Everything benefits managers need to know about Generation Z

Say hello to Generation Z. Yes, they have some similarities to Millennials, but they have they own thoughts and attitudes when it comes to work and benefits. Read this blog post to learn more.


Just when you thought you had finally figured out the millennial generation, there’s another young cohort of professionals entering the workforce. Sure, they’ve got some similarities to tech-focused millennials, but they have plenty of their own attitudes and opinions about money, relationships and, of course, work and benefits. Meet Generation Z.

Generation Z was raised in a post-9/11 world, following the dot-com boom and bust and during the midst of the Great Recession. There’s no doubt that these world events have colored the way they think and the way they work. Generation Z is a large cohort of about 72.8 million people and about 25% of the population. It’s a generation that employers will need to understand to create meaningful relationships. Here’s what you need to know.

They’re true digital natives. Generation Z was born between the 1995 and 2010, which makes them the first truly digital native generation. By the time they were heading off to Kindergarten, the internet had reached mainstream popularity and Mark Zuckerberg had already launched Facebook across college campuses.

Like many of us, Generation Z is rarely without their phones. But unlike your older colleagues, Generation Z may be more connected than ever — documenting their days on Instagram Stories and Snapchat, and messaging friends by text and other messaging platforms.

However, they’re also a relatively private bunch. Rather than broadcasting their lives on Facebook (like their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents), they favor networks that allow for privacy. Snapchat snaps disappear, as do Instagram Stories. Gen Z also gravitates toward apps like Whisper, an anonymous social network for sharing secrets.

Here’s the takeaway for HR pros: Rather than seeing this as a barrier to communication, look at it as an opportunity. Try using text message reminders for open enrollment deadlines or creating a Slack channel for benefits communication, in addition to email and paper updates.

They’re seeking financial security. Generation Z grew up during the Great Recession, during which they may have seen their parents lose their jobs or deal with serious financial hardships. Because of this, Generation Z is focused on financial stability.

Unfortunately, many Gen Zers may join your company drowning in student loan debt from college. Consider offering benefits that help them get out of debt and begin saving for the future. Student loan debt repayment benefits with platforms like SoFi or Gradifi provide appealing avenues to pay off debt faster. You can also promote tax-deferred savings programs such as a 401(k) or health savings accounts to minimize their tax liability and maximize savings opportunities. These benefits may also appeal to millennials struggling with student loan debt and the prospect of saving for retirement — all while they start families.

Financial wellness benefits are attractive to all of your employees — Gen Z included. Consider partnering with local banks or credit unions to provide other savings options and financial education. Make this education appealing to everyone by providing it in different formats — in-person for anyone to attend, as well as on-demand webinars or Skype meetings for those who appreciate a more interactive experience.

Gen Z wants to actively participate. Generation Z is the most connected generation yet; they’re used to Googling an answer before you can finish your question or chatting with their friends throughout each day.

This hyper-connectedness lends itself to more interactive workplace meetings. Keep your Gen Z employees engaged and garner feedback by incorporating polls into your meetings, or creating recordings and presenting to computers and smartphones using a platform like ZeetingsPresentain or Mentimeter.

Whereas millennials were known for their interest in collaborating with each other, Gen Z wants to own their work a little bit more and compete against colleagues. Use this to your advantage to introduce gamification into your programs. Platforms such as Kahoot cannot only help you create some fun competition, but it can improve information retention.

They have a surprising communication preference. We’ve established that Generation Z is a hyper-connected cohort. But research uncovered one surprise about this generation’s preference for feedback: they prefer to be in-person. Use this knowledge to mentor your managers who will deliver feedback, and use it to make your benefits more appealing, too. For example, a confidential advocacy program with phone, email and chat options can be a great source for Gen Zers who want more information on their benefits.

While not everyone in this age group will conform to these attitudes and feelings, it can be helpful to pull back the curtain and understand how this generation could be different from millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.


How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress

Are your employees stressed? Stress can lead to multiple health conditions and many people cope with stress in unhealthy ways. Continue reading to find out how employers can help reduce stress in the workplace.


In case you haven’t noticed, today’s workforce is completely stressed out. Overwhelming workloads, looming deadlines and the 24/7 always-on mentality is becoming the corporate America norm. Unfortunately, long-term stress can contribute to everything from heart disease to strokes, cancer and other grave conditions. Stressed employees also are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly and have low morale and higher incidence of illness and accidents.

Because everyone copes with stress differently, some deal with it in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, according to the American Psychological Association. This vicious cycle makes stress one of the top health concerns, with 49% of individuals at risk for stress-related illnesses, second only to weight, which impacts 69% of individuals, according to internal research.

All in all, employee stress is causing employers … well, stress. In fact, the cost of work-related stress in the US is $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress. Further, behavioral-related disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims.

While more than two-thirds of US corporations have adopted some kind of health and wellness program, the majority doesn’t adequately address or even include solutions that support mental health. That’s why it’s critical to educate employers on the real cost of stress and the benefits of an effective stress-related wellness initiative to help keep health costs down, while keeping employee productivity and retention up.

However the realities of promoting a healthy balance for employees, while simultaneously ensuring the delivery of quality work that’s completed on time, is much easier said than done. Anecdotally, we often hear that employees don’t feel they are benefiting from their corporate wellness plans because they don’t have time or they can’t break away from their desks.

