CenterStage: Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Distraction is Deadly: April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

In 2015 alone, 3,477 people have died and another 391,000 have been injured due to distracted driving.

Not only is distracted driving hazardous to your life, but it can negatively impact the drivers’ lives that surround you. Distracted Driving Awareness Month is an effort by the National Safety Council to help recognize and eliminate preventable deaths from distracted driving. In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, this month’s CenterStage features Cathleen Christensen, Vice President of Property & Casualty at Hierl Insurance, who will provide safe driving practices and how companies can ensure their employees are using them.

What is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is a public health issue that affects us all. According to the National Safety Council, distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, adjusting stereo, entertainment or navigation systems. You cannot drive safely unless your attention is fully focused on the road ahead of you, any activity that you partake in simultaneously provides a distraction and increases the risk of a crash.

Awareness for Awareness

Bringing awareness to distracted driving is essentially bringing awareness to awareness. There are three main types of distraction:

  1. Visual – taking your eyes off the road
  2. Cognitive – taking your mind off driving
  3. Manual – taking your hands off the wheel

These days, it’s so easy to be a distracted driver – from texting, to talking on the phone, or even using a navigation system. The biggest one, texting, is especially dangerous because it involves committing all three types of distraction. Some studies even say texting and driving is worse than driving under the influence. So, how can you keep your employees aware while driving?

“Several studies believe, as well as myself, that employers should prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages
workers to text and drive.”

– Cathleen Christensen, VP of Property & Casualty at Hierl

But how can you really get your employees to commit to your ‘No Distracted Driving’ policy? It’s as easy as providing education and solutions. Sometimes, it’s especially effective to have your employees sign a contract stating if they need to use any form of a hand-held device, they must pull over to the side of the road. Remind your employees to drive with their devices off or on silent to keep the urge under control. Plus, several cellular devices have come out with ways to set phones to driving mode, leaving a custom voicemail to anyone who calls while an employee/employer is driving, letting the caller know they will call the caller back later.

Companies suffer from great financial loss yearly due to distracted driving. By putting these safe driving practices in place, you will save lives AND money. If you’d like to get more help on implementing a safe driving policy within your workplace, please contact Cathleen at 920.921.5921.


Stress-free approach to reach business goals

It is not uncommon to struggle with setting and reaching your business goals. This article discusses a goal-setting strategy based upon three levels: small, medium, and large-sized goals.


Settling goals is an act in contradiction: Make standards too high and you’ll get frustrated on the climb, yet make standards too low and you’ll be disappointed with your long-term results. As more than one productivity guru has put it, the problem with low expectations is that you’ll actually reach them.

One solid approach to take, though, is to actually do both: Create high expectations while still making reachable milestones. To do that, plan out three levels of increasing goals.

The lowest goals are the ones you can reach based on your current momentum. These intentions don’t require a major strategy shift. The main point is to give yourself credit for your level of progress and to give you milestones to celebrate – and you should be celebrating every victory, no matter how small.

The medium-sized goals are the milestones that require some higher effort on your part. Working harder may get you there, but you may need to reconsider your current approach to your work to meet them. These goals give you a higher ambition that, with a bit of effort, can be reached.

The large goals are the big vision you see for yourself. Don’t hold back here: The goals should make you equally nervous and excited. It also should be big enough to require a major change in your strategy. In other words, working harder isn’t going to cut it – you’ll have to work smarter to get there.

The beauty here is that each set of goals builds on the previous one: Reaching the lowest goal sets you up to think bigger for the medium-sized goal and gives you the momentum necessary to even fathom the large goal. And you are a winner no matter how far you reach.

Read the article.

Source:
Brown D. (22 February 2018). "Stress-free approach to reach business goals"[Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/01/stress-free-approach-to-reach-business-goals/


Facing Turbulence with Resilience

Amid increasing turbulence in business and the world around us, the future of organizations lies with Type Rs—people and entities that individually and collectively turn challenges into opportunity, progress and innovation. These are the types of leaders, businesses and communities we write about in our new book, Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World (PublicAffairs, 2018). A Type R culture can be described as one in which shock absorbers enable people and organizations to cope with day-to-day stresses as well as seismic events. This equips them to thrive in an increasingly volatile world by providing a vehicle for navigating the demanding times in which we live and work.

