Best and Worst States for Group Health Care Costs

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about which states are the best/worst for group health care by Matt Weimer.

Also make sure to register for our upcoming UBA webinar on Tuesday, February 21 at 2:00 p.m. ET. The topic will be a case study on why communication matters in employee benefits. To register for the webinar click Here.

Employer-sponsored health insurance is greatly affected by geographic region, industry, and employer size. While some cost trends have been fairly consistent since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was put in place, UBA finds several surprises in its latest Health Plan Survey. Based on responses from more than 11,000 employers, UBA recently announced the top five best and worst states for group health care monthly premiums.

The top five best (least expensive) states are:

1) Hawaii

2) Idaho

3) Utah

4) Arkansas

5) Mississippi

Hawaii, a perennial low-cost leader, actually experienced a nearly seven percent decrease in its single coverage in 2016. New Mexico, a state that was a low-cost winner in 2015, saw a 22 percent increase in monthly premiums for singles and nearly a 30 percent increase in monthly family premiums, dropping it from the “best” list.

The top five worst (most expensive) states are:

1) Alaska

2) Wyoming

3) New York

4) Vermont

5) New Jersey

The UBA Health Plan Survey also enables state ranking based on the average annual cost per employee. The average annual cost per employee looks at all tiers of a plan and places an average cost on that plan based on a weighted average metric. While the resulting rankings are slightly different, they also show some interesting findings.

The 2016 average annual health plan cost per employee for all plan types is $9,727, which is a slight decrease form the average cost of $9,736 in 2015. When you start to look at the average annual cost by region and by state, there is not much change among the top from last year. The Northeast region continues to have the highest average annual cost even with the continued shift to consumer-driven health plans (CDHP). In 2016, enrollment in CDHPs in the Northeast was 34.9 percent, surpassing those enrolled in preferred provider organization (PPO) plans at 33 percent. Even with the continued shift to CDHPs, the average annual costs were $12,202 for New York, which remained the second-highest cost state, followed by $12,064 for New Jersey, and rounding out the top five, Massachusetts and Vermont flip-flopped from 2015 with Massachusetts at $11,956 and Vermont at $11,762.

As was the case in 2015, Alaska continues to lead all states in average health plan costs, topping New York by more than $1,000 per employee, with an average cost of $13,251. While year-over-year the average cost for Alaska only increased 3.35 percent, the gap increased to 36.2 percent above the national average of $9,727.

Keeping close to the national average increase, the top five states all saw a year-over-year increase of less than 4.5 percent. Unfortunately, even at a modest increase, the one thing that the top five have in common is that they all are more than 20 percent above the national average for health plan costs per employee.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Weimer M. (2017 February 15). Best and worst states for group health care costs [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/best-and-worst-states-for-group-health-care-costs


What medical conditions are driving employer healthcare costs?

Do you which medical conditions are driving your healthcare cost? Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about the cost associated with your employer healthcare by Phil Albinus

Healthcare costs surrounding diabetes reached $101 billion in diagnoses and treatments over the past 18 years — and the cost grew 36 times faster than the cost of ischemic heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Further, out of 155 medical conditions, only 20 accounted for half of all medical spending, according to a JAMA analysis of 2013 healthcare costs.

The third-most expensive medical condition, low back and neck pain, primarily strikes adults of working age while diabetes and heart disease is primarily found in people 65 and older.

The JAMA study found total health spending for these conditions totaled $437 billion in 2013. Diabetes, heart disease, low back and neck pain, along with hypertension and injuries from falls, comprise 18% of all personal health spending. All in all, 20 conditions make up more than half of all spending on healthcare in the U.S.

These stark figures shed light on the rising healthcare costs that employers pay when addressing their workforce’s ailments.

According to Francois Millard, senior vice president and chief actuarial officer for Vitality Group, one of the study’s sponsors, this is the first study to dig into the details of the leading ailments of the U.S. and its costs to employers and families as they deal with the conditions.

“In absolute terms, most money for care is in the working age population,” he says. “It impacts households and employers and contributes to the financial burden of families.”

“What we see is the financial burden increases as the disease increases, and while the paper doesn’t go into detail, we already have a significant knowledge of diabetes and heart condition. It is related to modifiable behavior.”

The JAMA study noted the differences between public health program spending from personal health spending, including individual out-of-pocket costs and spending by private and government insurance programs.