Walk the walk
What can employers do to break the cycle? First and foremost, stress reduction starts from the top-down as management and bosses play a key role in employee adoption and lasting engagement. Not only are they responsible for communicating about available resources, they need to literally and figuratively walk the walk. When leadership incorporates stress management into their own lives, employees understand the company's commitment to these practices and feel more comfortable taking a break.

The role of technology
Some of the most effective wellness programs leverage a variety of technologies that offer something for everyone and makes it easier for employees to engage and benefit, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Popular technology-based solutions include:

· Digital health platforms — Connecting employees to health coaches, board-certified physicians, and colleagues who can provide support for those dealing with stress and offer guidance with chronic disease resulting from, or adding to, individuals’ stress levels.
· Digital health games — Employees receive encouragement and rewards through fun, engaging games in which they compete against others in stress-busting exercise to reach health goals.
· Wearables — Employees can sync popular wearable devices, such as their Apple Watch, to visualize the impact of guided meditations on their heart rate. Through smart feedback, employees can better understand which meditation exercises, locations, and times of day have the greatest impact on their heart rate, and therefore, stress level.
· Virtual Reality guided meditation — Combining an immersive VR with mindfulness meditation can help transport employees to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. Using apps on their cell phones and portable VR headsets, employees are able to practice meditation from any place, at any time. In addition to stress reduction, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meditation can heighten attention spansimprove sleepreduce chronic pain and fight addictions like drug and alcohol abuse, and binge eating.

The bottom line: Stressed-out employees can have significant health and financial consequences for your clients. With the start of open enrollment season just a few short months away, it’s time to start educating your customers about the benefits of incorporating mental health programs, like digital health platforms and meditation, into their corporate wellness plans to mitigate employee stress and improve productivity.

Miller, M. (11 July 2018) "How tech solutions can take aim at employee stress" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/mental-fitness-why-your-corporate-wellness-portfolio-needs-mental-health-solutions


15 employee benefits on the decline

Employee benefits are on the rise due to many employers ramping up benefits in an effort to attract and keep talent. Although employee benefits are on the rise, a recent SHRM survey showed that these 15 benefits weren't as prevalent as they used to be.


Thanks to a tightened job market, a number of employers are ramping up benefits in an effort to recruit and retain talent. A number of big companies, including Discover, WalmartTaco Bell and Kroger, have announced new and enhanced benefits for employees just this year. In fact, according to research from the Society of Human Resource Management, between 2017 and 2018, the prevalence of more than 60 benefits assessed increased compared with just 20 between 2016 and 2017.

However, not every employee benefit out there has been there on the rise. A number of offerings have declined in prevalence over the last few years — especially for employers looking to better manage benefit costs. Here are 15 benefits that are not as hot as they once were, according to SHRM’s annual survey.

Preventative programs

Though wellness programs are still very popular among employers, preventative programs specifically targeting employees with chronic health conditions has seen a significant drop in the last five years. The coverage fell by eight percentage points since 2017 (from 33% in 2017 to 25% in 2018) and a whopping 17 percentage points since 2014 (42%).

Flexible spending accounts

FSAs are not as prevalent as they once were: 63% of employers currently offer the spending accounts, down from 69% in 2015. While they are still more popular than health savings accounts, that may change in the years to come: HSAs are on an upward trend. The number of employers offering HSAs — which offer triple tax benefits for employees — rose just one percentage point from 2017 to 2018 (from 55% to 56%), but has increased by 11% in the last five years.

Domestic partner benefits

Domestic partner benefits fell by 10 percentage points for opposite sex partners and by nine percentage points for same-sex partners (both to 15%) since 2017.

Childcare and eldercare referral services

Both childcare (17% in 2017 to 9% in 2018) and eldercare (13% in 2017 to 10% in 2018) referral services fell between 2017 and 2018.

Onsite cafeterias

Onsite cafeterias that are fully or partially subsidized by the company are on the decline. Twelve percent of employers currently offer the perk, down from 16% in 2017.

Defined contribution catch-up contributions

The prevalence of defined contribution catch-up contributions — which permit participants who are age 50 or older to make additional elective deferral contributions at the end of the calendar year — has continued to fall over the past five years with 64% of organizations offering this benefit in 2018, down from 76% five years ago.

Short-term disability insurance

Short-term disability insurance has fallen 10% in the last three years: In 2015, 74% of employers offered the coverage; 64% of employers currently offer it, according to SHRM.

Incentive bonus plans

Incentive bonus plans fell by nine percentage points for executives (to 42%) and seven percentage points for nonexecutives (to 37%), SHRM reports.

Sign on bonuses for executives

Sign-on bonuses for executives fell by six percentage points in the last year, from 35% to 29%. SHRM notes of the change: “As competition for talent rises as unemployment falls, organizations may be identifying which types of compensation benefits are the most helpful in recruitment and retention, and subsequently making changes to spend their budgets as wisely as possible.”

Bariatric coverage for weight loss

Bariatric coverage for weight loss — including stomach stapling and gastric bypass surgery — has fallen in the past five years. While 38% of employers offered such coverage in 2014, 33% now offer it, according to SHRM.

Onsite health screening programs

Employers who offer onsite health screening programs — for example, screening for employees’ glucose and cholesterol numbers — have declined 17% since 2015. Thirty percent of employers offer these programs currently, according to the latest statistics.

