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Employee Benefits

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

Embracing and Promoting Social Wellbeing among Employees

Companies that understand the importance of investing in employees, as genuine resources are moving toward a more whole-person care approach to meet their diverse needs. Workplaces can no longer be viewed as silos, separate from all other aspects of employees’ lives. Keeping employees positively connected to their families, communities and coworkers provides a holistic method to delivering workplace benefits.

Taking a Wellness Program Beyond Health

Wellness programs are often used to bridge gaps in health coverage and more often than not simply equated with physical wellbeing. However, employee stress levels are reaching new highs and wellness programs need to expand and address these additional stressors in employees’ lives. Wellness programs components today, need to be comprised of physical, financial, emotional and social strategies to be effective.

The Social Component of a Wellness Program

The social component is probably the least talked about aspect of a wellness program. However, it probably shouldn’t be considering its impact. For example, an employee is responsible for an elderly parent that is ill. The employee’s time outside the workplace is consumed by caring for the elderly parent, leaving little time for any social interaction among friends or for group activities.

Additionally, employer surveys nationwide indicate that companies recognize that caregiving responsibilities negatively impact employee productivity too. So now at work, the less productive employee may not feel as connected to his or her team and/or organization. That’s a lot of stress and negativity for an employee to deal with both inside and outside the workplace.

Creating an Environment Conducive to Employee Social Wellness

So what can employers do to foster an environment that promotes social wellness?

First, recognize its importance and impact on an employee’s life.  Many more employees are going to being dealing with caregiving situations as the U.S. population older than 85 has doubled in the past two decades and as more women (who are traditional sources of caregiving) now comprise 47% of the workforce, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor 2016 statistics.

Opportunities to Improve Social Wellbeing in the Workplace

The positive impact that healthy relationships both in and outside the workplace bring to an organization need to be incorporated into corporate wellness initiatives. A recent Employee Benefit Plan Review article offered several insights for organizations to discuss to positively grow this aspect of their wellness program offerings.

  • Consider celebrating milestone markers of company anniversaries and bringing employees together for birthdays.
  • Make time for larger team and department meetings to share achievements and challenges, as well as reconnect employees to the vision, core values and mission statement of the organization.
  • Provide an employee social network, where employees can ask questions and ask for help from other employees.
  • Promote all aspects of diversity to create a culture of social acceptance and an opportunity for all opinions to be heard and valued.
  • Look to foster relationships between the organization and the community. Broaden the scope of social connectedness to outside the workplace and involve employees and their family members and everyone will benefit.

Source:  Employee Benefit Plan Review. Wellness Programs – Social Wellness. May 2017. PP5-6.

Webcast Recap: Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch in 2017

The only constant in the healthcare benefits environment is change. As 2017 marks a “changing of the guard” in the political world, a year in which technology is improving, and a year in which you will need to compete aggressively for the best talent; your organization must be able to adapt, evolve, and provide benefits that meet your employees’ unique needs.

In Wednesday’s article, we took a deeper look at the challenges and opportunities that other employer groups are facing in offering healthcare benefits as we looked into the results of our 2017 Healthcare Benefits Trends Benchmark Study, which was given to all attendees of our webcast and provided many insights from nearly 300 benefits professionals at organizations of all sizes.

Trends and Talking Points: 2017 Healthcare Benefits to Watch Webcast

The Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch in 2017 Webcast brought together three of the leading voices in the community to present their insights on our survey, as well as offering strategies and predictions for the year ahead.

Featuring Tiffany Wirth, Executive Director of the Healthcare Trends Institute and Vice President of Marketing at WEX Health, Sander Domaszewicz, Principal and Senior Consultant at Mercer, and Chris Byrd, Healthcare Operations Officer at WEX Health, these leaders brought decades of combined experience in healthcare benefits, legal policy, and business strategies, condensing a lot of highly valuable information into a brief, one-hour webcast.

Engagement Driving Changes in 2017

With many employer groups already making changes to their strategies over the past few years—implementing a wellness or preventive health program, adjusting cost sharing, or focusing on defined contribution—the top concern for employers in 2017 is employee engagement.

Engaging these employees, however, does pose a challenge as nearly 40% of employees had concerns about benefit communication and education and only 36% felt that benefit cost information was clearly presented, according to our consumer survey completed in Fall 2016.

Five Top Benefits Communication Methods

With engagement being its own issue, employers need to look at the way they communicate. While email may be right for some, other employees have other preferences, with a notable discrepancy between employer methods and employee needs:

Employer Communication Methods Employee Communication Preferences
Email: 77.1% Website: 54.4%
Meetings with HR/Benefits: 51.4% Printed Factsheets: 47.4%
Print: 49.1% Live Presentations: 38.6%
Intranet: 48.6 Email: 38.6%
Meetings with Advisors: 41.1% Videos: 23.7

 

Employers feel confident in their ability to educate employees, rating themselves at a 7.2 out of 10, roughly in line with employees rating their employers at 69% in the consumer survey.