A shift toward a Type R culture can be as simple as having one person introduce a new, compelling idea for addressing adversity that others—whether they're leaders, followers, agnostics or supporters of the shared will of the group—can build on.

We recommend several steps that organizations can take to boost their collective resilience, including the following:

--Assess your existing culture. One of the most significant factors in creating a Type R culture is understanding where you are today. Do you collectively buckle when there's a challenge, or do you feel confident that you will be able to overcome it? Often, analyzing your organization's response to past events can help identify your defaults or collective mindset.

Creating transformative resilience in your culture is about employing key Type R characteristics, such as adaptability, continual learning, purpose and healthy relationships, to leverage support and active engagement. What changes do you need to make to create a more Type R culture? Can these changes be included in your organization's planning and review processes so that you can track tangible progress in each of these areas?

--Hire for resilience. Research continues to show that many of the best leaders have developed their skills as a result of adversity. We know that exposure to some adversity, whether from mounting pressures or earth-shattering events, is needed to cultivate the resilience and growth that allows us to take those skills into future challenges. But a lot of it comes down to finding meaning in the midst of difficulties. Rather than asking generic interview questions, ask potential leaders or employees about the insights or meaning that they drew from difficult events and how those experiences have informed their subsequent thinking on managing stress.

--Create a collective mindset. Have senior leaders open a dialogue with employees about how they cope with stress, challenges and setbacks. Present concrete examples of how this has been done successfully in the past, and encourage open communication. As a leader, consider the unspoken standards about how things should be handled during challenging times. Do these norms reflect a common mindset and culture about how setbacks and difficult situations are addressed?

--Cultivate purpose and social impact. Recent research from EY (formerly Ernst & Young) shows that 75 percent of CEOs believe that purpose—not organizational mission, but a larger social purpose—is one of the keys to navigating disruptive change. A sense of purpose gives us a reason to aim for something and is especially important when we're confronted with adversity. Purpose also stretches us beyond our limited perspective and isolation and urges us to channel our energy in a focused and productive way.

Work with organizational leaders to shape job descriptions around each role's purpose and to create an overall sense of alignment within your organization. This is an opportunity for staff to have an impact beyond their own success or the work they undertake daily.

When senior leaders encourage a mindset and culture that embraces change as a basis for growth, an organization can more readily adapt, innovate and prosper. This begins with creating a safe space in which to identify the current mindset and then introducing a process, along with desired behaviors, to break down barriers and shift old ways of thinking about failure, adversity and stress. Doing so can be a catalyst for growth—the kind that will see your organization springing forward, rather than merely bouncing back, during turbulent times.

Ama Marston is an internationally recognized strategy and leadership expert. Stephanie Marston is a veteran psychotherapist, stress and work/life expert, and corporate consultant.

View article.

Source:
Marston A., Marston S. (5 March 2018). "Facing Turbulence with Resilience" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/facing-turbulence-with-resilience


Eligibility, lack of plans keep millennials from retirement saving

As millennials reach the age to save for retirement, there is a clear lack-of-knowledge in the arena of what plans they need and how to save for them with the continuing costs of their lifestyles. In this article, we take a look at why this is.


Millennials are way behind on retirement savings, but it has nothing to do with self-indulgence or feasts on avocado toast.

Instead, what they actually need are retirement plans, and earlier eligibility to save in them.

A new report from the National Institute of Retirement Security highlights millennials’ precarious retirement futures with the news that only a third are saving for retirement. It’s not because they don’t want to, or are being extravagant, because when the numbers are crunched they actually save at rates equal to or higher than those of their elders—even if not as many of them can do so.