Employee discounts

Benefits in employee discounts and charity fell in several areas since 2017, including discount ticket services (from 31% to 27%), donations for employee participation in charitable events (from 28% to 24%), company-purchased tickets (from 23% to 20%) and employer-sponsored personal shopping discounts (18% to 12%). SHRM noted the drop “may be due to less value added in terms of effects on recruitment and retention compared with other benefits.”

Elective procedures coverage

The percentage of employers who cover elective procedures for their employees — defined as any nonemergency surgical procedure other than laser-based vision correction — has dropped over the last five years. In 2014, 15% of employers offered such coverage; 11% now do.

Housing and relocation benefits

Overall, housing and relocation benefits are among the least common compared with other benefits categories. Since 2014, prevalence rates for several housing and relocation benefits fell, “perhaps indicating that organizations see little if any value added,” SHRM notes. Although the decreases are between just three and five percentage points, given the low prevalence rates of these benefits to begin with, the decreases are quite substantial (between 25% and 60%). For example, 16% of employers say they offer temporary relocation benefits, down from 24% who offered it in 2016.

Health fairs

The prevalence of corporate health fairs have dropped 10 percentage points in the last three years. Now, 30% of employers surveyed by SHRM say they offer health fairs, down from 40% who did in 2015.

SOURCE:
Mayer, K. (24 July 2018) "15 employee benefits on the decline" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/slideshow/employee-benefits-on-the-decline?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


A Look at Drug Spending in the U.S.

Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. is projected to overtake other sectors of healthcare in 2018. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


This fact sheet was updated on April 26, 2018, to reflect newly published data.

Overview

Spending on prescription drugs in the United States is on the rise and is projected to outpace growth in other parts of the healthcare sector in 2018.1 Limited public data on how much various payers and supply chain intermediaries pay for prescription drugs, as well as a lack of consensus on a single metric for drug expenditures, presents methodological challenges in measuring drug spending.

See also: Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs

Nevertheless, a number of public and private organizations have published drug spending estimates over the past several years, including the share of health spending attributed to drugs. Historical estimates and spending projections from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) National Health Expenditure Accounts (NHEA), the Altarum Institute, and IQVIA are explored in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1 illustrates estimates and projections of U.S. drug spending by source from 2010 to 2018. Each incorporates rebates and spending on drugs, excluding over-the-counter (OTC) products.

  • ASPE estimates total prescription drug spending, including retail and nonretail, using CMS NHEA, IQVIA, and Altarum Institute data.2
  • CMS’ NHEA data provide estimates of retail prescription drug spending, excluding nonretail.3
  • IQVIA estimates total manufacturer revenue (“net price spending”), accounting for rebates and other price concessions.IQVIA also breaks down manufacturer revenue for drugs sold in both retail and nonretail settings.

Figure 2 illustrates drug spending as a percentage of health expenditure. Each of these estimates incorporates rebates and spending in retail and nonretail settings excluding OTC products, unless noted below.

  • ASPE estimates total drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of personal health expenditures, a subset of national health expenditures.5
  • The Altarum Institute estimates total prescription drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of total national health expenditures.6
  • CMS NHEA estimates drug spending (excluding nonretail) as a percentage of total national health expenditures.7
  • IQVIA estimates net drug spending (retail and nonretail) as a percentage of health care spending, including OTC products that do not require a prescription.8

See also: How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs

Organizations use different denominators to describe health care expenditures

  • National health expenditures: Total health expenditures, including medical spending and public health activities, administrative costs, and research investments (Altarum Institute and CMS).
  • Personal health expenditures: Spending exclusively on direct patient care (ASPE).
  • Healthcare spending: An estimate of health care spending from the World Health Organization (IQVIA).

What drug spending estimates include

  • Rebates: Drug price reductions intended to increase sales through formulary placement. While the method used to calculate the rebate is specified at the time of purchase, the actual rebate is received in the future, as it is based on product sales. Most rebates are paid to pharmacy benefit managers and health plans. Rebates are accounted for in all five estimates, but none of the organizations has access to the specifics of manufacturer agreements.9 IQVIA approximates rebates and other price concessions using publicly available wholesaler and pharmaceutical sales data, public financial filings, the Medicare trustees’ report, and proprietary audits. CMS NHEA adjusts estimated drug expenditures to account for rebates in retail and mail-order settings.10 Altarum Institute and ASPE apply CMS’ rebate adjustments to their drug expenditure estimates.
  • Payers: Entities other than patients responsible for paying health care costs. In the United States, payers generally include insurance companies, health plan sponsors—such as employers or unions—and pharmacy benefit managers. Medicare is the nation’s largest payer. CMS NHEA data include estimates of pharmaceutical expenditures by private health insurers and public health insurers such as Medicare and Medicaid. CMS NHEA data also incorporate the amount that premiums contribute to the cost of pharmaceuticals, though the data do not include the share of premiums that go toward pharmaceuticals. IQVIA does not directly incorporate patient premiums in its drug spending estimates. CMS NHEA data include nonretail prescription drug spending in overall health expenditures but do not separately report spending on nonretail drugs. Spending on drugs in these sites of care is included in overall health cost estimates for each respective setting (for example, drugs purchased by hospitals are reported as hospital spending). The Altarum Institute uses IQVIA data to estimate spending on nonretail prescription drugs. ASPE also publishes an estimate of pharmaceutical spending for both retail and nonretail outlets.
  • Over the counter: Drugs that do not require a prescription. Only the IQVIA estimate for net drug spending as a percentage of health care spending incorporates spending on OTC products.
  • Retail prescription drugs: Drugs sold in a retail setting, such as a pharmacy, drugstore, mail-order, or other mass-merchandising establishment.
  • Nonretail prescription drugs: Drugs dispensed in clinics and institutional settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes.

