Category:
Wellness Programs

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.

 

Related Posts:

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

What You Need to Know About Data Security and Wearable Devices in the Workplace

Employers, This Is the Comparative Data You Should Use to Evaluate Your Benefit Plans

What You Need to Know About Data Security and Wearable Devices in the Workplace

What You Need to Know About Data Security and Wearable Devices in the Workplace

02/02/2018

 

Now that wearables and smart technology devices are frequently used to incentivize and measure participation in workplace wellness programs, activity trackers have emerged as an important—and sometimes debated—link between employee and employer.

 

Concerns about personal data and activity trackers made the news (again) this week, with reports that U.S. soldiers may have inadvertently revealed the locations of remote military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria by publicly sharing their jogging routes via the Strava fitness app.

 

And during a series of meetings last year between Apple and Aetna, Aetna employees’ questions about the safety of the data on their employer-provided Apple Watches ended up dominating the discussion—and the news media’s coverage of that discussion. By way of background, Aetna partnered with Apple in 2016 to provide select large employers and individual customers with Apple Watches, as well as offering to reimburse all 50,000 of its own employees for the watches. Apple has stressed that health information is only shared with user consent, and Aetna is continuing to gather feedback from its employees about whether or not the watches have had an impact on their nutrition and exercise habits.

 

Of the Apple/Aetna meetings, CNBC reported, “One of the biggest concerns with companies like Apple and Fitbit collecting health information, like steps and heart rate, is that it could get into the wrong hands. These fears are amplified as technology companies strike deals with self-insured employers and health plans.”

 

So what are employers and health insurers doing with the data they collect from activity trackers? The large majority of those employers are doing nothing with it and are providing employees and/or their customers with wearable devices only to encourage health and wellness in hopes of increased productivity and engagement and decreased healthcare costs.

 

Though it’s now common across industries, the trend of doling out activity trackers to employees and customers was popularized by healthcare companies. Back in 2014, tech startup Oscar made headlines when it partnered with Misfit, a wearable device company, to link its customers’ biometric information straight to their health insurance, presenting Amazon gift cards to those who met their fitness goals.

 

Since 2016, UnitedHealthcare has awarded employees who meet fitness goals (as measured by their wearable devices) with monetary prizes and credits that can be applied to a health savings account or health reimbursement account. The company’s vice president of emerging products recently reported that its program, which it calls “Motion F.I.T.”, has yielded “very impressive” engagement and activity rates. And, as part of its Wellvolution program, Blue Shield of California leverages the Walkadoo app, which keeps track of activity and allows employee participants to earn awards such as Fitbits and Visa gift cards. It has since also invited some of its plan participants to engage with the app in exchange for awards. OptimaHealth, Cigna, Humana and other insurers additionally offer their members discounts and rewards tied to activity trackers.

 

Even as activity trackers have provided impetus for some corporate employees to prioritize their health, the practice of incentivizing with them has, in some ways, heightened the tension between personalized medicine and private information. Workplace wellness programs that are offered by group health plans to group health plan participants only are covered by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules, while wellness programs offered to all employees, however, are likely not covered by HIPAA.

 

Just last week we reported on a new ruling from a federal district court in Washington, D.C., in which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been ordered to alter its rules on employer-sponsored wellness programs that financially penalize employees who refuse to provide personal medical and genetic information. As wearable healthcare technology grows more sophisticated, we suspect that the number of questions it raises will continue to grow, as will the opportunities it creates.

 

For more on the role of smartphones and apps in personal health management, read our blog about trends in remote health monitoring.

Are Incentives for Participating in Workplace Wellness Programs in Peril?

Are Incentives for Participating in Workplace Wellness Programs in Peril?

01/19/2018

 

The data on workplace wellness programs is in, and they’re a hit with nine out of 10 employers, who now rely on them to address challenges ranging from productivity and absenteeism to health-related costs. However, a new ruling from a federal district court in Washington, D.C., may mandate changes to these programs as early as next January.

 

As it stands now, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s rules on employer-sponsored wellness programs allow employers to reimburse employees for up to 30 percent of their cost of health insurance as an incentive for participating in workplace wellness programs. However, in October 2016, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) sued the EEOC, objecting to two of its regulations and filing a motion to block them. The AARP argued that the regulations are discriminatory for financially penalizing employees who refuse to provide personal medical and genetic information.

 

Last August, U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates called the EEOC regulations “arbitrary and capricious.” He ruled that the agency had not adequately demonstrated why workplace wellness program incentives do not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirement that any disclosure of disability-related information must be voluntary. The court directed the EEOC to amend the rules while leaving them in place. In response, the EEOC proposed waiting a minimum of three years before proposing its new rules.

 

Nevertheless, Bates amended his order last month and granted the AARP’s motion to vacate the EEOC’s current wellness regulations as of Jan. 1, 2019. According to the ruling, “Because the Court issued its summary judgment decision in August 2017, EEOC will thus have had a total of over sixteen months to come up with interim or new permanent rules by the time the vacatur takes place. The Court will also hold EEOC to its intended deadline of August 2018 for the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking.”

 

While the EEOC could still appeal, Dara Smith, the AARP’s lead attorney in the case, says, “Making the rules ineffective two years sooner than the agency proposed is a major victory for workers and AARP. It means two fewer years of coercive penalties imposed on employees who exercise their civil right to keep private health-related information private in the workplace.”

