Tracking Sleep

mobile phoneIn order to address a sleep shortage that is hurting productivity for U.S. businesses, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has introduced an online wellness program to help employees track the quantity and quality of their sleep. Employees log their time online or upload data from a fitness tracker such as a Fitbit. With the CDC linking sleep to chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression, researchers hope to help employees set a goal and improve the quality of their sleep.

Corporate Fitness & Health

Apple Watch & Joint Replacement

Technology giant Apple reported recently that thousands of hip and knee replacement patients are using Apple Watches and a new health app, MyMobility from Zimmer Biomet, to share health data with their surgeons during treatment and recovery. The app is being used to provide physicians with data about the patient’s heart rate, number of steps taken and time spent standing continuously, rather than having to rely on traditional in-person visits.

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Proposals on Many Wish Lists

self-fundingNow that the makeup of the new Congress has been decided, many employers are hoping Washington can work together to address a few of their important concerns. High on many lists, especially those belonging to large employers, would be doing away with the Cadillac Tax on high-cost health plans once and for all. While implementation has been delayed until the 2022 tax year, the law will require insurers and large employers to pay a 40% excise tax on the costs that exceed $11,100 for employee-only coverage and $29,750 for family coverage.

Other items that employers have been talking about for a long time include making HSAs considerably more user friendly and easing ACA reporting requirements to allow employee statements to be provided electronically rather than by mail.

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Younger generations driving lifestyle benefits

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This article was published on February 25, 2019 on Employee Benefit Adviser written by Kayla Webster.

Younger generations are often characterized as entitled and demanding — but that self-confidence in their work is pushing companies to adopt benefits outside the traditional healthcare and retirement packages.

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce, according to a study by Forbes. The first wave of Generation Z — millennials’ younger siblings — graduated college and entered the workforce last year. With these younger generations flooding the workplace, benefit advisers need to steer clients toward innovative benefits to attract and retain talent, according to panelists during a lifestyle benefits discussion at Workplace Benefits Renaissance, a broker convention hosted by Employee Benefit Adviser.

“Millennials came into the workforce with a level of entitlement — which is actually a good thing,” said Lindsay Ryan Bailey, founder and CEO of Fitpros, during the panel discussion. “They’re bringing their outside life into the workplace because they value being a well-rounded person.”

Catering benefits to younger generations doesn’t necessarily exclude the older ones, the panelists said, in a discussion led by Employee Benefit Adviser Associate Editor Caroline Hroncich. Older generations are accustomed to receiving traditional benefits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate new ones introduced by younger generations.

“Baby boomers put their heads down and get stuff done without asking for more — that’s just how they’ve always done things,” Bailey said. “But they see what millennials are getting and are demanding the same.”

In a job market where there are more vacant positions than available talent to fill them, the panelists said it’s important now, more than ever, to advise clients to pursue lifestyle benefits. While a comprehensive medical and retirement package is attractive, benefits that help employees live a more balanced life will attract and retain the best employees, the panelists said.

“Once you’ve taken care of their basic needs, have clients look at [lifestyle benefits],” said Dave Freedman, general manager of group plans at LegalZoom. “These benefits demonstrate to workers that the employer has their back.”

The most attractive lifestyle benefits are wellness centered, the panelists said. Wellness benefits include everything from gym memberships, maternity and paternity leave, flexible hours and experiences like acupuncture and facials. But no matter which program employers decide to offer, if it’s not easily accessible, employees won’t use it, the panel said.

“Traditional gym memberships can be a nightmare with all the paperwork,” said Paul O’Reilly-Hyland, CEO and founder of Zeamo, a digital company connecting users with gym memberships. “[Younger employees] want easy access and choices — they don’t want to be locked into contracts.

Freedman said brokers should suggest clients offer benefits catered to people based on life stages. He says there are four distinct stages: Starting out, planting roots, career growth and retirement. Providing benefits that help entry level employees pay down student debt, buy their first car or rent their first apartment will give companies access to the best new talent.

To retain older employees, Freedman suggests offering programs to help employees buy their first house, in addition to offering time off to bond with their child when they start having families. The career growth phase is when most divorces happen and kids start going to college, Freedman said. Offering legal and financial planning services can help reduce employee burdens in these situations. And, of course, offering a comprehensive retirement plan is a great incentive for employees to stay with a company, Freedman said.

Clients may balk at the additional costs of implementing lifestyle benefits, but they help safeguard against low employee morale and job turnover. Replacing existing employees can cost companies significant amounts of money, the panelists said.