Endnotes

  1. Gigi A. Cuckler et al., “National Health Expenditure Projections, 2017–26: Despite Uncertainty, Fundamentals Primarily Drive Spending Growth,” Health Affairs 37, no. 3 (2018): 553–63, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1627; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data,” accessed February 14, 2018, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData.
  2. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending” (2016), https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/observations-trends-prescription-drug-spending. ASPE figures rely on data from the NHEA and the Altarum Institute. ASPE expenditures are available from 2009 to 2013 and projections from 2014 to 2018. This was a one-time publication.
  3. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data.” CMS data are sourced from Census Bureau retail data, Medicare and Medicaid claims, and IQVIA data. CMS expenditures are available from 1970 to 2016 and projections from 2017 to 2026. CMS publishes these data annually.
  4. IQVIA, “Medicines Use and Spending in the U.S.: A Review of 2017 and Outlook to 2022” (2018), https://www.iqvia.com/institute/reports/medicine-use-and-spending-in-the-us-review-of-2017-outlook-to-2022. IQVIA data are sourced from wholesaler and pharmaceutical company sales information. IQVIA publishes expenditures from 2013 to 2017 and projections from 2018 to 2022. It updates this publication annually.
  5. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending” (2016).
  6. Charles Roehrig, “A Ten Year Projection of the Prescription Drug Share of National Health Expenditures Including Non-Retail,” Altarum Institute (2017), https://altarum.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-publication-files/Non-Retail%20Rx%20Forecast%20Data%20Brief%20with%20Addendum%20May%202017.pdf.
  7. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Healthcare Expenditure Data,” accessed February 14, 2018, https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData.
  8. IQVIA, “Understanding the Dynamics of Drug Expenditure: Shares, Levels, Compositions and Drivers” (2017) https://www.iqvia.com/institute/reports/understanding-the-dynamics-of-drug-expenditure-shares-levels-compositions-and-drivers. IQVIA data are sourced from wholesaler and pharmaceutical company sales information and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Expenditure Database from December 2016. This one-time publication includes expenditures from 1995 to 2015.
  9. IQVIA accounts for but does not report drug supply and payment chain entity profit retentions (e.g., discounts, rebates, chargebacks and other financial transactions among manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies, and wholesalers).
  10. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “National Health Expenditure Accounts: Methodology Paper, 2015,” https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/DSM-15.pdf.

SOURCE: PEW (27 February 2018) "A look at drug spending in the U.S." (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2018/02/a-look-at-drug-spending-in-the-us


3 ways to support employee caregivers

Employers are now offering their employees benefits if they act as caregivers to loved ones. Do you have employee caregivers?


Think about the people you work with every day—their similarities and differences, their hobbies and family backgrounds, their areas of expertise. Despite their myriad differences, employees of all backgrounds face common challenges that preoccupy their thoughts and pull them away from their work.

A newly released white paper, “Taking Care of Caregivers: Why corporate America should support employees who give their hearts and souls to those in need,” highlights caregiving as an emerging factor that greatly impacts the well-being of today’s workforce.

The scope of what it means to be a caregiver is broad, and many employers remain unaware of how caregiving affects the well-being of their employees. “For many, caregiving is comparable to holding down a second job, and the lines between their work and personal lives become blurry, at best, when the care of a loved one is top-of-mind,” the white paper states. “Tethered by an emotional struggle to leave unpaid caregiving at home, these people must go to work and are expected to perform at the highest level.”

Transamerican Institute’s pivotal study, The Many Faces of Caregiving, reported that 14 percent of employee caregivers go so far as to reduce their work hours or receive a demotion. Another 5 percent  give up working entirely.

While caregiving proves costly for employee well-being, studies also reveal how costly it is for business. According to AARP and the Family Caregiver Alliance, employee caregiving costs employers:

  • Up to $33 billion annually from lost productivity
  • $6.6 billion to replace employees who retire early or quit
  • $5.1 billion in absenteeism

It doesn’t take a “Big Four” accounting firm to see that ignoring this challenge is bad for business. The National Business Group on Health reports 88 percent of employers have “expectations that caregiving will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years.”

But what can be done to make life easier for employee caregivers and keep them happy, healthy and focused at work? Companies of all sizes are taking notice of this challenge and embarking on the first steps to support employee caregivers.

Taking Care of Caregivers highlights a few policies industry leaders have implemented thus far to support employee caregivers.

1. Offer paid leave for caregivers

Giving employee caregivers time and space to be with their loved one and figure out what’s next is a great starting point.

Companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Facebook all offer paid time off for employees to care for sick family members. Facebook even offers 10 to 20 days of bereavement leave, which provides much-needed time for caregivers to focus on self-care after experiencing the loss of a loved one.

Renee Albert, Facebook’s Director of benefits, goes so far as to say, “Caregiver support is part of our DNA,” as Facebook aspires to be “the best company for families, no matter how you define ‘family.’”

2. Get creative with online resources

While paid leave certainly frees up time for employee caregivers to focus on their loved one’s care, simply providing PTO doesn’t guarantee that the employee will figure out how to best care for their loved one while they’re away from work. Most first-time caregivers spend hours searching the internet for what to do next with little luck or clarity.