Cadillac Tax Not Changing Many Minds

Even as this survey was completed during the election season, many employers are still in a holding pattern with respect to the Cadillac Tax. As it had already been delayed once from 2018 to 2020, respondents may have expected the threat of the tax to be delayed again, as fewer than 6% of employers have made aggressive changes to prepare, and a vast majority were waiting for definitive guidance:

  • 6% of Employers haven’t taken any actions
  • 7% are unsure what they need to do
  • 7% were not affected

Some Things Change, Others Stay the Same

As much as there have been changes in the way employers look at benefits, many things have remained steady:

  • Dental, Family Coverage, and Vision were the most commonly offered benefits.
  • Three Quarters of Employers in the last two years believe that benefits offerings are critical to their recruitment and retention.
  • In this and last year’s report, nearly 90% are still yet to make changes for the Cadillac Tax

Much, Much More: Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch in 2017

If all of the information above came from the first ten minutes of the webcast, imagine what you can learn from the remaining 50 minutes.

The entire Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch in 2017 features proprietary research into health plans, costs, adoption rates, and more from Mercer, presented by Sander Domaszewicz, Principal and Senior Consultant, and an in-depth look at the legal and regulatory outlook under Trump, the importance of the CURES Act passed last year, and the repeal and replace/revise and repair future for the Accordable Care Act, presented by Chris Byrd of WEX Health.

Learn more about what you can expect and how you can prepare in 2017 by watching the entire Healthcare Benefits Trends to Watch Webcast.

Healthcare Benefits in 2017: What Employers Have to Say

It’s been a tumultuous few years for the healthcare benefits community, and as the Trump administration takes office, the changes are just beginning. To address this, the Healthcare Trends Institute recently completed a survey of benefits professionals from across the United States to learn more about the trends, preparations and expectations for the coming year.

Trends in Healthcare Benefits: 2017 Healthcare Benefits Benchmark Study

The 2017 Healthcare Benefits Benchmark Study was completed by over 250 human resources executives, benefit specialists and other benefit decision makers from organizations ranging in employee size from less than 50 to over 2,500. Below, we will share some of the key insights and what they mean for employer groups in 2017.

Among the notable considerations for employers heading into 2017:

Employers Buying into Healthcare Consumerism

Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, employers have been encouraging their employees to take more control of their own healthcare decisions by offering a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

The Move to HDHP

High deductible health plans are plans that have minimum deductibles of $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families. One of the main selling points of an HDHP is that it combats rapid increases to monthly premiums for employers and employees, as shown by the relatively flat Medical Cost Trend over the past 4 years. The increasing popularity of these plans grew as a result of rising healthcare costs and the passing of the ACA, and pose benefits for both employers and employees:

  • For employees, high deductible health plans were designed to help them to lower premiums, focus on preventive care, shop around for affordable care, use emergency rooms only for emergencies, and ultimately take more control of their healthcare decisions.
  • For employers, HDHPs helped to combat rising premiums while shielding them from the Cadillac Tax, which was initially set to begin in 2018.

With all of this in mind, 2016 marked a milestone for healthcare consumerism, with the amount of organizations offering HDHPs jumping from 28% four years ago to 39% in last year’s survey to 53% in this year’s survey.

Pairing HDHP with Consumer-Oriented Accounts (HSA, HRA, FSA)

With this rise in HDHPs came an increase in the number of employees being enrolled in a Health Savings Account, Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangement, or Flexible Spending Account, as this year’s survey found that 51.5% of respondents’ employees are enrolled in one or more of these plans/arrangements.

By offering one or more of these arrangements, employers are demonstrating that they are committed to helping employees afford out-of-pocket healthcare expenses if and when they arise, making people-first decisions rather than money-first ones.

Notably, however, the move to HDHP does require effective communication, as there is a great deal of misunderstanding among consumers about why these plans help them and how they can use them effectively. Learn more about common misunderstandings in 5 Benefits Problems Employees Face and how to address concerns in How to Talk About Healthcare Consumerism with Your Employees.

Focusing on the Advantages

Organizations are relying heavily on their benefits programs to recruit, retain, and engage employees. Even if many employers have moved away from the traditional forms of healthcare benefits that were prevalent in the industry decades ago, the benefits offerings of today still can represent a significant investment in happier, healthier, and more engaged employees. Additionally, a well-defined benefits strategy can play a major role in improving company reputation as a leader and one that cares about its employees. In BenefitsPro’s Analysis of our whitepaper:

Respondents were asked to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how strongly they agree with the statement “the quality of a benefits package impacts the reputation of my company,” with 10 being “strongly agree.” Not surprisingly, given that such packages are looked upon as recruiting tools, 67 percent put the statement at 7 or higher, with nearly a quarter choosing “strongly agree.”

Learn More: Download the Entire 2017 Healthcare Benefits Trends Benchmark Study

The entire 2017 Healthcare Benefits Trends whitepaper takes a much deeper look into the trends to look out for in 2017, including plans and insights from other employer groups. The national survey went to over 250 human resources executives, benefit specialists and other benefit decision makers from organizations ranging in employee size from less than 50 to over 2,500. Click Here to Download.