Lively’s 2019 HSA Spend Report.

“People are putting money in and taking money out on a very regular basis, as opposed to trying to create some sort of nest egg for down the road,” says Alex Cyriac, CEO and Co-Founder of Lively.

The San Francisco-based HSA provider says 96% of annual contributions were spent on expected expenses and routine visits as opposed to unexpected health events and retirement care. In 2019, the average HSA account holder spent their savings on doctor visits and services (50%), prescription drug costs (10%), dental care (16%), and vision and eyewear (5%).

The rising cost of healthcare is a factor in these savings trends: Americans spent $11,172 per person on healthcare in 2018, including the rising cost of health insurance, which increased 13.2%, according to National Health Expenditure Accounts. For retirees, the figures are shocking: a healthy 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 is projected to spend $369,000 in today’s dollars on healthcare over their lifetime, according to consulting firm Milliman.

“Because people can't even afford to save, there's going to be a very low likelihood that most Americans are going to be able to afford their healthcare costs in retirement,” says Shobin Uralil, COO and Co-Founder of Lively.

HSAs were intended to be a way for consumers to save and spend for medical expenses tax-free. Additionally, its biggest benefit comes from being able to use funds saved in an HSA in retirement — when earnings are lowest and healthcare is most expensive. However, just 4% of HSA users had invested assets, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

While HSAs have surged in popularity as a way for more Americans to reduce overall out-of-pocket healthcare spending, more education is required to help account holders understand the benefits of saving and investing their annual contributions for the long-term, the Lively report states.

“As deductibles continue to rise, people just don't seem to have an alternative source for being able to fund those expenses, so they are continuing to dip into their HSA.” Cyriac says. “I think this is just reflective of the broader market trend of healthcare costs continuing to rise, and more and more of those costs being disproportionately passed down to the user.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (29 January 2020) "Rising cost of healthcare is hurting HSAs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/rising-cost-of-healthcare-is-hurting-hsas


Benefit change could raise costs for patients getting drug copay assistance

Health plans may change with time. Know what to expect and how to respond with these tips on how to avoid unexpected changes.


Since Kristen Catton started taking the drug Gilenya two years ago, she’s had only one minor relapse of her multiple sclerosis, following a bout of the flu.

She can walk comfortably, see clearly and work part time as a nurse case manager at a hospital near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This is a big step forward; two drugs she previously tried failed to control her physical symptoms or prevent repeated flare-ups.

This year, Catton, 48, got a shock. Her health insurance plan changed the way it handles the payments that the drugmaker Novartis makes to help cover her prescription’s cost. Her copayment is roughly $3,800 a month, but Novartis helps reduce that out-of-pocket expense with payments to the health plan. The prescription costs about $90,000 a year.

Those Novartis payments no longer counted toward her family plan’s $8,800 annual pharmacy deductible. That meant once she hit the drugmaker’s payment cap for the copay assistance in April, she would have to pay the entire copayment herself until her pharmacy deductible was met.

Catton is one of a growing number of consumers taking expensive drugs who are discovering they are no longer insulated by copay assistance programs that help cover their costs. Through such programs, consumers typically owe nothing or have modest monthly copayments for pricey drugs because many drug manufacturers pay a patient’s portion of the cost to the health plan, which chips away at the consumer’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum limits until the health plan starts paying the whole tab.

Under new “copay accumulator” programs, that no longer happens.

In these programs, the monthly copayments drug companies make don’t count toward patients’ plan deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums. Once patients hit the annual limit on a drugmaker’s copay assistance program, they’re on the hook for their entire monthly copayment until they reach their plan deductible and spending limits.

Catton put the $3,800 May copayment on a credit card. She knows her insurer will start paying the entire tab once she hits the pharmacy deductible. But, she said, she can’t afford to pay nearly $9,000 a year out-of-pocket for the foreseeable future.

“I’m talking to my doctor to see if I can I take it every other day,” she said. “I guess I’m winging it until I can figure out what to do.”

Drug copay assistance programs have long been controversial.

Proponents say that in an age of increasingly high deductibles and coinsurance charges, such help is the only way some patients can afford crucial medications.