Taking Care of Caregivers cites online support groups, decision-support systems and digital support platforms as primary ways to support employee caregivers in today’s digital world. These tools can be particularly helpful for emotional support and guidance.

“Use opportunities to create communities,” Albert suggests. “Often just knowing you aren’t alone and have someone to share your experience with goes a long way.”

3. Consider how your workplace culture can benefit caregivers

Caregiving programs come in all shapes and sizes, and companies of all sizes can leverage their resources to develop solutions that are responsive to the needs of employee caregivers. This includes options like telecommuting and flexible schedules, which are becoming increasingly common as traditional workplace culture continues to change.

A study conducted by AARP and the ReACT coalition confirms the importance of these programs, stating that “flextime and telecommuting programs saw an ROI of between $1.70 and $4.45 for every dollar invested. What’s more, a work-family human resources policy is associated with a share price increase of .32 percent on the day that policy is announced.”

Even incorporating stress-reduction activities into the workplace can go a long way for caregivers. On-site yoga and exercise classes, relaxation techniques, and massage therapy are just a few options that can help caregivers focus on self-care.

As America’s workforce continues to face the challenges of caregiving, it is time for employers to creatively consider ways to offer support to this preoccupied and stressed-out employee group. Caregiving will eventually touch us all. Take part in these initiatives now, and your employees will thank you later.

SOURCE:
Payne, E. (19 July 2018) "3 ways to support employee caregivers" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/19/3-ways-to-support-employee-caregivers/


Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in

With skyrocketing healthcare costs, payers constantly look for ways to reduce costs and improve health. Continue reading to learn more.


Health care costs continue to skyrocket, and payers are constantly looking for ways to keep their populations healthier and to reduce these costs. Payers looking for more effective strategies to improve health and wellness for members should be aware of the new preventative approaches that more health plans are offering.

One such method that health plans are deploying to engage members is point-of-sale wellness, a type of incentive program that encourages members to actively make healthier purchases and lifestyle choices. As point-of-sale wellness becomes more prevalent among health plans, human resource managers and benefits brokers should understand how these programs work to best determine if they would be a valuable option for their employees and clients.

What is point-of-sale wellness?

Point-of-sale wellness is all about helping health plan members make smart, healthy purchasing decisions when they’re in a retail store or pharmacy. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average consumer visits their doctor 3.1 times per year. This same consumer will visit his or her favorite retailers multiple times per week. This presents the perfect opportunity for actionable engagement. It is often too easy for individuals to make impulsive decisions that favor cheaper care items or junk food that provides instant gratification but lead to an unhealthy lifestyle in the long run. Empowering consumers in these moments before checking out at the register with the understanding — and more importantly, the financial incentive — to make informed, smarter choices can lead to a healthier lifestyle and reduced health care costs. In short, the goal is to help individuals prioritize health and wellness at retail point of sale.

There are numerous ways that health plans can achieve this goal. One of the most common is by providing members with prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for the purchase of over-the-counter (OTC) items such as vitamins, diabetes care items and medications for allergies or cold and flu symptoms. The key component of these specialized prepaid cards is that they can be restricted-spend cards. In other words, they cannot be used to purchase any items that the health plan members want; they can only be used to purchase items off a curated list of products.

Under this arrangement, all parties, from the individual to the health plans and retailers, benefit. With a restricted-spend prepaid card in hand, an individual is rewarded for making purchases that contribute to a healthier lifestyle, while reducing health care costs both for themselves and the health plans administering the cards. In the meantime, the retailers partnering with the health plans to make point-of-sale wellness possible enjoy the opportunity to build long-term customer relationships with the health plan members using the cards.

Point-of-sale wellness in action

Point-of-sale wellness can be customized to be as general or specific as a health plan needs. For example, a health plan that supports a high number of new parents on a regular basis may offer a prepaid card designed specifically to assist members with newborn children. The first years of an infant’s life are among the most expensive from a health care perspective. More health plans are starting to offer new parents prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for items such as OTC medications, baby food and formula, diapers, strollers, car seats or thermometers. This opens an easier path for new parents to do basic at-home diagnostics and keep their babies’ health monitored so costly trips to an emergency room or urgent care center are not needed as often.

Payers that offer health and wellness programs to assist new parents in their populations can consider engaging health plans that offer these types of prepaid cards. Having a healthier child has the added benefit of reducing stress on the parents, which means they are in a better position to continue performing in the workplace.

Financial incentives for healthier choices

Most wellness programs are focused on informing participants of the best ways to support a healthier lifestyle, but that is only half of the equation. Point-of-sale wellness goes one step further to ensure participants are empowered from a financial perspective to make smarter purchasing decisions while shopping for daily care items. Businesses and benefits brokers who want to provide their employees and clients the best opportunities to live a healthier lifestyle should consider engaging health plans that prioritize these prepaid card incentives into their offerings.

Vielehr, D. (19 July 2018). "Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/19/point-of-sale-wellness-how-health-plans-are-cashin/


What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?

Did you know you could save for retirement by spending money? Health savings accounts (HSAs) are a new way for employees to save for retirement and pay for healthcare expenses. Read on to learn more about HSAs and how they can help you save for retirement.


The old adage, “You need to spend money to make money,” is applicable to many areas of life and business, but when it comes to retirement, not so much. Particularly for people who are enrolled in retirement accounts, like the 401(k) or IRA.