“Offering these benefits is a soft dollar investment,” Freedman said. “Studies show it helps companies save money, but employers have to be in the mind-set that this is the right thing to do.”

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What Good Is Information If People Can’t Use It?

medical expenses

CMS Administrator Seema Verma calls the new rule a small step. We couldn’t agree more!

According to recent reports, what was touted as a giant step for healthcare cost transparency has turned out to be little more than a puzzle few can solve. The rule, which took effect on January 1, 2019, requires that hospitals post their prices online in a machine-readable format for consumers to download. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into retail-priced, coded components that are meaningless to the general consumer.

A law professor describes chargemasters as huge spreadsheets containing complex codes that only a billing expert could interpret. Determining the cost of a visit to the ER, for example, would require knowing the codes and locating the costs for all parts involved in the visit. Really? If the goal is to help people understand what medical services really cost, shouldn’t hospitals display prices they accept from health plans, or at least a typical range from low to high?

The Goal Is to Help Who?
HHS is currently seeking public comment on whether or not patients should have the right to see discounted or negotiated prices before choosing a provider. While most providers and payers and their respective associations cite antitrust violations and other concerns, it seems that providing healthcare consumers with price information in an easy-to-understand format could be a BIG step towards lowering costs for health plans and plan members. Isn’t that what healthcare cost transparency is supposed to do?

Tell Us How You Feel!

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Drug Firms Resist Price Disclosure

Drug CostsWhile the Department of Health and Human Services has asked drug manufacturers to disclose list prices for most drugs they feature in television commercials, the industry’s largest trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has countered with an offer to include content directing consumers to a new website where pricing information could be found.

The Administration’s request requires that list prices be featured in text on the screen in television ads for drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid costing more than $35 per month. A great deal of debate has developed, with PhRMA arguing that featuring list prices would confuse consumers by making them think they have to pay more than they actually would. HHS is still accepting comments on the proposal.

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UnitedHealth will begin passing drug discounts to plan participants

This article was published on March 13, 2019 on BenefitsPro written by Max Nisen.

The health-care policy environment is shifting in a dangerous way for insurance giants. A seemingly small change in how drugs are paid for could be the beginning of a response.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, announced Tuesday that its pharmacy-benefit management arm OptumRX will mandate that all new employer health-plan clients pass the drug discounts it obtains for them directly to plan participants. That’s a big shift from the current system, under which OptumRX and other PBMs negotiate prices with drugmakers and hand the resulting rebate checks to clients to use as they wish. PBMs profit from this arrangement, and have an incentive to favor heavily rebated drugs. That pushes drugmakers to hike prices, and patients are exposed to artificially inflated costs.

UnitedHealth’s new policy means lower drug costs for more people. But it has broader implications. It smartly preempts Trump administration efforts to reform rebates, and shows that the industry can make needed changes ahead of pushes for an even bigger government-led overhaul of the way they do business.

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Increasing costs and unhappiness with the status quo are motivating the administration’s regulatory effort to end rebates in Medicare. It is also thinking about forcing insurers to reveal the hidden prices they negotiate with hospitals, which would wreak havoc on their ability to negotiate. Consumer dissatisfaction also behind broader reform efforts championed by Democrats, such as Medicare for All. Such plans are distant threats, but they are present and existential enough to weigh on shares.

Making the switch to so-called point-of-sale rebates for new clients is a big and unique step for UnitedHealth, and it builds on its January transition of a different subset of its business. While the impact will be small at first as existing clients can stick to the old system, the new model could eventually impact as many as 18 million Americans, according to a research note from Royal Bank of Canada analyst Frank Morgan.

UnitedHealth says people already on its point-of-sale plans save an average of $130 per eligible prescription and that medication adherence is up by as much as 16 percent. People are happier and healthier when they can afford to take their medicine, and are more likely to avoid larger medical costs down the line.

If the administration’s efforts on rebates succeed, UnitedHealth will face less disruption and have more experience in making a new business model work. Slower rivals such as CVS Health Inc. and Cigna Inc’s Express Scripts – which offer point-of-sale rebates as an option but don’t mandate it – may suffer. Already in February, CVS attributed part of its weak 2019 guidance to the impact of shifting drug-pricing trends on its PBM as drugmakers held back on price hikes under political scrutiny.

Plans that offer point-of-sale rebates have a chance to focus more on reducing overall costs for both patients and payers, especially when integrated with an insurance plan. This isn’t going to make insurers and PBMs beloved overnight, or produce instant systemic cost-savings. But UnitedHealth is taking a needed and bigger step toward a better and more patient-friendly system.

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