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Employee Benefits

3 Ways to Help Your Employees Manage Their Healthcare Expenses

3 Ways to Help Your Employees Manage Their Healthcare Expenses

03/30/2018

 

The United States now spends almost twice as much on healthcare as other advanced industrialized countries, even though just a few decades ago our healthcare spend was closely aligned to that of other countries. As a result of the rising cost of healthcare, changes to employment and benefits laws and the availability of new benefits options, the employee benefits landscape in the U.S. has also been dramatically altered. One in four Americans now report that the cost of healthcare is the biggest concern facing their family, according to a Monmouth University poll. This makes it more important than ever for employers to offer their employees the guidance and tools they need to manage their healthcare plans and costs. Here are three approaches that can be used alone or in combination:

 

  1. Educate your employees about the financial benefits of HSAs, HRAs and FSAs.

Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) are the lowest overall cost option for employees in 65 percent of companies that offer them. They are typically paired with a triple-tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA), a health reimbursement account or a flexible spending account that allows employees to save for out-of-pocket expenses. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that employees save an average of more than $500 per year by selecting a high-deductible health plan.

The HSA contribution limit for 2018 is $3,450 for singles and $6,850 for families, but employees just getting started with an HSA can be encouraged to save as little as one to three percent of their salaries into their HSA. By building a small amount of health savings, they won’t “feel” incremental healthcare costs as sharply and will be better prepared to handle both expected and unexpected medical expenses in the future. Want more information about HSAs and how to communicate their value to your employees? Read our blog post.

 

  1. Provide your employees with benefits-based incentives related to their health and wellness.

Incentivizing employees to take an active role in improving their poor health behaviors can reduce their health risks and subsequently their healthcare costs. One WellSteps study, for example, found that post-implementation of a corporate employee wellness program there was a dramatic difference in the cost of medical care between program participants and non-participants ($3,280 versus $6,177).

Employers can also help their employees save money by offering them benefits-based incentives for participating in a workplace wellness program. Such incentives may include lower office copays, reduced deductibles or monthly premium discounts in exchange for health risk assessment completion, participation in weight-loss or smoking cessation programs or other workplace wellness activities.

 

  1. Give your employees tools to manage and plan for their healthcare expenses.

Analytics programs such as the WEX Health Cloud Consumer Dashboard make it easy for employees to get an aggregate view of all their healthcare claims, debit card transactions, distributions and expenses. Expenses can be viewed by category, individual or provider, and employees can initiate payments for expenses including reimbursements, pay the provider and bill pay.

A corresponding mobile app also lets employees view, budget, plan, analyze and manage their healthcare-related accounts and expenses, helping them more wisely manage their healthcare spending.

Employers and HR managers who facilitate healthcare consumerism among their employees will help them save money on healthcare costs. As a result, employers stand to gain a real competitive advantage over others in their industry—a workforce that is not only easier to hire and retain but also perhaps better informed and even healthier because of the tools you’ve provided.

 

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Employers, These are the Current Benefits Issues You Need to Know About

Employers, These are the Current Benefits Issues You Need to Know About

3/20/2018

by Chris Byrd

 

We’ve just returned from Capitol Hill, where WEX Health attended the nonprofit Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) 37th annual conference, March 14-16, to promote choice in benefit solutions. Much of the conversation in D.C. this year was around three major issues which affect tax-advantaged health benefit accounts that are a central element of a Consumer-Directed Health strategy:

 

  1. The Excise Tax on High-cost Health Plans.

Commonly known as the Cadillac Tax, this provision of the Affordable Care Act has been delayed yet again until 2022. Although this is helpful for employers concerned by the implications of this tax – especially those in high-cost states – a delay only defers this issue and does not represent a final resolution.  Given that many employers set their benefit strategies years in advance, 2022 is not terribly far away.  Among the actions employers are already taking or evaluating is curtailing or eliminating Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) from their benefit offerings.  Employee contributions to these accounts are counted toward the computation of whether the employee’s benefit plan exceeds the excise tax threshold.  Efforts continue to repeal the tax entirely, but if full repeal cannot be accomplished, to reform the tax by excluding employee contributions to CDH accounts.

 

  1. Strengthening HSAs.

Numerous bills have been introduced in both chambers of Congress to increase the availability and utility of HSAs to help individuals and families plan for and fund their health care needs.  The focal point of discussion is around the HSA “gold standard” bills – S. 403 and H.R. 1175.  These bills include a broad range of important provisions, including an increase in contribution amounts, allowing Medicare-eligible workers to continue contributing to an HSA, and restoring the tax-advantaged treatment of over-the-counter drugs and medicines.  In addition to these bills, there is increased discussion regarding a proposal to allow HSA-qualified health insurance plans to cover certain chronic-care conditions below the deductible.  This idea actually originated with the employer community and is now gaining traction.