But opponents say the programs increase drug spending on expensive brand-name drugs by discouraging people from using more cost-effective alternatives.

Switching to a cheaper drug may not be an option, said Bari Talente, executive vice president for advocacy at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Generally the multiple sclerosis drugs are not substitutable,” she said. “Most have different mechanisms of action, different administration and different side effect profiles.” Generics, when they’re available, are pricey too, typically costing $60,000 or more annually, she said.

Most MS drug annual copay assistance limits, if they have them, are between $9,000 and $12,000, Talente said.

Employers argue that the drug copayment programs are an attempt to circumvent their efforts to manage health care costs. For example, employers may try to discourage the use of a specialty drug when there’s a lower-cost drug available by requiring higher patient cost sharing.

There’s also the issue of fairness.

“From an employer perspective, everyone under the plan has to be treated the same,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), which represents large employers.

If someone needs medical care such as surgery, for example, that person doesn’t get help covering his deductible, while the person with the expensive drug might, he said.

According to an NBGH survey of about 140 multistate employers with at least 5,000 workers, 17 percent reported they have a copay accumulator program in place this year, Marcotte said. Fifty-six percent reported they’re considering them for 2019 or 2020.

If there is no comparable drug available, drug copayment programs may have a role to play if they can be structured so that participating patients are paying some amount toward their deductible, Marcotte said. But, he said, assistance programs for drugs that are available from more than source, such as a brand drug that is also available as a generic, shouldn’t be allowed.

In 2016, 20 percent of prescriptions for brand-name drugs used a drug copay assistance coupon, according to an analysis by researchers at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Among the top 200 drugs based on spending in 2014, the study found that 132 were brand-name drugs, and 90 of them offered copay coupons. Fifty-one percent of the drugs with copay coupons had no substitute at all or only another brand drug as a close therapeutic substitute, the analysis found.

Advocates for people with HIV and AIDS say copay accumulators are cropping up in their patients’ plans and beginning to cause patients trouble. Drugs to treat HIV typically don’t have generic alternatives.

The biggest impact for the community their organizations serve may be for PrEP, a daily pill that helps prevent HIV infection, said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute, an advocacy group. A 30-day supply of PrEP (brand-name Truvada) can cost nearly $2,000. Drug manufacturer Gilead offers a copay assistance program that covers up to $3,600 annually in copay assistance, with no limit on how much is paid per month.

“They’re at risk for HIV, they know it and want to protect themselves,” Schmid said. “It’s a public health issue.”

Earlier this month, the AIDS Institute was among 60 HIV organizations that sent letters to state attorneys general and insurance commissioners across the country asking them to investigate this practice, which has emerged in employer and marketplace plans this year.

Compounding advocates’ concerns is the fact that these coverage changes are frequently not communicated clearly to patients, Schmid said. They are typically buried deep in the plan documents and don’t appear in the user-friendly summary of benefits and coverage that consumers receive from their health plan.

“How is a patient to know?” Schmid asks. They learn of the change only when they get a big bill midway through the year. “And then they’re stuck.”

SOURCE:
Andrews M (25 MAY 2018). [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/benefit-change-could-raise-costs-for-patients-getting-drug-copay-assistance/


Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market

What are level-funded plans, and why are they becoming so popular? Allow this article to break down the facts for you.


A brighter light is being cast on level-funded group health plans as benefits decision-makers tackle open-enrollment season. Several industry observers say the trend is more pronounced given that the Affordable Care Act remains largely intact — for now.

There has been an ebb and flow to these self-insured underwritten plans over the past 18 months, says Michael Levin, CEO and co-founder of the healthcare data services firm Vericred. But with a fixed monthly rate for more predictability, he says they can drive 25% to 35% savings relative to fully-insured ACA plans that must comply with the medical loss ratio for a certain segment of the market.

Level funding typically leverages an aggregate and/or specific stop-loss product to cap exposure to catastrophic claims. These plans are offered by an independent third-party administrator or health insurance carrier through an administrative-services-only contract.

It’s best suited for companies with a very low risk profile comprised of young or healthy populations, according to Levin. And with low attachment, stop-loss coverage in most states, he explains that the plans have “very little downside risk from the group’s perspective.” Two exceptions are California and New York whose constraints on the stop-loss attachment point “essentially preclude level-funded plans from being offered” there, he adds.