Millennials are getting a raw deal. Not only are traditional defined benefit plans disappearing, with the likelihood that a millennial might actually be able to participate in one, they’re worried that Social Security—which runs way behind the cost of living anyway—will be of even less help to them in the future as an income replacement than it already is for current retirees. Add to that the fact that more than half of millennials are expected to live to age 89 or even older, and they have the added worry of outliving whatever savings they might have managed to stash.

In fact, millennials need to save way more than their elders to stand a chance of having a retirement that honors the meaning of the word. Says the report, “[S]ome experts estimate that millennials will need to make pretax retirement plan contributions of between 15 percent to 22 percent of their pretax salary, which at 22 percent, is more than double the recommendation of previous generations.”

They’re viewed as irresponsible, but 21 percent are already worried about their retirement security, says the report, and while 51 percent of GenXers and boomers contribute to their own retirement plans, just 34.3 percent of millennials participate in an employer’s plan, although 66 percent work for bosses that offer such plans.

In fact, 66.2 percent of millennials have no retirement savings at all. Zip, zilch, zero. And millennial Latinos? A whopping 83 percent have a goose egg, not a nest egg. Latinos have it much worse, incidentally, than any other millennials group, with just 19.1 percent of millennial Latinos and 22.5 percent of Latinas participating in an employer-sponsored plan, compared with 41.4 percent of Asian men and 40.3 percent of millennial white women—who have the highest rates of participation in a retirement plan.

Despite working for an employer who provides workers with a retirement plan, millennials don’t always have a way to save, since said employer may have set barriers in place to prevent participation until an employee has been with the company for at least a year. And millennials are, of course, known as the job-hopping generation—so if they don’t stay in one place they never qualify. Close to half of millennials—40.2 percent—say they’re shut out of retirement plans because of employers’ eligibility requirements, including working a minimum number of hours or having a minimum tenure on the job.

But don’t accuse them of having no desire to participate: when they’re eligible, more than 90 percent do so.

Read the article.

Source:
Satter M. (2 March 2018). "Eligibility, lack of plans keep millennials from retirement saving" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/02/eligibility-lack-of-plans-keep-millennials-from-re/


Beyond wellness: Workplace health initiatives that work

We’ve heard a lot about workplace wellness or lifestyle programs lately – namely that they’re ineffective, according to a recent study. While results showed wellness programs had some positive effects, that was largely because the employees who participated in them tended to have lower medical expenditures even before enrolling, debunking the claims that such programs meaningfully improve the health of employees who need it most.

But it would be a mistake if anyone took this study as their cue to dismiss workplace-wide health initiatives altogether. Done properly, employee health programs can indeed be a powerful tool in reducing health care costs – a necessity for employers struggling to keep up with the rising medical trend, as all benefits managers and brokers know. The key is choosing the right type of program.

Wellness vs. disease management

It’s not that wellness programs are necessarily of poor quality. Rather, they aren’t very effective because they don’t target anyone’s specific needs, operating from a position that the same set of beneficial but broad health initiatives will equally benefit workers of all ages and physical conditions.

Everyone knows this isn’t the case: according to a 2016 report from the Department of Health and Human Services, five percent of the U.S. population accounts for over half of health care spending. The individuals who make up this five percent likely have one or more of the costliest chronic conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, obesity or asthma.

Enter disease management programs, which are specifically designed around these high-risk employees and feature workplace health initiatives targeting the cost drivers. That’s why they have significantly higher ROI than wellness programs, with a $3.80 return per dollar spent on disease management versus only $0.50 for lifestyle programs. You can see how employers can recoup millions that they would otherwise be spending on healthcare through population health management – and, in the process, help their employees lead measurably healthier lives. That far exceeds what traditional wellness programs, which are most often used by those who are already healthy, can accomplish.

 

Explaining the ROI gap

One reason behind that low ROI for wellness programs is that they’re a long-term strategy play: you’re simply not going to see a single or three-year ROI with a wellness program because they are about keeping low-risk members on a healthy path so that they don’t advance to a moderate or high-risk group in the future – a noble endeavor, but hard to quantify. To accurately prove the success of a program keeping someone low-risk for an extended time, you’d probably have to track a population for 5 to 10 years, or even longer.

