Fewer Working-Age Americans

dg-workersWith statistics showing that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day from now until 2030, the impact on our workforce will be dramatic. When the last of the baby boomers reach age 65 in 2029, nearly 25% of our population will be 65 or older. This is up from about 15% today. While 62% of Americans are between the ages of 18 and 64 and considered to be of working age, this percentage will drop to 58% by the end of the next decade. While this poses growing problems for Social Security and Medicare in the U.S., many other countries face even bigger challenges.

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Protecting Your Health Information

health-benefitsWhile health information is protected in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, that simply isn’t the case in the online world. The Department of Health and Human Services warns that HIPAA privacy regulations do not apply to information you reveal on social media, in emails and web searches or when using health apps. The unfortunate fact is that information you provide when using these applications is fair game, often being gathered by data aggregators for sale to insurers, employers and others.

Another problem is that the privacy policies included by websites contain pages of small print and are seldom read. Too many people just assume their information is protected, click “accept” and move on. In 2014, the State of California adopted a law that extends HIPAA-like protection to online medical information, requiring medical apps to meet the same standards of confidentiality required by healthcare providers. Many believe that with more and more medical information moving online, it’s time for other states to follow.

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Bundled Payments Yielding Good Results

bundled-paymentsIn a previous newsletter, we discussed bundling introduced by Medicare which focuses on orthopedic and cardiac procedures. Through the mandatory initiative for comprehensive care for joint replacements (CJR), which became policy in 2016, some 800 hospitals are participating in the program.

While some sources report the results of bundling as mixed, Medicare reports that joint replacement payments increased by approximately 5% nationally, but decreased 8% for BPCI participants. One large health system achieved a 20.8% episode decrease and another reported a significantly shorter prolonged length of stay – a sign of fewer complications resulting from surgery.

Providers, both acute and post-acute, shared in the savings and indications are that post-acute savings were achieved because their care was bundled, placing these providers at risk. Even though efforts to repeal and replace or modify the Affordable Care Act are on hold, more healthcare providers and payers can be expected to embrace bundling going forward.

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Lots of Love for LaCroix

If you’ve joined the “end sugary drinks” club, you may be enjoying LaCroix or one of several other unsweetened, carbonated waters. What makes them taste so refreshing? According to scientists and registered dieticians, studies show that while drinking any cold water will avoid the 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar found in a can of soda, the carbonation found in a cold LaCroix, Perrier or other unsweetened, carbonated water does enhance water’s ability to quench a thirst.

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How Are You Feeding Your Heart?

feeding-your-heartFor those who simply cannot do without their favorite foods, here’s a list of the things that many of us love, but our hearts wish we would avoid.

Fast Food – Most of it has poor nutritional value, including plenty of fat, calories and processing.

Candy – Go with a small quantity of dark chocolate if you must have some candy, but the sugar just isn’t a good thing for your heart.

Ice Cream – Cardiologists warn that even small amounts of ice cream provide too much fat and sugar – it’s that simple.

Pastries – Few things taste better than cookies, pies and cakes but in high doses, the sugar, fat and gluten can lead to obesity.

Pizza – Pizza nights are tough to beat, especially in cities like Chicago and New York. But unless you make your own, using healthier ingredients, you’re consuming too much fat and salt.

Soft Drinks – These are simply full of sugar and while they may be refreshing on ice, soft drinks are lacking in nutritional value.

Processed Meats – Ham, bacon, hot dogs and other deli meats usually contain lots of salt, fat and even nitrates. Too much salt can boost blood pressure, another risk factor.

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Why U.S. Health Care Costs Defy Common Sense

The article below was published on June 26, 2017 by CNN, written by Elisabeth Rosenthal.

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(CNN) – When Jeffrey Kivi’s rheumatologist changed affiliations from one hospital in New York City to another, less than 20 blocks uptown, the price his insurer paid for the outpatient infusion he got about every 6 weeks to control his arthritis jumped from $19,000 to over $100,000. Same drug; same dose — though, Kivi noted, the pricier infusion room had free cookies, Wi-Fi and bottled water.

Mary Chapman, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, started taking a then-new drug called Avonex in 1998, which belongs to a class of drugs called disease-modifying therapies. Approved in 1996, Avonex was expensive, about $9,000 a year. Today, two decades later, it’s no longer the latest thing — but its annual price tag is over $62,000.

Marvina White’s minor elective outpatient surgery to remove an annoying cyst on her hand was scheduled in 2014 based on her doctor’s availability. Because it was booked in a small facility that is formally classified as a hospital (with two operating rooms and 16 “spacious private suites”) rather than the outpatient surgery center where the doctor also practiced, the operating room fee was $11,000 rather than $2,000.

Len Charlap had two echocardiograms — sonograms of the heart — within a year: One, for $1,714, involved extensive testing at a Harvard training hospital; the other, for $5,435, was a far briefer exam at a community hospital in New Jersey.