The arrangement is trickling down market. “We’ve heard from carriers that will go down to seven employees, plus dependents, while others cut it off at 20 or 25,” he says.

David Reid, CEO of EaseCentral, sees a “resurgence of level funding” across more than 38,000 employers with less than 500 lives that his SaaS platform targets through about 6,000 health insurance brokers and 1,000 agencies. His average group is about 30 employees.

He’s also seeing more customers using individual-market plans rather than group coverage through Hixme’s digital healthcare benefits consulting platform. Under this approach, health plans are bundled with other specific types of insurance and financing as a line of credit to fill coverage gaps. Employer contributions are earmarked for individual-market plans, which are purchased through payroll deduction.

Read further.

Source:
Shutan B. (17 November 2017). "Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/level-funded-plan-uptake-trickling-down-market?feed=00000152-175e-d933-a573-ff5ef1df0000

Long-Term Disability Insurance Gets Little Attention But Can Pay Off Big Time

Is disability coverage worth it? At Saxon, we love to keep you updated on the latest news in the retirement world, and today, we want to dive into disability coverage. Check out this engaging and helpful article we pulled from KHN.


“It won’t happen to me.” Maybe that sentiment explains consumers’ attitude toward long-term disability insurance, which pays a portion of your income if you are unable to work.

Sixty-five percent of respondents surveyed this year by LIMRA, an association of financial services and insurance companies, said that most people need disability insurance. But the figure shrank to 48 percent when people were asked if they believe they personally need it. The proportion shriveled to 20 percent when people were asked if they actually have disability insurance.

As the annual benefits enrollment season gets underway at many companies, disability coverage may be one option worth your attention.

Some employers may be asking you to pay a bigger share or even the full cost. That can have a hidden advantage later, if you use the policy. Or you may find that your employer has automatically enrolled you — or plans to — unless you opt out. A growing number of employers are going that route to boost coverage that they feel is in their employees’ best interests, not to mention their own, since insurers usually require a minimum level of employee participation in order to offer a plan.

Benefits consultants agree that although long-term disability coverage lacks the novelty appeal of some other benefits that companies are offering these days — hello, pet insurance — it can prove much more valuable in the long run.

“This is a really critical safety-net benefit,” said Rich Fuerstenberg, a senior partner at human resources consultant Mercer.

If you become disabled because of accident, injury or illness, long-term disability insurance typically pays 50 to 60 percent of your income, while you’re unable to work. The length of time the policy pays varies; some policies pay until you reach age 65.

Long-term disability generally has a waiting period of three or six months before benefits kick in. That period would be covered by short-term disability insurance, if you have it.

Many long-term disability claims are for chronic problems such as cancer and musculoskeletal conditions. According to the Council for Disability Awareness, the average duration of a claim is nearly three years — 34.6 months.

Not everyone has savings to support them through that time. When the Federal Reserve Board surveyed adults about household economics in 2015, 53 percent said they don’t have a rainy day fund that could cover them even for three months. More troubling, nearly half of respondents — 46 percent — said that faced with a hypothetical $400 emergency expense, they didn’t have the cash to cover it.

According to the Social Security Administration, 1 in 4 people who are 20 years old now will be disabled before they reach age 67.

Overall, 41 percent of employers offer long-term disability insurance, according to LIMRA, though the proportion of larger employers who offer it is generally much higher. Compared with health insurance, premiums cost a pittance — $256 annually in 2016 on average for group plans, LIMRA says. Many employers pick up the whole tab or charge workers a small amount.

However, as employers continue to shift benefit costs onto employee shoulders, long-term disability is no exception. Increasingly, they’re offering the coverage as a “voluntary” benefit, meaning employees pay the entire premium.

The upside is that if employees pay for the coverage themselves with after-tax dollars and they ever become disabled and need to use the coverage, the benefits will be tax-free.

“If an employee can choose to pay for coverage on a post-tax basis, or is paying on a voluntary basis, it’s better for them,” said Jackie Reinberg, national practice leader for absence, disability management and life at benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson.