 

  1. Supporting and Enhancing FSAs.

As are an important option for employees, particularly since surveys indicate the vast majority of employers offer traditional health insurance that is not HSA-qualified as one of their options in their benefit plans. H.R. 1204 would raise the limit that an employee may contribute to an FSA from $2,650 to $5,000.  This would benefit individuals and families with high healthcare costs, particularly those dealing with chronic conditions.

 

Based on what we heard in D.C., prospects for near-term action on these issues are somewhat limited.  It is, after all, an election year, and as the calendar advances, the ability to move legislation that isn’t “must pass” becomes more challenging.  In the healthcare arena, the biggest issues are the opioid crisis, stabilizing the individual insurance market, and prescription drug pricing/affordability.  In addition, the administration continues to advance regulatory reform, including supporting innovation and flexibility in plan design, distribution, and state regulation and programs (e.g. Medicaid).  With all this said, however, HSAs also continue to occupy an important place in the administration’s healthcare policy, and so there may be an opportunity to advance provisions that would strengthen these accounts.

 

As we have seen in the past, the healthcare landscape in Washington is highly fluid, so the best advice is to stay tuned for updates and developments as they happen

 


Chris Byrd

Executive Vice President, WEX Health Operations & Corporate Development Officer

Chris Byrd brings more than 25 years of experience in employee benefits and banking to his role at WEX Health. A founder of Evolution Benefits in 2000, Chris played a key role in designing the proprietary architecture for the company’s prepaid benefits card.

Chris oversees the daily execution of WEX Health’s business and leads the company’s operations and service delivery, corporate development, merger and acquisition activity, and legal, industry, and government relations efforts.

He began his career in commercial banking, and prior to 2000, he focused on finance, strategy, and business development for Value Health and two start-up healthcare companies. He joined WEX Health in July 2014.

Chris, who serves on numerous industry boards, is a frequent speaker on emerging trends in financial services and benefits and is active in industry and government relations. He earned a degree in economics from Brown University.  


What Is a QSEHRA?

What Is a QSEHRA?

02/13/2018

by Becky Kinder

 

We know, there are far too many acronyms in healthcare, but QSEHRA is an important one! And since it’s on the newer side, it’s led more than a few people straight to the Google search bar.

 

QSEHRA stands for “Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement” (HR 5447). Also known as “a small business HRA,” it’s becoming a popular employee health coverage option that was established and signed into law in December 2016 as part of the 21st Century Cures Act.

 

QSEHRAs have effectively provided small business owners with smarter healthcare options with less overhead and more cost effectiveness. These plans are designed to assist employees with insurance premiums from a plan of their choosing, and in some cases, the HRA will also cover other medical expenses.

 

It’s a great option for small employers: employers set the amount that they can afford to provide employees (as long as it falls within the legal limits) and employees are reimbursed for the expenses the plan allows for.

 

Employers who offer QSHRAs must have fewer than 50 full-time employees and must not offer traditional employer-sponsored group health offerings (including dental or vision) to any of its employees.

 

With its Notice 2017-67, the IRS issued further guidance on QSEHRAs, including the rules and requirements for providing a QSEHRA, the tax consequences of the arrangement and the requirements for providing employees with written notice of the arrangement.

Public comments on the IRS’s guidance were accepted through Jan. 19. The notice also established that the deadline to submit initial notices for 2017 QSEHRAs and 2018 QSEHRA plans beginning Jan. 1, 2018, is Feb. 19, 2018.

 

To learn more about QSEHRAs and the QSEHRA-related guidance issued by the IRS, review our post here.


What Is a QSEHRA? by Becky Kinder

Becky Kinder

Product Manager, WEX Health

As a seasoned member of our Product Management team, Becky drives the definition and development of features for several different functional areas of the software, serving as the voice of our partners, employers, and consumers to our development teams. Specific areas of focus include notional accounts, debit card, admin operations, and the consumer and employer portals. Becky has over 15 years’ experience collaborating on the delivery of technology solutions for the IT and healthcare industries. Since joining the team in 2007, she has defined and launched hundreds of features on WEX Health Cloud platforms.