Conversely, with disease management programs, data shows that increasing preventive care and medication adherence for chronic members can reduce hospital and ER visits. This is especially true in the behavioral health space.

 

Developing a program tailored to your workforce

The first step in developing an effective population health management program is to start with data. Employers – possibly with their broker and/or benefits management partner – must analyze an organization’s claims (in full compliance with HIPAA) to identify what claims employers pay most often. This reveals trends related to which health conditions are most common among employees, which claims are the most expensive and which could reasonably be reduced. This is the data around which employers can design actionable, specific workplace health programs.

The components of such a program could include things like workplace health screenings, medication monitoring, renting or providing medical equipment for use at home or in the workplace, nicotine cessation programs, weight loss counseling, on-site mental health resources, etc. This goes far beyond the scope of what traditional wellness programs provide – and the results prove it.

 

Increased voluntary benefit adoption

Often, the information employers glean from examining claims data also reveals trends that are helpful beyond designing workplace-wide health initiatives, driving smarter decisions about which voluntary benefits to offer and increasing enrollment rates. For example, organizations seeing a large number of employees getting treatment for stress-related conditions could consider offering financial wellness benefits (which might include anything from student loan repayment perks to financial counseling tools). Coupled with a comprehensive benefits package, this can also make a significant impact on employee health and quality of life.

That’s why employers began implementing wellness programs in the first place: investing in the people who make your organization succeed is beneficial for everyone. Taking excellent care of your workforce by providing competitive benefits not only means happier employees, but better productivity for the organization and lower healthcare spend for employers as well. And in an era where medical trends continue to rise at an unsustainable rate, keeping healthcare costs as low as possible is a necessity. A data-driven approach to workplace health initiatives can help them achieve this.

View article.

Source:
Piazza R. (2 March 2018). "Beyond wellness: Workplace health initiatives that work" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/02/beyond-wellness-workplace-health-initiatives-that/


3 simple ways to get motivated

Getting and staying motivated can be tough, whether you are coming back from vacation, dealing with something you’d rather avoid or getting focused on a Monday. Not every day will be super productive, and there is no sense in punishing yourself because of it, but there are three great ways to get back on track.

One way is to take the simplest task and make it even simpler. For example, if you have to write an email, then focus on doing the first sentence. Make writing the first sentence your goal. It may feel ridiculously easy, which is the point: Once you write that first sentence, then you will likely have the confidence to begin on the second sentence, and so on.

Another approach is to think about being in bed, tonight, right before you go to sleep. What did you accomplish today? Did you feel good about what got done? What do you wish you had gotten done so you wouldn’t be worried about doing it tomorrow? Now you can stop imagining: It’s wonderful that you still have the day ahead of you and you can get things done now.

Lastly, work on your next task for only five minutes. It will be a focused five minutes, which means no multitasking. Set an alarm as necessary. Chances are that the five minutes will go by quickly and, if you like, you can set the alarm for another five minutes.

Our motivation is usually hampered by either inertia, like when we have taken a break, or by timidity, like when we are intimidated by a major goal. By using these three methods, you can move towards success and focus on the next small step towards your big successful goal.

Read the article.

Source:
Brown D. (21 February 2018). "3 simple ways to get motivated" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/02/3-simple-ways-to-get-motivated/


Competing for talent in a Gen Z world

As 2018 progresses, HR managers are well advised to start stepping out of their comfort zones. Because Generation Z is beginning to surge into the workplace, forcing the reinvention of everything from benefits to recruiting. Your relevance in the war for talentmay hang in the balance.

You’ve been hearing for some time now about the challenge of engaging a multi-generational workforce. But it’s time to think beyond the Millennials, and take a good look at the Gen Zs (born after 1995). They have a whole new set of expectations and values that are forcing employers to re-evaluate how they recruit, retain and, especially, engage their people. Start working on your battle plan in 2018 (and beyond) to avoid losing the talent battles.