Some employers may pay for a core basic benefit that replaces 40 or 50 percent of income and offer workers the opportunity to “buy up” to more generous income replacement of 60 or 70 percent.

Although voluntary coverage has a tax advantage, disability consultants are concerned that leaving it up to employees, especially if they’re choosing among several other voluntary coverage options like cancer insurance, critical illness coverage and yes, pet insurance, increases the odds they’ll skip buying long-term disability coverage.

“These coverages all feel the same, and if you’re going to choose one at all you tend to go with the one that’s cheapest and the one that you think you might use,” said Carol Harnett, president of the Council for Disability Awareness, a membership group of disability insurers that does education and outreach about disability issues.

Auto-enrollment can make a big difference. Employers that auto-enroll employees in voluntary long-term disability plans may get 75 percent of employees to participate, compared with 30 percent for employers that leave it completely up to workers, said Mike Simonds, CEO of disability insurer Unum US.

If you were offered long-term disability coverage when you were hired and didn’t sign up, it may be tougher to do so during the open enrollment period, said Fuerstenberg. A growing number of health plans require employees to show “evidence of insurability,” meaning they must answer a series of health-related questions before they’re approved. Some long-term disability policies may also have preexisting condition provisions that won’t pay benefits for a condition for up to a year, for example.

 

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Andrews M. (10 October 2017). "Long-Term Disability Insurance Gets Little Attention But Can Pay Off Big Time" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/long-term-disability-insurance-gets-little-attention-but-can-pay-off-big-time/


Trending: Virtual Healthcare Gains Broader Acceptance

Original post benefitsnews.com

The Cadillac tax may have been postponed until 2020 but that doesn’t mean employers have put healthcare cost containment measures on the backburner. In fact, new research shows 90% of employers are planning myriad measures to control rising healthcare costs.

The 2016 Medical Plan Trends and Observations Report, released today by DirectPath and CEB, highlights top trends in employers’ 2016 healthcare strategies. Overwhelmingly, employers are continuing to shift a larger share of healthcare costs to employees, often through high-deductible health plans, according to the report.

The use of telemedicine, meanwhile, continues to grow, with almost two-thirds of organizations offering or planning to offer such a service by 2018 – a 50% increase from the previous year.

“Employees often say that they go to the emergency room because it's hard to get a doctor's appointment. With telemedicine, you've got 24/7 access and you don't necessarily need an appointment,” notes Kim Buckey, vice president of compliance communications at DirectPath. “That's certainly a huge driver of avoiding those visits to the emergency room or even the urgent care clinic because telemedicine is typically less expensive than an urgent care visit, as well.”

Buckey says it “makes sense” for employers to investigate telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via phone calls, email and/or video chat – because employees are increasingly accepting of virtual access to just about everything.

“How many employees now are just grabbing their phones, iPads, or computers when they need information? That's something that people are comfortable with using and they don't have to leave their house to get quality care,” she says.

Spousal and tobacco surcharges are also expected to grow, according to the CEB data. Twelve percent of employers surveyed already have spousal surcharges in place, while 29% expect to introduce them in the next three years. Twenty-one percent of employers already have tobacco surcharges in place, while 26% expect to implement them in the next three years.

“I think we're going to see more and more of those, particularly as employers focus more on wellness initiatives,” says Buckey, adding that a robust communications plan is needed before implementing tobacco or spousal surcharges.

“People don't understand basic concepts like deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, let alone how to make a decision about what plan to choose, or frankly, what's the best way of receiving care,” she says. “As more and more of these provisions are added to plans, they have the potential of being even more confusing and off-putting to employees, so having a robust communications plan in place that addresses all of these issues [is important]. ... There certainly will be cases where these surcharges aren't going to apply to a large percentage of the population. You just want to make sure that the folks who are affected, understand how they're affected and why.”


Leading CEOs partner to inspire wellness programs across all U.S. employers

Originally posted September 17, 2014 by Nick Otto on http://ebn.benefitnews.com.
A panel of U.S. companies representing more than 1 million active employees and another 50 million retirees across the globe convened Tuesday in Washington, D.C. to unveil a campaign aimed at reducing the nation’s health care costs.