“While it is well known that the U.S. spends more than any other nation on healthcare, very little is known about what diseases drive that spending,” said Dr. Joseph Dieleman, lead author of the paper and assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in a press statement. “IHME is trying to fill the information gap so that decision-makers in the public and private sectors can understand the spending landscape, and plan and allocate health resources more effectively.”

Despite using figures from 2013, the information can help employers as they identify where their healthcare dollars are going.

“Given the biggest increases in healthcare spending on impact working age populations, it requires employers to improve their work environments and facilitate good health. And [this study can] help increase the transparency of health within their populations,” says Millard.

“Employers need to think what they do that impacts beyond the four walls of the employers and create a symbiotic relationship with health within their societies,” he adds.

The study can also boost transparency into the healthcare data. “This study is also an accountability and outcome of the money they are spending on health treatment,” Millard says. “Is it sufficient to still pay for services or can we push for more accountability for health outcomes? The other thing this facilities is that employers get the adequate level of data. They can ask the right questions and determine accountability for the huge amounts of healthcare.”

He adds, “With all the uncertainty around 2017, perhaps this transparency will give employers a voice to all of the money that they are spending.”

The top 10 most costly health expenses in 2013:

1. Diabetes – $101.4 billion
2. Ischemic heart disease – $88.1 billion
3. Low back and neck pain – $87.6 billion
4. Hypertension – $83.9 billion
5. Injuries from falls – $76.3 billion
6. Depressive disorders – $71.1 billion
7. Oral-related problems – $66.4 billion
8. Vision and hearing problems – $59 billion
9. Skin-related problems, such as cellulitis and acne – $55.7 billion
10. Pregnancy and postpartum care – $55.6 billion

See the original article Here.

Source:

Albinus P. (2017 January 12). What medical conditions are driving employer healthcare costs?[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/what-medical-conditions-are-driving-employer-healthcare-costs?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Health Care Priorities for 2017

Great article from the Kaiser Family Foundation about Americans thoughts on ACA repeal by Ashley Kirzinger, Bryan Wu, and Mollyann Brodie

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that health care is among the top issues, with the economy and jobs and immigration, Americans want President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress to address in 2017. When asked about a series of health care priorities for President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on, repealing the ACA falls behind other health care priorities including lowering the amount individuals pay for health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and dealing with the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic.
  • When presented with two general approaches to the future of health care in the U.S., six in ten (62 percent) Americans prefer “guaranteeing a certain level of health coverage and financial help for seniors and lower-income Americans, even if it means more federal health spending and a larger role for the federal government” while three in ten (31 percent) prefer the approach of “limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving state governments and individuals more control over health insurance, even if this means some seniors and lower-income Americans would get less financial help than they do today.”
  • As Congressional lawmakers make plans for the future of the ACA, the latest survey finds the public is divided on what they would like lawmakers to do when it comes to the 2010 health care law. Forty-nine percent of the public think the next Congress should vote to repeal the law compared to 47 percent who say they should not vote to repeal it. Of those who want to see Congress vote to repeal the law, a larger share say they want lawmakers to wait to vote to repeal the law until the details of a replacement plan have been announced (28 percent) than say Congress should vote to repeal the law immediately and work out the details of a replacement plan later (20 percent). However, the survey also finds malleability of attitudes towards Congress repealing the health care law with both supporters and opponents being persuaded after hearing counter-messages.

Top Issues for President-elect Trump and Congress

The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds health care among the top issues Americans want President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress to address in 2017. When asked which issue they would most like the next administration to act on in 2017, one-fourth of the public mention the economy and jobs (24 percent), followed by immigration (20 percent), and health care (19 percent). Among Democrats and independents, the economy and jobs is the top issue (23 percent and 24 percent, respectively) while the top issues for Republicans are immigration (30 percent) and economy and jobs (29 percent). Among all partisans, health care ranks among the top three issues that the public wants the next administration to act on in 2017.

The top issue for voters who supported President-elect Donald Trump are similar to those among Republicans: economy and jobs (31 percent) and immigration (31 percent), followed closely by health care (27 percent).

When asked to mention which health care issue they would most like President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on in 2017, about one-third of the public mention the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but attitudes are mixed between wanting the next administration to act on repealing the 2010 health care law (14 percent), improving/fixing the law (11 percent), or keeping/expanding the law (8 percent).

LOWERING OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR AMERICANS

When asked about a series of health care priorities for President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on, repealing the ACA falls behind other health care priorities. Two-thirds of the public (67 percent) say lowering the amount individuals pay for health care should be a “top priority” for President-elect Trump and the next Congress. This is followed by six in ten (61 percent) who say lowering the cost of prescription drugs should be a “top priority,” and nearly half (45 percent) who say dealing with the prescription pain killer addiction epidemic should be a “top priority.”