They have decided views on how they expect to be treated and managed and how they respond if they don’t think their employer is measuring up. It’s a function of their upbringing in a hyper-connected world. According to Pew Research, only 14 percent of U.S. adults had Internet access in 1995, but that exploded to 87 percent by 2014. Small wonder that for the Zs, it’s the always-on and available tech-enabled connections to networks of people and information that rule. It’s how Zs learn and solve problems and it influences their expectations.

Here’s what it all means for your workplace and how you will need to compete for talent moving forward.

 

Legacy benefits and old attitudes need replacing now

The Zs aren’t merely connected. They share aggressively. Studies show that if their experiences – with a brand or a product or an employer – are negative, this generation will happily tell everybody about it online, including on Glass Door, a fast growing site that reviews millions of employers. That makes it important to foster a positive culture and work environment, and provide the types of benefits that will attract the Zs, keep them happy and ideally inspire them to spread the word.

To that end, take a long, hard look at your employee benefits: Too many employers still offer legacy employee packages that have changed little in the last two decades. Will they be good enough to woo the Zs and keep them satisfied? In fact, the Zs are motivated by the total deal, not just financial compensation. They want unique benefits that are personalized for them right down to the individual level.

Think about the 22-year-old who’s working in an urban setting, maybe with a pet at home, doesn’t have a lot of time to shop and is saddled with student loans. What are the priorities? A plan offering vision, life or disability insurance? Or a benefits package that provides a personal concierge and maybe dog walker, student loan repayment and an identity theft program, too? Best-of-class employers will offer up a robust mix of traditional and non-traditional benefits that cater to the individual employee’s lifestyle needs.

 

VR and gamification: Critical tools in winning Gen Z talent

Even as the Zs mature, there’s a trend toward a blending of personal and work lives as outside influences bleed into the workplace. When it comes to virtual reality, this generation of digital natives is enthusiastic over its potential use in the workplace.

There’s been a 250 percent jump in VR companies since 2012 and the technology’s significance is for more than just promoting productivity by connecting people in different locations for virtual meetings. It’s also a good recruiting tool, a way of letting prospective hires “experience” your environment so they are better able to tell before they take a job if it’s right for them.

Gamification is another Z activity that’s bleeding into business and affecting recruitment and hiring. Picture Silicon Valley’s “code-offs,” where prospective developers compete during a set time period to find the best solution to a specific design challenge. The winner gets the job. It certainly makes resume screening seem obsolete by comparison.

This incoming generation has a lot to offer employers who value the kind of fresh perspective it represents. The next big challenge will be reflecting that appreciation in creative approaches to winning and keeping their hearts and minds.

Read the article.

Source:
Barone M. (1 March 2018). "Competing for talent in a Gen Z world" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/surge-of-gen-z-workers-changing-how-employers-comp/


The decline of the employment drug test

Employers are struggling to hire workers in tightening U.S. job market. Marijuana is now legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., meaning more than one in five American adults can eat, drink, smoke or vape as they please. The result is the slow decline of pre-employment drug tests, which for decades had been a requirement for new recruits in industries ranging from manufacturing to finance.

As of the beginning of 2018, Excellence Health Inc., a Las Vegas-based health care company with around 6,000 employees, no longer drug tests people coming to work for the pharmaceutical side of the business. The company stopped testing for marijuana two years ago. “We don’t care what people do in their free time,” said Liam Meyer, a company spokesperson. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance,’” he added. The company also added a hotline for any workers who might be struggling with drug use.

Last month, AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto dealer, announced it would no longer refuse job applicants who tested positive for weed. The Denver Post, owned by Digital First Media, ended pre-employment drug testing for all non-safety sensitive positions in September 2016.

So far, companies in states that have legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana are leading the way on dropping drug tests. A survey last year by the Mountain States Employers Council of 609 Colorado employers found that the share of companies testing for marijuana use fell to 66 percent, down from 77 percent the year before.

Drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor market, that’s having an impact on productivity and growth. In surveys done by the Federal Reserve last year, employers cited an inability by applicants to pass drug tests among reasons for difficulties in hiring. Failed tests reached an all-time high in 2017, according to data from Quest Diagnostics Inc. That’s likely to get worse as more people partake in state-legalized cannabis.

“The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high,” said Jeremy Kidd, a professor at Mercer Law School, who wrote a paper on the economics of workplace drug testing. “A blanket prohibition can’t possibly be the most economically efficient policy.”

Companies are having a hard enough time hiring, with unemployment hovering around 4 percent. “Employers are really strapped and saying ‘We’re going to forgive certain things,’” said James Reidy, a lawyer that works with employers on their human resources policies. Reidy knows of a half-dozen other large employers that have quietly changed their policies in recent years. Not all companies want to advertise the change, fearing it might imply they are soft on drugs. (Even former FBI director James Comey in 2014 half-joked about the need for the bureau to re-evaluate its drug-testing policy to attract the best candidates.)

Why the change? Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use. A Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans favor legalization. That’s the most since the company first started asking the question in 1969, when only 12 percent supported changing the plant’s status. Drug tests costs from $30 to $50 a pop, but the potential costs to an employer are far greater than the actual test.

In addition to helping ease the labor market, eliminating drug testing could have even broader benefits for the economy, said Kidd. Employers could hire the best, theoretically most-productive workers, he said, instead of rejecting people based on their recreational habits. Companies have said they lose out to foreign competitors because they can’t find people who can pass drugs tests, a particularly acute problem in the areas most affected by the opioid crisis.

Some jobs, such as those involving the use of heavy machinery, will always require drug tests. Excellence Health still drug-tests any employee working on a government contract, even in states where weed is legal. Companies are also reserving the right to test after an accident or if an employee comes to work notably impaired.

Not all companies are ready to change course. Restaurant Brands International Inc., which owns Burger King, hasn’t altered its corporate marijuana policy, said Chief Executive Officer Daniel Schwartz. Ford Motor Co. still treats pot as an illegal substance, according to a company spokeswoman.

Weed-averse employers have a notable ally: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A longtime opponent of legalization, Sessions rescinded in January the Obama-era policies that enabled state-legalized cannabis industries to flourish. The uncertainty caused by the Justice Department’s actions may discourage companies from making changes.

Employers can also get discounts on workers’ compensation insurance for maintaining a “drug-free workplace” by, in part, drug-testing workers. But the types of workplaces forgoing pre-employment tests already enjoy relatively small savings. A job in an office setting, for example, won’t have very many workers’ compensation claims, compared to a factory. The money saved by meeting the qualifications for a drug-free zone isn’t worth it.

“We assume that a certain level of employees are going to be partaking on the weekends,” said Reidy, the employment lawyer. “We don’t care. We’re going to exclude a whole group of people, and we desperately need workers.”

Read the article.

Source:
Greenfield R, Kaplan J. (5 March 2018). "The decline of the employment drug test" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/05/the-decline-of-the-employment-drug-test/


Two opportunities created by association health plans

The new regulations around association health plans (AHPs) — which loosen restrictions for small businesses, franchises and associations — create two distinct opportunities in the benefits industry.

The first is for brokers, who will be crucial advisors to employers eligible for the new coverage options now available.

The second opportunity is for benefits and HR tech vendors, who will be instrumental in managing the transactional and administrative challenges that would otherwise hinder AHP success.

What challenges do association health plans represent? Let’s consider an example — the Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant franchise.

Let’s say Nashville Hot Chicken has 1,000 franchisees, each with five full-time employees. Before AHP options became available to this organization, these five-employee groups would either have had to pursue small group coverage, or employees would have had to find individual plans.

Both options likely would have been prohibitively expensive for the organization or the employees. With the new AHP regulations, however, these 1,000 franchisees may be able to pull all 5,000 workers together and create a large group benefits plan.

In doing so, they would reap the advantages of collective purchasing, just like large groups do. However, this AHP would not work like a regular group plan.