With an eye to the efforts near and dear to benefits managers across the country, the industry leaders are urging their peers to embrace wellness programs and improve employee health.

Current council members, calling themselves The CEO Council on Health and Innovation, include executives from: Verizon Communications, Aetna, Bank of America, Walgreen, McKinsey & Co, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, the Institute for Advanced Health and Johnson & Johnson – the most recent addition.

Working in partnership with the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, the council called on employers to accelerate the adoption of comprehensive wellness programs that will tackle four areas of wellness the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say are the leading reasons for developing chronic disease: inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption.

Half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease, says Jason Grumet, president of the BPC and moderator at the event. Grumet says that the major employers taking part in the CEO Council represent a unique combination of good ideas with great people who have the ability to get things done, he said.

Lowell McAdam, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, says technology and wearable devices are going to be some of the biggest wellness tools of the future. McAdam says the company is already using technology-enabled, mobile health clinics to connect children with quality health care, as well as employing remote monitoring tools to enable seniors with chronic conditions.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, says his company uses incentivizing measures to help employees maintain their health. The bank provides additional funding for biometric screenings, and each year, if an employee remains at or below their numbers, health care costs will remain flat the following year.

Along with issuing a joint report, BPC launched an interactive Web site containing a slew of resources to support implementation of new programs among other employers.


Better understanding of benefits helps both employee and employer

Originally September 4, 2014 by Nick Otto on http://ebn.benefitnews.com

According to new research from Unum, a recent survey of more than 1,500 employees shows only half of U.S. employees would rate their employer as excellent or very good. Even less than that, the 47% who were offered benefits by their employer, rated the actual benefits as excellent or very good — some of the lowest ratings for benefits the Unum has seen in recent years.

The data points to a lack of employees getting information needed on the benefits being offered. Only 33% of those surveyed who were asked to review benefits in the prior year rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good — a drop from 2012 and reversal of the upward trend since 2009.

“Offering employees effective benefits education can contribute to satisfaction with their employer,” says Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum. “Even if employees don’t have a particularly good benefits package, those who say they received quality education about the benefits they are offered are far more likely to consider their employer a very good place to work.”

Employers can also get a win when providing educational guidance in choosing the right benefits. Correlation between employee satisfaction with their benefits continues to run parallel with overall employer satisfaction.

More than three-quarters of those employees who rate their benefits package as highly also rate their employer as an excellent or very good place to work. By contrast, only 17% of employees who consider their benefits package to be fair or poor rate their workplace as excellent or very good.

Additionally 79% of employees who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good — compared to 30% who said the education they received was fair or poor.

The survey also found:

  • 40% of employees say they understand supplemental medical coverage somewhat or very well.
  • 47% say they understand critical illness insurance somewhat or very well
  • 48% whose employers offered long or short term disability insurance said no one explained disability insurance to them.
  • 66% agree employers should do a better job educating employees about these important benefits.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan, because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” Dalicandro adds.


Reducing benefit costs while still valuing employees

Originally posted August 26, 2014 by Steve Grossi on http://ebn.benefitnews.com.

Commentary: At BOK Financial, our goal is to cultivate strong relationships with our customers. Each employee provides a personal touch to our customers, so that we become their trusted neighborhood banker. Our management team extends that personal touch to each of our 4,600 employees, as well – we define “valuing employees” as one of the company’s three key fundamentals.

As part of valuing our employees, benefits are viewed as a direct extension of pay and considered to be a vital part of an employee’s total compensation package. Benefits represent a sizeable investment for BOK Financial as well as for each employee. It’s our corporate culture to place a great deal of attention on benefits, and helping employees understand all of the value of their benefits package is a key focus for our HR team.

People who work for us are independent thinkers. It’s important to make our own decisions, and that’s especially true when it comes to health benefits. This is the reason our company is committed to a program that offers employees the flexibility to choose their coverage in most major benefit areas. Each employee can put together a personal package to suit their needs, and I believe that this flexibility shows the company’s commitment to each and every member of our staff as well as their families.

But this level of commitment to our employees – although vital – is expensive. After payroll, benefits costs were our No. 1 company expense, and as a result we found ourselves coming to terms with the impending Cadillac Tax, a penalty against companies over a particular threshold in terms of premiums resulting from the Affordable Care Act.