Smaller shares say repealing the 2010 health care law (37 percent), decreasing how much the federal government spends on health care over time (35 percent), and decreasing the role of the federal government in health care (35 percent) should be top priorities.

LOWERING OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS TOPS PRIORITIES REGARDLESS OF PARTISANSHIP

While about two-thirds of Democrats, Republicans, and independents say lowering the amount individuals pay for health care should be a “top priority,” partisans differ in how they prioritize other health care issues. Most notably, while 63 percent of Republicans say repealing the 2010 health care law should be a top priority – this view is shared by much smaller shares of independents (32 percent) and Democrats (21 percent). Similarly, Republicans (50 percent) are more likely than independents (34 percent) or Democrats (26 percent) to place a top priority on decreasing the role of the federal government in health care. By contrast, Democrats and independents are somewhat more likely than Republicans to place a top priority on lowering the cost of prescription drugs (67 percent, 61 percent, and 55 percent, respectively) and on dealing with the epidemic of prescription painkiller addiction (51 percent, 46 percent, and 39 percent, respectively).

CONFIDENCE IN PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP’S ABILITY TO REDUCE HEALTH CARE COSTS

Lowering out-of-pocket health care costs is a top priority for Americans, and this was also a campaign promise from Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. When asked how confident they are in President-elect Trump’s ability to deliver on this campaign promise that Americans will get better health care at a lower cost than they pay now, Americans are split with similar shares saying they are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” (51 percent) as saying they are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” (47 percent).

Confidence in President-elect Trump’s promise that Americans will get better health care at a lower cost is largely divided by party identification and 2016 vote choice with nearly nine in ten Republicans (85 percent) and Trump voters (86 percent) saying they are either “very” or “somewhat” confident in the next administration’s ability to deliver on this campaign promise. This is compared to 81 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Clinton voters who say they are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the next president will deliver on this promise.

Americans’ Attitudes on the Future of Health Care in the U.S.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, it became clear that the two major political parties in the U.S. have competing views on the future of health care. When given two competing approaches to the future of health care, six in ten Americans (62 percent) prefer “guaranteeing a certain level of health coverage and financial help for seniors and lower-income Americans, even if it means more federal health spending and a larger role for the federal government” while about one-third (31 percent) prefer “limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving state governments and individuals more control over health insurance, even if this means some seniors and lower-income Americans would get less financial help than they do today.”

There are also partisan differences, with about half of Republicans (53 percent) preferring the approach that Republican leaders have coalesced around – limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving states and individuals more control; this approach is preferred by much smaller shares of independents (27 percent) and Democrats (15 percent). The majority of Democrats (79 percent) and independents (65 percent) prefer guaranteeing a certain level of coverage for seniors and lower-income Americans – even if it means a larger role for the federal government and increased federal spending.

ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE FUTURE OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

The future of the Affordable Care Act has been at the forefront of the political agenda since the 2016 election with President-elect Trump and Republican lawmakers in Congress saying they will quickly move to repeal the health care law in 2017. The latest survey finds public opinion towards the law is divided with similar shares of the public saying they have an unfavorable opinion (46 percent) as say they have a favorable opinion (43 percent) of the law, which is largely stable from previous months.

REPEALING AND REPLACING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

As Congressional lawmakers make plans for the future of the ACA, the latest Kaiser Health Tracking survey finds that – similar to overall attitudes towards the law – the public is also divided on what they would like lawmakers to do when it comes to the 2010 health care law.

Overall, 49 percent of the public think the next Congress should vote to repeal the law and 47 percent say they should not vote to repeal it. Of those who want to see Congress vote to repeal the law, a larger share say they want lawmakers to wait to vote on repeal until the details of a replacement plan have been announced (28 percent) than say Congress should vote to repeal the law immediately and work out the details of a replacement plan later (20 percent).

HOW FLEXIBLE ARE AMERICANS’ OPINIONS OF REPEALING THE ACA?

The survey examines the malleability of attitudes towards Congress repealing the health care law and finds that both supporters and opponents of Congress voting to repeal the law can be persuaded after hearing counter-messages. After hearing pro-repeal arguments, the share of the public supporting repeal can grow to as large as 60 percent, while counter-messages against repeal can decrease support to 27 percent.