 

Why the Latest Healthcare Reform Defeat Shouldn’t Be a Distraction from Your Health Benefits Strategy

Why The Latest Healthcare Reform Defeat Shouldn’t Be a Distraction from Your Health Benefits Strategy

10/09/2017

by Chris Byrd

 

Now that the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill has failed, Congress will move on. We can expect it to concentrate instead on some pressing items on the calendar—things like agreeing on a continuing resolution to keep the government operating, raising the debt ceiling and reauthorizing programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And of course, as we all know, congressional leadership is poised to take on the very complex issue of tax reform. In other words, after a six-month-long healthcare debate during which politicians expended a considerable amount of political and emotional energy, healthcare is largely off the table for now, barring the (unlikely) inclusion of healthcare in a tax reform package.

 

This means the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land. While it is far from a perfect framework (and both sides of the aisle agree on that), the employer market has adjusted to it. The repeal and replace efforts of the past six months led some employers to place their benefit strategies on hold pending an understanding of what a new world order might look like. My advice: Don’t put off making decisions about your benefits strategy any longer. The deliberation and debate over a wholesale overhaul of the present system is finished. There will be some targeted efforts, most notably to stabilize the individual market, but the employer market framework is known—more of the same.

 

If there is disappointment among supporters of consumer-directed healthcare approaches, it is over the missed opportunity to pass reforms that would have expanded HSAs, restored the OTC tax benefit, eliminated the cap on FSA contributions and further delayed the implementation of the Cadillac Tax. In the absence of a broad reform bill, these supporters will continue to advocate for these provisions in separate pieces of legislation. But much of that effort may have to wait until after the end of the year, given that the attention of the tax-writing committees is fully focused on tax reform. The industry’s biggest priority continues to be to repeal, reform or delay the Cadillac Tax.

 

The market forces that are causing employers to continue to move toward consumer-directed, higher-deductible healthcare plans haven’t changed, and the trend of consumers having more skin in the game is inexorable because it works. Even without the legislative changes that would have been favorable to consumers with tax-advantaged accounts had the broad healthcare reform bills passed, these accounts will remain a very effective and attractive tool for both employers and consumers. Consumers should be making use of them, as they provide a significant benefit by helping them save money and become wise stewards of their healthcare dollars. Consumer-directed health approaches—and the tools and products that have sprung up around them—continue to be an effective part of the answer to the challenges presented by healthcare’s ever-increasing costs. As Congress gathers its energy for another round of discussion and debate—this time around tax reform—employers and consumers should not be distracted by what’s happening in Washington as it relates to their health benefits strategy.

 


Chris Byrd

Executive Vice President, WEX Health Operations & Corporate Development Officer

Chris Byrd brings more than 25 years of experience in employee benefits and banking to his role at WEX Health. A founder of Evolution Benefits in 2000, Chris played a key role in designing the proprietary architecture for the company’s prepaid benefits card.

Chris oversees the daily execution of WEX Health’s business and leads the company’s operations and service delivery, corporate development, merger and acquisition activity, and legal, industry, and government relations efforts.

He began his career in commercial banking, and prior to 2000, he focused on finance, strategy, and business development for Value Health and two start-up healthcare companies. He joined WEX Health in July 2014.

Chris, who serves on numerous industry boards, is a frequent speaker on emerging trends in financial services and benefits and is active in industry and government relations. He earned a degree in economics from Brown University.  


Tax Reform Is the Next Hot Ticket for Healthcare Regulation

Why Tax Reform Is the Next Hot Ticket for Healthcare Regulation

10/03/2017

In spite of the many headlines and healthcare bills that have centered on repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the healthcare landscape in the United States today looks remarkably similar to the way it did when the ACA was passed seven years ago: The majority of Americans still receive insurance through their employers. Continue reading

Consumers Are Searching for Health Info Via Smartphone

Consumers Are Searching for Health Info Via Smartphone—Meet Them There

10/03/2017

All it takes is one look around a busy subway platform, café or concert to know that Americans are devoted to our smartphones: At any given time, it seems like most of us have one in hand –ready to help us follow a whim or tackle a task. Survey numbers corroborate this: Google found that 80 percent of Americans use a smartphone every day for an average of three hours a day, and while 67 percent use a computer daily, for one in four people a smartphone is the only device they use. This means that companies and healthcare providers that aren’t reaching their employees or customers on mobile are missing an opportunity to connect with a quarter of their audience. Continue reading