We added a consumer-directed health plan to our benefits offering, along with a health savings account, hoping to bring overall benefits costs down and reduce our exposure to the Cadillac Tax. Our belief was that the CDHP would suit the needs of many employees, and premiums would be lower for both the company and the employee. But explaining the benefit of a CDHP to employees is challenging – people are confused by the options, and most simply choose to do nothing and remain in their current plan. Others assume that the most expensive plan is the best, and default to that choice.

After one year with the CDHP, adoption was well short of our company goal, at only 5%. We went looking for help, and ended up with a solution from Tango, a company that helps organizations save money by optimizing health benefits, while keeping employees happy.

The first step was to educate our employees, and Tango explained the differences between each plan in simple, relevant terms. A plan optimizer tool allowed employees to walk through a series of questions and decide which plan was the best based on their individual needs. Since the tool is online, employees can log in from home and walk through the steps with their spouse, and discuss their options. Our CEO and his wife went online at home to use the plan optimizer, and they ended up choosing the CDHP. In all, over a thousand of our employees logged on to the online tool, with most spending at least 20 minutes reviewing and comparing their options.

For even more employee awareness, Tango put a communication plan in place that included email-based updates and information. Weekly and monthly communications continue to go out to the employees explaining how to open and use their HSA, and other helpful tips on topics like reimbursements and tax filing. The emails were very specific and targeted, so employees were more likely to open and read them. Tango also provided videos and webinars specifically created for our employees with a direct comparison between the CDHP and the traditional PPO plan – helping to demystify the choice between the plans. Normally this kind of information would come from the HR team, but Tango’s level of service meant that our HR team could focus on other critical employee needs.

Reviewing our results at the end of the first enrollment period with Tango, we saw adoption of the CDHP and HSA go from 5% of the employee base up to 30%. Our employees were pleased with the plan changes and with the amount of information they were getting about the growth of their HSAs. And it was a huge win for the company: BOK Financial saved over $880,000 in premiums and avoided an additional $190,000 in taxes.

BOK Financial continues to work with Tango to boost further adoption of the CDHP, and to retain existing plan members and ensure that employees are getting the maximum benefit out of their HSAs. As a chief human resource officer, the ability to increase adoption of the CDHP while maintaining our relationships with employees was very important to me. I’m thrilled that we’re able to retain our commitment to value our employees, even as we make changes that benefit the company’s bottom line.


Why employees need 401(k) investment advice

Originally posted August 21, 2014 by Michael Giardina on http://ebn.benefitnews.com

This retirement disconnect is not surprising, according to Schwab Retirement Plan Services, which released a survey this week of more than 1,000 401(k) plan participants. “We often see that participants are hesitant to take action when they’re not completely comfortable with the matter at hand, and this is especially true when it comes to financial decisions,” says Steve Anderson, head of retirement plan services at Charles Schwab.

Aside from health coverage, the survey found nearly 90% of workers agreed that the 401(k) is a “must-have” benefit, more than extra vacation days or the ability to telecommute. However, employees said they spent more time researching options for a new car (about 4.3 hours) or vacations (about 3.8 hours) than researching their 401(k) investment choices (2.1 hours).

“The fact that an overwhelming majority of workers demand 401(k)s is good news, because it shows that people understand that they are responsible for their own retirement,” Anderson tells EBN. “Participating in a 401(k) program helps workers develop the discipline to save, and the earlier they begin to save, the more prepared they will be for retirement.”

Meanwhile, about half of plan participants said that their defined contribution plan’s investment options can be more confusing than their health benefits options. But gaining the needed assistance to understand the real value of their retirement plan was not top-of-mind for employees, as respondents said they were more likely to hire someone to perform an oil change to their vehicle, landscape their yard or help with their taxes than to seek out assistance for their 401(k) investments.

Anderson adds that while educational resources from plan sponsors may be just what employees need to make sound investment decisions, he says that “if participants have to seek out these resources on their own, chances are they won’t utilize them to their full benefit.”

Even with the prevalence of auto-enrollment and auto-escalation, employers may still have to do more. Only one-quarter of employees with access to professional 401(k) advice report having used it, says Anderson.