If a regular group has 5,000 employees, they would all be part of a centrally-operated payroll system and the insurance companies would receive just one check for all of the employees enrolled at the group. But under an AHP of franchisees, all the payroll systems would operate independently, and there is no clear, centralized entity to pay carriers.

This creates a massive administrative headache for Nashville Hot Chicken corporate, as well as all the individual franchise owners. In other words, who is going to manage the AHP?

Here’s where the brokers come in. Employers need brokers to walk them through all the complexities of AHPs, including sourcing carriers, third-party vendors, and compliance needs.

It would also be incredibly impractical to manage 5,000 employees through 1,000 separate businesses without a benefits and HR platform.

But brokers can provide a solution to this challenge by adopting a platform. With a benefits and HR system, the various administrative differences from franchisee to franchisee can be accounted for, while still allowing the 5,000-life group to enroll in the group offering.

By removing the administrative headache, benefits tech makes AHPs a real option for Nashville Hot Chicken. But it also gives the tech-savvy broker a clear leg up on the competition. A broker without a tech solution will be at a severe disadvantage for Nashville Hot Chicken’s business compared to a broker who has a platform.

So as small employers, franchisees and industry associations band together for group coverage, benefits tech can give brokers a competitive differentiator for this new business segment.

Read the article.

Source:
Tolbert A. (1 March 2018). "Two opportunities created by association health plans" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/two-opportunities-created-by-association-health-pl/


Pay-to-shop health care incentives gaining traction

Laurie Cook went shopping recently for a mammogram near her home in New Hampshire. Using an online tool provided through her insurer, she plugged in her ZIP code. Up popped facilities in her network, each with an incentive amount she would be paid if she chose it.

Paid? To get a test? It’s part of a strategy to rein in health care spending by steering patients to the most cost-effective providers for non-emergency care.

State public employee insurance programs were among the early adopters of this approach. It is now finding a foothold among policymakers and in the private sector.

Scrolling through her options, Cook, a school nurse who is covered through New Hampshire’s state employee health plan, found that choosing a certain facility scored her a $50 check in the mail.

She then used the website again to shop for a series of lab tests. “For a while there, I was getting a $25 check every few weeks,” said Cook. The checks represented a share of the cost savings that resulted from her selections.

Lawmakers in nearby Maine took the idea further, recently enacting legislation that requires some private insurers to offer pay-to-shop incentives, part of a movement backed by a conservative foundation to get similar measures passed nationally.

Similar proposals are pending in a handful of other statehouses, including Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.

“If insurance plans were serious about saving money, they would have been doing this stuff years ago,” said Josh Archambault, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a limited-government advocacy group based in Naples, Fla., that promotes such “right-to-shop” laws. “This starts to peel back the black box in health care and make the conversation about value.”

Still, some economists caution that shop-around initiatives alone cannot force the level of market-based change needed. While such shopping may make a difference for individual employers, they note it represents a tiny drop of the $3.3 trillion spent on health care in the U.S. each year.

“These are not crazy ideas,” said David Asch, professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation in Philadelphia. But it’s hard to get consumers to change behavior — and curbing health care spending is an even bigger task. Shopping incentives, he warned, “might be less effective than you think.”

If they achieve nothing else, though, such efforts could help remove barriers to price transparency, said Francois de Brantes, vice president and director of the Center for Value in Health Care at Altarum, a nonprofit that studies the health economy.

“I think this could be quite the breakthrough,” he said.

Yet de Brantes predicts only modest savings if shopping simply results in narrowing the price variation between high- and low-cost providers: “Ideally, transparency is about stopping folks from continuously charging more.”

Among the programs in use, only a few show consumers the price differences among facilities. Many, like the one Cook used, merely display the financial incentives attached to each facility based on the underlying price.

 

Advocates say both approaches can work.

“When your plan members have ‘skin in the game,’ they have an incentive to consider the overall cost to the plan,” said Catherine Keane, deputy commissioner of administrative services in New Hampshire. She credits the incentives with leading to millions of dollars in savings each year.