After all, the more you’re able to fund these accounts on a yearly basis, the sooner you’ll be able to accrue enough money to retire to that beach condo or cabin in the backcountry.  But in recent years, a newcomer has entered the retirement planning picture offering a novel new way to save money: By spending it.

The health savings account (HSA) has the potential to influence the spending/saving conundrum many young professionals face: Do I spend my HSA money on qualifying health care expenses (which can save me up to 40 percent on the dollar) or do I pay out of pocket for the same expenses and watch my HSA balance grow?

What many people don’t realize is that yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible. So if account holders aren’t factoring in doctor co-payments, prescription drugs and the thousands of over-the-counter health products that tax-advantaged HSA funds can cover, they may be missing an opportunity to save in taxes each year.

By maximizing their contributions and paying with HSA funds as opposed to out-of-pocket, HSA users can cover products they were going to purchase anyway with tax-free funds, while using whatever is rolled over to save for retirement.

Spending more to save more. Who knew?

Here’s some food for thought that savvy employersshould consider sharing with employees of all ages.

Facts about health savings accounts (HSAs)

HSAs were created in 2003, but unlike flexible spending accounts (FSAs) that work on a year-to-year basis, HSAs have no deadlines and funds roll over annually. HSAs also feature a “triple tax benefit,” in that HSA contributions reduce your taxable income, interest earned on the HSA balance accrues tax free, and withdrawals for qualifying health expenses are not taxed.

Account holders can set aside up to $3,500 (2019 individual health plan enrollment limit) annually and $7,000 if participating in the health plan as two-person or family, and these funds can cover a huge range of qualifying medical products and services.

HSAs can only be funded if the account holder is enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP). If the account holder loses coverage, he/she can still use the money in the HSA to cover qualifying health care expenses, but will be unable to deposit more funds until HDHP coverage resumes. The IRS defines an HSA-qualified HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family (in 2019 – limits are adjusted each year).

Despite their relatively short lifespan, HSAs are among the fastest growing tax-advantaged accounts in the United States today. In 2017, HSAs hit 22 million accounts for the first time, but a massive growth in HSA investment assets is the real story. HSA investment assets grew to an estimated $8.3 billion at the end of December, up 53 percent year-over-year (2017 Year-End Devenir HSA Research Report).

However, while HSAs offer immediate tax benefits, they also have a key differentiator: the ability to save for retirement. HSA funds roll over from year to year, giving account holders the option to pay for expenses out of pocket while they are employed and save their HSA for retirement.

If account holders use their HSA funds for non-qualified expenses, they will face a 20% tax penalty. However, once they are Medicare-eligible at age 65, that tax penalty disappears and HSA funds can be withdrawn for any expense and  will only be taxed as income. Additionally, once employees  turn 55, they  can contribute an extra $1,000 per year to their HSAs, a “catch-up contribution,” to bolster their HSA nest eggs before retirement. When all is said and done, diligently funding an HSA can provide a major boost to employees’ financial bottom lines in retirement.

What’s the best HSA strategy by income level?

HSAs have immediate tax-saving benefits and long-term retirement potential, but they require different savings strategies based on your income level.

Ideally, if you have the financial means to do so, putting aside the HSA maximum each year may allow you to cover health expenses as they come up and continue saving for retirement down the road. But even if you’re depositing far below the yearly contribution limit, your HSA can provide a boost to your financial wellness now and in the future.

I’ve seen this firsthand. Before we launched our e-commerce store for all HSA-eligible medical products, we extensively researched the profiles of the primary HSA user groups through partnerships with HSA plan providers.

We then created “personas” that provide insights on how to communicate with different audiences about HSA management at varying points in the account holder’s life cycle, and these same lessons can be just as vital to employers.

The following contribution strategies are based on these personas and offer insights that could help employees get their HSA nest egg off and growing. These suggestions offer a means of getting started.

As employees receive pay raises and promotions, they may be able to increase their HSA contributions over time, but this can be a way to get their health care savings off the ground and then adjust to life with an HSA.

Disclaimer: These personas are for illustrative purposes only and in all cases you may want to speak with a tax or financial advisor. Information provided should not be considered tax or legal advice.

1. Employee Type: Millennials/Gen-Z with an income between $35-75k/year

For the vast majority of young professionals starting out, health care is not at the top of their budget priorities. However, high-deductible health plans have low monthly premiums, and by contributing to an HSA, an account holder can cover these expenses until the deductible is exhausted. For this group of employees, starting off small and gradually increasing contributions as income increases is a sound financial solution.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

2. Employee Type: Full-Time HDHP Users Enrolled with an income between $35-60k/year

With many companies switching to all HDHP health plan options, a large contingent of workers find themselves using HDHPs for the first time. For this group, it’s all about finding the right balance between tax savings and the ability to cover necessary health expenses. Setting aside money in an HSA will allow workers to reduce how much they pay in taxes yearly by reducing their taxable income, while being able to pay down their deductible with HSA funds at the same time.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

3. Employee Type: Staff with Families with an income between $75-100k/year

Low premiums from an HDHP plan are attractive for these employees, but parents will have far more health expenses to cover and more opportunities to utilize tax-free funds to cover health and wellness products. With more opportunities to spend down their deductible with qualifying health expenses and the resulting tax savings, parents should strive to put the family maximum contribution ($7000 for 2019) into their HSAs.