“Now employers can take the next step in plan design by proactively delivering advice to their employees,” Anderson explains. “We know getting advice can make a big difference for workers, as we’ve witnessed the impact of 401(k) advice on participant outcomes.”

For example, 70% of respondents noted that they would feel extremely or very confident in their investment decisions if they used a financial professional. Meanwhile, only 39% highlight the same confidence level if they opted to make those investment choices themselves.

“Participants who receive advice save more, are better diversified and stay the course in times of market volatility,” Anderson explains.


Employers create game plan for expected health care cost increases

Originially posted on August 22,  2014 by Michael Giardina on http://ebn.benefitnews.com

Employers across the country predict that their health care costs will increase by 5.2% in 2015 if they decide to maintain their current health plan structures. With modest changes, this increase drops down to 4%, according to a recent Towers Watson’s survey of nearly 400 employee benefit professionals from midsize and large companies.

Meanwhile, Towers Watson finds that the rising tide of health care costs has become a main focus of executives, with two-thirds of chief financial officers and chief executive officers holding a key place in health benefit strategy discussions. It’s coming down to wire for many employers to get costs down as the ACA’s excise tax takes effect in 2018.

Randall Abbott, senior consultant with Towers Watson, says that many employers are approaching the cost conversation “as a balance of shareholder responsibility and social responsibility.” But it’s not a surprise that three-quarters of employers are worried about the excise tax, commonly referred to as the Cadillac tax.

“There is this impression that employers are just raising costs up,” Abbott explains, but highlights “they are doing it out of necessity.”

“They are trying to do it as thoughtfully and as responsibly as they can, and that’s a constant battle,” Abbott continues.

This battle, according to Towers Watson’s survey, is becoming a reality for many. More and more employers are planning to incorporate consumer-driven health plans, and other high-deductible health plans, into their coverage umbrella. By 2017, more than half of respondents expect to make this plan the only option, eliminating other plans.

“Inaction is not an option here,” Abbott explains, while noting that account-based health options such as health savings accounts can help all interested parties realize the costs at point-of-care.

Tom Meier, vice president of product development for Health Care Service Corporation, the nation’s largest customer-owned health insurer, agrees that CDHPs have been growing at record rates. Trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans reports that 15.5 million Americans were covered in HSA-eligible plans – a number that has tripled in the last six years.

“We’re seeing employers go all in on CDHPs, and I don’t see that slowing anytime soon,” Meier explains to EBN. “Employers are going to have to revisit their plan design and likely move out of those high cost benefit designs in order to comply and get under [the ACA’s excise tax] that threshold.”

Currently, HCSC has more than 2 million members enrolled in CDHPs under the insurer’s offering, which includes five Blue Cross and Blue Shield states. Meier adds that moving from $250 preferred provider organization health plan to a full-replacement $5,000 deductible CDHP is not something that employers should rush into. He adds that HR and benefit managers can also help to alleviate some of the expected employee unrest from the change by offering resources.

“As you’re asking them [employees] to be the consumers of care, you have to give them the tools to survive and thrive, or else you are kind of throwing them out into the wilderness,” Meier says.

Another growing trend for employees, which has been tabbed for movement in 2016 and 2017 by a third of Towers Watson survey respondents, is reducing company subsidies for spousal and dependent coverage. Also, 26% indicate they are considering excluding spousal coverage all together should they have coverage elsewhere.

Last summer, it was reported that UPS planned to stop providing coverage to a portion of employees’ spouses who were able to opt into medical coverage through their own employers. First reported by Kaiser Health News, it was disclosed that more cost associated with the landmark health care law was forcing the move. Of the more than 33,000 spouses being covered, UPS said that about 15,000 could gain coverage from their current employers.

UPS said in a memo to employees that “limiting plan eligibility is one way to manage ongoing health care costs, now and into the future, so that we can continue to provide affordable coverage for our employees.”

While UPS declined to comment on the past spousal health plan coverage change, Paul Fronstin, director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s health research and education program, notes that re-examining spousal coverage, as well as looking at HSA-eligible plans and health exchanges, are areas where employer interest is growing.

Fronstin adds that “everything is on the table,” however.


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