It is not just that US healthcare is expensive, with price tags often far higher than those in other developed countries. We know that. At this point, Americans face astronomical prices that quite simply defy the laws of economics and — as each of the above patients noted when they contacted me — of decency and common sense.

‘The balance sheet just doesn’t work out’

“It’s the prices, stupid.”

This phrase, part of the title of a 2003 scholarly article in the journal Health Affairs explaining high US health expenditures, has been bandied about by a number of health economists for years.
But politicians have long been prone to ignore this essential wisdom. They do so today at their own peril. Outraged Americans at Town Hall meetings are wising up. Like patients who I’ve spoken to in my last few years of reporting, they have experienced the bankrupting and baffling illogic of US medical prices firsthand.

With the prices the US medical system demands for care, it’s no wonder that Republicans have had so much trouble finding a recipe to replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with “something better” for less money, as they’ve promised endlessly to do. Ironically, despite the extreme differences, the GOP is stumbling on the same underlying problem that ultimately tarnished the ACA in critics’ eyes: spiraling prices often necessitated skyrocketing premiums and deductibles, belying the “affordable” moniker. The balance sheet just doesn’t work out.

Any plan to solve America’s health care mess must confront this reality: Our prices for tests, drugs, hospitalizations and procedures — old or new — have gone up dramatically year by year, and are vastly higher than in other developed countries. Indeed, prices for similar interventions in other countries have often declined.

Why? The United States — more or less alone among developed countries — has no direct mechanism to rationalize prices for medical encounters, to insure they are at least nominally related to value. Worse still, we alone effectively allow businesses — mostly for-profit — to set the asking price. And, as these examples show, price and value have in many cases become completely uncoupled, allowing price to travel into the stratosphere.

The perils of ‘sticky pricing’

According to the rules of economics, the prices of innovative, breakthrough medical offerings should go down as they become more common. Competition should reduce prices as more manufacturers enter the field allowing purchaser-prescribers to choose from alternatives.
The pricing of pharmaceuticals and treatments in the United States often does exactly the opposite. Continue reading

Tailored wellness programs improve the bottom line

The article below was published on June 21, 2017 by Employee Benefit News, written by Alicia Kelsey.

Employer-sponsored health plans are taking up an increasing amount of real estate on companies’ operating budgets, and management has had to get creative in order to slow the rise in costs.

One creative solution that companies have turned to is a customized employee wellness program. By using data of the health of their population, enlisting industry specialists and vendors to help structure plans, and applying new technologies, many employers are seeing that tailored plans are surprisingly effective at managing costs.

“Tailored” is the key word when creating an effective employee wellness program. The first step is for an employer to know the health issues that their employees, and their spouses and dependents face. This is commonly done by asking plan members to complete a health risk assessment. Health reimbursement arrangements now include such details as average hours of sleep per night, nutritional and exercise habits, and biometric data including weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

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Image Source: benefitnews.com

The latter information in particular, introduced into the HRA process in the past decade, adds the critical physician component into health management. Typically collected by third-party vendors following doctor visits for privacy reasons, biometric details provide a superior snapshot of the overall well-being of a person. This data, when paired with advanced claims details and analysis, have vastly improved companies’ abilities to tailor their employee wellness programs to their employees’ needs. The more a company can perfect that tailoring, the more effective that company will be at managing costs and risks.

Technology has notably played a key role in improving the data available to companies and increased the participation and utilization of their wellness programs. Whereas physical activity was once self-reported, for example, a fitness device can now provide not only more accurate, but also more extensive information.

Similarly, programs can be administered online, increasing ease of use and reducing implementation costs. Many wellness companies have the ability to sync fitness activity from devices into their platforms so it can be managed all in one place.

It’s difficult for companies to manage all of this on their own, and it’s not a one-size-fits all solution. While there are many pre-existing program options out there, it’s better to tailor it to a company’s population. In the past decade, the number of options available has increased exponentially. Companies now have access to wellness tools of all shapes and sizes — arguably to an overwhelming degree. In other words, now is a good time for companies to look at their wellness programs and ask some sharp questions. Is the program tailored to the company’s employees? Does it meet the employer’s goal?

An effective program requires a concerted effort from the company’s leadership team. To incorporate a properly designed wellness program, a company must take time to determine both the needs of its employees and the goals of the company.

A third party — usually in the form of an insurance broker — can provide key assistance in these efforts by bringing in both the health claims data, benefits plan integration and an extensive knowledge of the wellness program options available. They have the ability to help the employer research and vet the right wellness vendor for the issues plaguing their population as well as fit it into the companies’ overall employee benefits strategy.

Wellness programs are no longer a stand-alone initiative. They are becoming more baked into the overall management of a company’s health population. With increasing healthcare costs, now is a perfect time for companies to revisit how they are managing their wellness program and what can be done to align it with their overall benefits goals.

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