Potential Contribution Range:$4,000-$6,900

4. Employee Type: Pre-Retirement Staff with an income between $100-200k/year

Employees who are in their peak earning years have the greatest opportunity to put away thousands in tax-free funds through an HSA. So whenever possible, they should be encouraged to contribute the largest possible allocation to their HSA on a yearly basis. Additionally, employees age 55 and over can contribute an extra $1,000 to their HSA annually until they reach Medicare age at 65 to fast-track their HSA earnings.

Potential Contribution Range: HSA Maximum ($3,500 individual, $7,000 families for 2019)

What else should employers know about HSAs?

Employers can help employees get the most out of HSAs. Here are some tips:

  • Employers should consider contributing to their employees’ accounts on an annual basis. Employer contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible, and this has the added bonus for employees of making it easier to max out their contributions annually.
  • Remember: Employer and employee contributions cannot exceed the yearly HSA contribution limits ($3,500 individual, $7,000 family for 2019), so make this information clear to employees during open enrollment.
  • If employees are still on the fence about HSAs, remind them that deductible expenses can be paid for with HSA funds, and yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible for employees as well.

SOURCE:
Miller, J (2 July 2018) "What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/08/whats-the-best-combination-of-spendingsaving-with/


Improve workplace fitness by focusing on the collective "we"

Employees are more likely to try wellness programs if they know their coworkers are participating as well. In this article, Maurer discusses how focusing on the collective "we" will increase participation in employee wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs are implicitly focused on the individual: biometric screenings, individual incentives, gym member reimbursements. This approach can leave employees feeling less than motivated to take part because, even though the programs focus is on the individual, by no means does it make the program personalized.

As workplace wellness programs rapidly improve to meet the expectations of today’s workers, it’s important to remember the value of accountability and what a culture of health can do to create a workplace committed to wellness solutions.

Since wellness programs have traditionally focused on the individual, oftentimes employees never know if their colleagues are participating in any of the programs being offered. Bring it into the light by giving your employees a program they want to talk about, while still keeping it personalized. The collective “we” are not only more likely to try a wellness program, but we are also more likely to stick with it, if we know our peers are also partaking.

The power of sharing with your peers

We all know writing down a goal gives you a much higher chance of achieving it, but research from the Association for Talent Development says someone is 65 percent more likely to achieve a goal if the goal is shared with another person. Why? Because it creates accountability.

We are in the day and age of a social media frenzy, and, it’s cross-generational. We share everything we do and spend a lot of our time concerned with what our friends, family and co-workers are doing through these social platforms. Wellness practitioners can and should be taking advantage of this, especially as you build your culture of health.

To find the right wellness solution for your company or client, look for solutions that are social and easy to use. If the company as a whole has buy-in, or even a few internal advocates, word-of-mouth can be incredibly powerful. Whether that is around the water-cooler at work, on employees’ personal social media channels, or within the work intranet, create opportunities for employees to talk about your program and encourage them to use it. We know when an employee knows a few of their coworkers are planning to attend yoga or kickboxing on a Tuesday evening, they are much more likely to sign up and actually go.

These “wellness relationships” help not only build stronger bonds at work, but they also help you create and maintain healthy habits. You want your employees to engage with your wellness solution, so encourage them to share and become part of the “solution” themselves. At the end of the day, workplace wellness solutions are there to help everyone get healthier and stay that way, but they have to use the program.

More than just an incentive

We have spent at least a decade looking at incentives and how we align them to solve problems with low participation in our wellness program, when we should have focused on building a program that empowers our employees and puts them in the driver’s seat. I’m not suggesting you stop incentivizing your employees, but I do suggest you measure what it is you are rewarding. If it can’t be measured you may as well burn the money you are investing.

Remember, your employees are the real reason your program will sink or swim. Take care of your employees and encourage them to be and find their healthiest selves. Empower them in the process and give them choice in how, when and with who they participate in your wellness program and let them become your wellness solution.

Maurer E. (18 July 2018). "Improving workplace wellness by focusing on the collective 'we'" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/18/improve-workplace-wellness-by-focusing-on-the-coll/.


House passes bills expanding health savings accounts

Changes may be coming to health savings accounts (HSAs). On Wednesday, two bills were passed by the House of Representatives that, if advanced, would expand the use of HSAs. Read this blog post to learn more.


The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two healthcare bills that would expand the use of health savings accounts, a move that, if advanced, could significantly drive higher employee enrollment in high-deductible health plans that feature HSAs.

The Restoring Access to Medication and Modernizing Health Savings Accounts Act, or HR 6199, takes several steps to modernize HSAs by allowing plans to provide coverage before the deductible is met, increasing flexibility for retail and onsite clinics, and treating certain over-the-counter drugs as qualified medical expenses. It passed 277-142.

The Premium Plans and Expanding Health Savings Accounts Act, meanwhile, passed 242-176. It delays the tax on health insurance from taking effect by two years. It also allows people to contribute more money to their HSAs.

Some provisions of the measures, if they ultimately become law, “could have a large impact” on employee enrollment in high-deductible health plans that feature HSAs, according to Paul Fronstin, director of health research for the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The HSA legislation was also praised as “a step in the right direction” by several industry insiders, including Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president of health policy of the American Benefits Council. The measure’s prospects for passage in the Senate are unclear, but Schuman said she was “hopeful” that will occur.