Open Enrollment Challenges and Opportunities by Employee Type

Decoding Open Enrollment Challenges and Opportunities by Employee Type

10/03/2017

Open enrollment season is almost upon us: The 2018 open enrollment period will run from Nov. 1, 2017 to Dec. 15, 2017 – representing a shorter enrollment period than in the previous four years. As employers prep for a time that is notorious for being stressful and confusing for employees, it can be helpful to look at the different needs and habits of various employee types so that you can be ready to address their concerns and priorities. It’s also a great time to change the conversation about benefits and to remind employees what they are getting, how much it’s worth and why they need to own their benefits decisions. Continue reading

Communicate the Value of FSAs and HSAs – Part II: Health Savings Accounts

Communicate the Value of FSAs and HSAs – Part II: Health Savings Accounts

In our most recent post, Communicating the Benefits of FSAs and HSAs Part I, we explored the benefits of flexible spending arrangements and how to help your employees to understand the value. Today, however, we would like to turn our attention to a topic that has been recently politicized, but misunderstood, Health Savings Accounts.

According to the 2016 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey, the percentage of organizations offering HSAs increased from 43 percent to 50 percent in the past year. Continue reading

Time to Measure Employee Healthcare Engagement

Even though school’s out, employers might want to consider giving employees a test over the summer. Prior to open enrollment, employers can use this time to assess their employees’ readiness for and engagement in their health program. Getting a better understanding of how committed employees are to maintaining their personal health, search for a doctor online, ask about the cost of a procedure, understand key insurance terms, etc. will help determine their level of healthcare consumerism.

According to a 2016 Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) study, 73% of people who experience rising health care costs found that their best defense is to try to take better care of themselves. Research has also shown that high consumer engagement correlates to better health status and cost consciousness.

Organizations can use a brief questionnaire to measure their workforce’s level of engagement in several areas to determine what tools they need to better enable and support them in their healthcare efforts. Additionally, it provides companies with benchmarking data that they can use internally as well as externally against other organizations’ employee populations.

Benefit Magazine touched on this topic in a “Grades Aren’t Just for Providers” June article. Measurement tools provide a way for organizations to refine their strategy and execution. The article offers three ways of using measurement data to increase employee motivation and employees’ healthcare consumerism skill sets.

Deploy the Right Consumer Tools

Everyone has a different starting point of their understanding and use of healthcare. Vendors provide all different type of tools to help guide individuals through the enrollment process through to finding a provider. Using engagement data to help deploy the right type of tool, which in some cases may even be making available a health care advocacy counselor for one-one help, can produce more confident decision-making across the company.

Related: HDHPS Create Need for Accurate Price Transparency Tools

Additionally, developing the right set of tools to help employees reach their personal best health can be achieved by using engagement scores to determine which products/tools to use with various groups. For example, for employees with chronic conditions a digital health tool that prompts them to monitor their condition and sends an update to their physician can produce better health outcomes through this type of management system.

Personalize Healthcare Information & Communication

An employer that measures engagement now has the ability to fill-in the gaps and meet employees’ specific needs with tailored communication.

Related: Gain Employee Engagement Through New Communication Strategies

Low engagement scores might suggest that these employees would benefit from frequent, yet short clips of information through video, print and email to encourage awareness and motivation. While highly engaged employees need specific direction and are ready for example, of the details about who to compare costs and quality of knee surgery at three local facilities.

Related: Use Big Data to Create A Personalized Benefits Strategy

Utilize Financial Strategies

Employees’ attitudes and abilities to participate in various healthcare programs will help steer employers toward their workforce achieving these desired outcomes. The move to HDHPs has created the need to focus on engagement efforts that center around understanding current and future healthcare costs.

Related: Use Incentives to Reward Employees for Transparency Tool Participation

Employees will need the right incentive to move beyond their comfort zone and talk about price with their provider, which can greatly impact their out-of-pocket costs. Financial incentives can also be strategically aligned to guide employees through the participation of a range of educational and wellness program activities. Again, engagement scores can inform organization’s where, how and what to incentivize with various groups of employees to encourage reasonable healthy behaviors and participation.

Source:  Benefits Magazine. Grades Aren’t Just for Providers: Measuring Consumerism to Improve Health Care Strategy. June 2017. PP 42-47.

New FDA Guidance Looks to Expedite Process of Bringing Generics to the Market

Recently the FDA released new draft guidance establishing an expedited process for the review and approval of high-priority generic drugs. According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, the June announcement and subsequent guidelines are expected to decrease the standard approval process by months. Meaning some generic drugs have the possibility of getting to the market faster, which should create more competition and potentially lower drug prices.  Continue reading