 

Alternatively, the American Benefits Council, a lobbying group, may “try to convince their legislative allies, like Virginia Foxx (R-NC5), to push her Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act,” according to an op-ed on EmployeeBenefitsAdviser.org. “However, this bill is very controversial and is opposed by her constituents in both parties, largely because it expands the reach of wellness programs to include genetic testing. Consequently, Rep. Foxx may get cold feet about persevering.”

 

In the meantime, the impact of wellness programs continues to ripple across workplaces. Three-quarters of employers now offer wellness programs as a means of improving worker health, in contrast to the quarter of employers who primarily offer them because they improve ROI on healthcare costs, according to findings from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ Workplace Wellness Trends 2017 Survey Report. These popular programs dovetail with other employer programs that address employees’ mind-body concerns, including financial wellness and mental health programs.

 

Read our blog post about how today’s workplace wellness offerings emphasize overall employee health and wellbeing.

ow to Create a Successful Health Screening Program

How to Create a Successful Health Screening Program

Open enrollment period might be the perfect time for another company-wide activity –- health screenings. Employees are already thinking about benefits and organizations can capitalize upon this opportunity to conduct a successful screening program. Screenings have the potential to provide significant savings for employers and employees by catching serious problems early and helping avoid future healthcare costs.

Approximately 140 million people in the U.S. have one or more chronic conditions. Yet fewer employees visit their physician annually. Health screenings can bridge that gap and encourage more active participation in health related activities. Continue reading

Wellness Offerings Emphasize Overall Employee Health and Wellbeing

Wellness Offerings Emphasize Overall Employee Health and Wellbeing

Wellness program efforts appear to have caught on as the vast majority of U.S. companies are currently offering at least one wellness initiative, according to recent findings in the Workplace Wellness Trends: 2017 Survey Results. Nine out of 10 organizations to be exact, which is an impressive number, but so is their rationale for doing so.

Nearly three-quarters of businesses offer wellness programs primarily to improve overall workforce health and wellbeing. From this survey it’s clear there has been a transition away from merely trying to control or reduce health costs with wellness offerings. This is further evidenced by wellness efforts that now extend beyond physical health to address community and social health, employee growth and mental health. Continue reading

Proposed Bill Looks to Allow Employee Genetic Screening

Employers are on the hunt for some fresh approaches to containing employee healthcare costs. Medical inflation and utilization are both expected to increase this year. And debate seems to continue around the American Health Care Act (AHCA). So most companies recognize they need new strategies that move beyond tweaking plan designs and adding HDHPs. Continue reading

Prevent ‘Presenteeism’ by Creating a Culture of Worker Wellness

Many companies today implement wellness programs to help create a healthy culture at work. To establish an environment that promotes its workforce’s wellbeing on many levels. It’s an important goal for organizations to strive for beyond just healthcare cost containment.

Yes, poor health takes approximately $576 billion annually out of the U.S. economy, according to Integrated Benefits Institute data. With 39 percent of that being attributed to lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism. While absences due to illness are more easily trackable, it’s presenteeism that can have a bigger impact on a company’s bottomline.

Related: Promoting Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Employees

What is Presenteeism?

The term presenteeism is a concept that companies need to effectively manage. It’s the state of showing up for work, but not performing to full capacity.

The reasons might be due to stress, boredom, relationship issues, and also not feeling well. While survey data from a 2016 Global Corporate Challenge found that on average employees only took four sick days a year, they also reported being unproductive on the job an average of 57 days annually. That’s costing employers 11 weeks per worker of “missed” work.

Related: Five Critical Factors a Wellness Program Needs to Address

Prevent Presenteeism; Create a Culture of Wellness

That’s why an organization’s commitment to wellness at work can have a positive impact for employees and employers. Wellness initiatives aimed at boosting a staff’s health and by extension morale and job satisfaction can range in cost, giving employers the ability to budget and implement initiatives as they see fit.

Related: How to Choose a Corporate Wellness Provider

There are several initiatives that businesses can consider as outlined in the top workplace-wellness trends by the Corporate Health & Wellness Association:

  • Lifestyle Management – Provide flu shots, sleep-management programs, cholesterol screenings, and telehealth visits to help make getting and staying healthy easy.
  • Weight-loss Programs – Offer a range of solutions if possible, from gym memberships to yoga classes, and weight loss memberships to healthy snacks in the lunchroom.
  • Redesign Workspaces – Provide adjustable sit-stand desks or treadmill desks, ergonomic chairs and headsets, and Fitbit trackers to encourage movement throughout the day.
  • Smoking-cessation Programs – Ban smoking in the office and offer smoking-cessation classes to help employees kick the habit permanently.
  • Stress Management Programs – Offer guidance and instruction in activities like meditation, personal finance, elder care, and parenting.

Source:  Business West. Move Along. May 2017. PP32-35.

Learn More: Top Wellness Priorities in 2017 [Infographic]

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.

How to Choose the Right Corporate Wellness Provider

As employers’ wellness efforts increase so has their interest in vendors who provide corporate wellness programs.  According to IBISWorld’s 2016 industry report organizations have many options to choose from as there are currently 951 companies who specialize in corporate wellness offerings. IBISWorld projects continued growth for this industry putting revenue at $7.6 billion annually by 2021. Continue reading