When HDHPs are accompanied by an HSA, employers face several constraints on plan design. For example, they cannot provide first-dollar coverage for certain “high value” features that would make the plans more attractive to employees with chronic conditions. That means an HDHP plan offered in conjunction with an HSA could not include first-dollar coverage for an eye exam for an employee with diabetes, or other services required for monitoring a chronic condition. Nor could treatment at on-site or retail primary care facility be covered on a first-dollar basis.

The proposed legislation “will allow insurers to provide coverage for and incentivize the use of high-value services that can reduce healthcare costs more broadly, such as primary care visits and telehealth services,” according to Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), a sponsor of the legislation.

“We’ve advocated allowing these plans to offer broader and more meaningful coverage,” Schuman says. Other health services that could be provided on favorable basis include telemedicine-based consultations.

Dollar caps on first-dollar coverage for newly includable health services would be $250 for an employee with individual coverage, and $500 for an employee with family coverage.

Other liberalizations under the measures include allowing employees to use HSA dollars for certain over-the-counter health-related items, including menstrual care products. Another provision would deem qualified “physical activity, fitness, and exercise” related services, including sports activities, as qualified medical expenses, allowing coverage for up to $500 of qualified sports and fitness expenses ($1,000 for family coverage).

The bill also would increase employee HSA contribution limits substantially — to $6,900 (from today’s $3,450) for individual coverage, and to $13,300 (from $6,900) for families. However, EBRI’s Fronstin is skeptical these changes would have a significant impact on enrollment in HDHPs.

“Only 13% of participants contributed the maximum amount in 2016,” he says. While those employees might save more in an HSA under the higher limits, he doesn’t think there are any employees who have chosen not to participate in a HDHP on the basis that the savings caps are too low.

If the measure ultimately becomes law, employers would have to opt to take advantage of the liberalized provisions; they would not otherwise be available to employees.

SOURCE: Stolz, R. (26 July 2018) "House passes bills expanding health savings accounts" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/house-passes-bills-expanding-health-savings-accounts?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Who are Benefits for, Anyway?

Why do employees turn down benefits offered to them by their employers? Continue reading to find out why and how employers can educate them about the benefits that are offered.


With many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, U.S. employees have a significant need for financial protection products to secure their income and guard against unplanned medical expenses. However, employees frequently decline these benefits when they are offered at the workplace. Only two-thirds of employees purchase life insurance coverage at work when given the option, while roughly half enroll in disability coverage and less than one-third select critical illness insurance coverage. Why do so many employees choose not to enroll in benefits?

Is this right for me?

Some employees may opt out of nonmedical benefits because they do not believe these offerings are intended for people like them. In a recent report, “Don’t Look Down: Employees’ Understanding of Benefits and Risk,” LIMRA asked employees whether they thought life, disability, and critical illness products were “right for someone like me.”

While a majority of employees feels that life insurance coverage is appropriate for someone like them, they are on the fence about other coverages. Fewer than half believe they need disability insurance and only 36 percent feel they need a critical illness policy.

It is also noteworthy that a large portion of employees respond neutrally or only slightly agree or disagree with these sentiments, which suggests a lot of uncertainty. Given employees’ poor understanding of these benefits, many simply do not know if the coverage is intended for them.

Role of behavioral economics

Behavioral economics reveals that human behavior is highly influenced by social norms, particularly among groups that people perceive to be similar to themselves. In light of this, LIMRA asked employees if they think most people like them own certain insurance products. Their responses indicate that employees feel very little social pressure to enroll in these benefits.

Only 22 percent of employees think most people like them are covered by critical illness insurance, while 47 percent disagree. Similarly, 38 percent disagree that most people like them have disability coverage (versus only 34 percent who agree). Life insurance is the only product where a majority of employees (60 percent) think most others like them have the coverage.

Employees who believe others like them purchase benefits will tend to be influenced by this peer behavior. This could lead them to take a closer look at the information provided about these benefits and possibly enroll.

However, for the larger group of employees who think others like them do not have coverage, social pressure will discourage them from enrolling. These employees will perceive not having coverage to be the “norm” and assume it is safe to opt out, without giving these benefits proper consideration.

Who should purchase benefits?

If employees do not think insurance benefits are right for them, who do they believe these products are intended for?

Of employees who are offered disability insurance at work, only 38 percent recognize that anyone with a job who relies on their income should purchase this coverage. Troublingly, more than 1 in 5 think disability insurance is only for people with specific risk factors, such as having a physical or dangerous job, a family history of cancer, or a current disability.

Similarly, less than half of employees recognize that critical illness insurance is right for anyone. One in five think this coverage is only for people with a family history of cancer or other serious illness, while 15 percent believe the coverage is for people who have personally been diagnosed with a serious health condition.

Employees have a better understanding of life insurance. Eighty percent of employees recognize that life insurance is appropriate for anyone who wants to leave money to their spouse or dependents upon their death. However, some employees still express uncertainly about this or believe life insurance is only for high-risk individuals.

Confusion about who should purchase insurance benefits is contributing to low employee participation in these offerings. To counteract this trend, educating employees to understand how these products apply to their own lives is crucial. By clearly explaining what the products do and providing examples of how anyone could use them, benefit providers can help employees see the relevance of these offerings and help them make more informed financial decisions.

SOURCE:
Laundry, K (12 July 2018). "Who are benefits for, anyway?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/12/who-are-benefits-for-anyway/