Several states require insurers or medical providers to provide cost estimates upon patients’ requests, although studies have found that information can still be hard to access.

Now, private firms are marketing ways to make this information more available by incorporating it into incentive programs.

For example, Vitals, the New Hampshire-based company that runs the program Cook uses, and Healthcare Bluebook in Nashville offer employers — for a fee — comparative shopping gizmos that harness medical cost information from claims data. This information becomes the basis by which consumers shop around.

Crossing Network Lines

Maine’s law, adopted last year, requires insurers that sell coverage to small businesses to offer financial incentives — such as gift cards, discounts on deductibles or direct payments — to encourage patients, starting in 2019, to shop around.

A second and possibly more controversial provision also kicks in next year, requiring insurers, except HMOs, to allow patients to go out-of-network for care if they can find comparable services for less than the average price insurers pay in network.

Similar provisions are included in a West Virginia bill now under debate.

Touted by proponents as a way to promote health care choice, it nonetheless raises questions about how the out-of-network price would be calculated, what information would be publicly disclosed about how much insurers actually pay different hospitals, doctors or clinics for care and whether patients can find charges lower than in-network negotiated rates.

“Mathematically, that just doesn’t work” because out-of-network charges are likely to be far higher than negotiated in-network rates, said Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

Not necessarily, counters the bill’s sponsor, Del. Eric Householder, who said he introduced the measure after speaking with the Foundation for Government Accountability. The Republican from the Martinsburg area said “the biggest thing lacking right now is health care choice because we’re limited to our in-network providers.”

Shopping for health care faces other challenges. For one thing, much of medical care is not “shoppable,” meaning it falls in the category of emergency services. But things such as blood tests, imaging exams, cancer screening tests and some drugs that are administered in doctor’s offices are fair game.

Less than half of the more than $500 billion spent on health care by people with job-based insurance falls into this category, according to a 2016 study by the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit organization that analyzes payment data from four large national insurers. The report also noted there must be variation in price between providers in a region for these programs to make sense.

Increasingly, though, evidence is mounting that large price differences for medical care exist — even among rates negotiated by the same insurer.

“The price differences are so substantial it’s actually scary,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Vitals.

At the request of Kaiser Health News, Healthcare Bluebook ran some sample numbers for a Northern Virginia ZIP code, finding the cost of a colonoscopy ranged from $670 to $6,240, while a knee arthroscopy ranged from $1,959 to $20,241.

Another challenge is the belief by some consumers that higher prices mean higher quality, which studies don’t bear out.

Even with incentives, the programs face what may be their biggest challenge: simply getting people to use a shopping tool.

Kentucky state spokeswoman Jenny Goins said only 52 percent of eligible employees looked at the shopping site last year — and, of those, slightly more than half chose a less expensive option.

“That’s not as high as we would like,” she said.

Still, state workers in Kentucky have pocketed more than $1.6 million in incentives — and the state said it has saved $11 million — since the program began in mid-2013.

Deductibles, the annual amounts consumers must pay before their insurance kicks in and are usually $1,000 or more, are more effective than smaller shopping incentives, say some policy experts.

In New Hampshire, it took a combination of the two.

The state rolled out the payments for shopping around — and a website to look for best prices — in 2010. But participation didn’t really start to take off until 2014, when state employees began facing an annual deductible, said Deputy Commissioner Keane.

Still, the biggest question is whether these programs ultimately cause providers to lower prices.

Anecdotally, administrators think so.

Kentucky officials report they already are witnessing a market response because providers want patients to have an incentive to choose them.

“We do know providers are calling and asking, ‘How do I get my name on that list’ [of cost-effective providers]?” said Kentucky spokeswoman Goins. “The only way they can do that is to negotiate.”

Read the article.

Source:
Appleby J., Kaiser Health News (5 March 2018). "Pay-to-shop health care incentives gaining traction" [Web blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/05/pay-to-shop-health-care-incentives-gaining-tractio/