Among those who originally said Congress should not vote to repeal the 2010 health care law, about one-fifth (22 percent) change their opinion after hearing that some consumers around the country have seen large increases in the cost of their health insurance – which is similar to the share who shifted their opinion after hearing that the country cannot afford the cost of providing financial help to individuals to purchase health insurance.

On the other side of the debate, some of those who originally said they support Congress voting to repeal the health care law are also persuaded by hearing arguments often made by opponents of the repeal efforts. The survey finds that a share shifts their opinion after hearing that some people with pre-existing conditions would no longer be able to get health coverage and after hearing that some of the roughly 20 million Americans who got health insurance as a result of the law would lose their coverage.

PERCEIVED EFFECTS OF CHANGES TO HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

Overall, large shares of Americans say their own health care will “stay about the same” if lawmakers vote to repeal the 2010 health care law. More than half of Americans say the quality of their own health care (57 percent) and their own ability to get and keep health insurance (55 percent) will stay about the same if the law is repealed. Fewer (43 percent) say the cost of health care for them and their family will stay about the same if the law is repealed. In each of these cases, about equal shares believe their own situation will get better as say it will get worse.

INDIVIDUALS WITH A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION

After being read a definition of “pre-existing condition,” just over half (56 percent) of U.S. adults say that they or someone in their household would be considered to have such a condition. Overall, these individuals are more likely than those without a pre-existing condition to say their access, quality, and cost of health care will get “worse” if the ACA is repealed. However, about one in five of these individuals say their access, quality, and cost of health care will get “better” if the ACA is repealed.

One-third of individuals who have someone in their household with a pre-existing condition say the cost of health care for them and their family will get worse if the ACA is repealed, compared to about one in five of those living in a household without someone with a pre-existing condition. Larger shares of those with a pre-existing condition also say their ability to get and keep health insurance will get worse than those without a pre-existing condition (24 percent vs. 17 percent), and the quality of their own health care will get worse (21 percent vs. 15 percent).

In addition, individuals with a pre-existing condition in their household also report being more worried about health-care related issues than those without a pre-existing condition. Slightly more than half (54 percent) of those with a pre-existing condition say they are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about not being able to afford the health care services they need, compared to 43 percent of those without a pre-existing condition. Similarly, 43 percent of those with a pre-existing condition are worried (either “very” or “somewhat”) about losing their health insurance compared to 30 percent of those without a pre-existing condition.

Kaiser Health Policy News Index

The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds President-elect Donald Trump’s transition and cabinet appointments was the most closely followed news story during the past month with seven in ten (68 percent) Americans closely following news about his transition. Other stories that captured the attention of Americans include the conflict involving ISIS in Mosul, Iraq (64 percent), the CIA’s report of Russia interfering in the 2016 presidential election (64 percent), and the top health policy story this month – Republican plans to repeal the ACA (63 percent). Other health policy stories followed by Americans this month include the ongoing heroin and prescription painkiller addiction epidemic in the U.S. (57 percent), Republican plans for the future of Medicare (51 percent), and the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act (37 percent).

See the original article and charts  Here.

Source:

Krizinger A., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 January 06). Kaiser health tracking poll: health care priorities [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://kff.org/health-costs/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-health-care-priorities-for-2017/


Disconnect between employers, employees over wellness, health plan satisfaction

Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Adviser about the disconnect between employees and employers about their company's wellness programs by Cort Olsen

More than 1,500 employer decision-makers surveyed about the future of healthcare say wellness programs within companies continue to show positive growth among employers and employees alike. However, the study by Transamerica Center for Health Studies also found a strong disconnect in communication between employers and employees regarding healthcare and benefit satisfaction and the commitment from employers to maintain a healthy workspace.

At least 28% of employers have implemented a wellness program for their employees in the past 12 months — a steady increase from 23% in 2014 and 25% in 2015. About four in five companies report their wellness programs have positively impacted workers’ health and productivity, and about seven in 10 have seen a positive impact on company healthcare costs.

More than half of the employers surveyed (55%) say they offer wellness programs to their staff, yet some employees seemed to be unaware that their company offers these programs. Of the 55% of employers who say they offer a wellness program, only 36% of employees with employer coverage say they work for an employer who offers a wellness program.

Employer versus employee perspective
This miscommunication may also contribute to the level of commitment employees think their employer has in maintaining a wellness program within the workplace. While 80% of employers say leadership is committed to improving the health of their employees, only one-third of employees say they agree with that statement.

When it comes to overall healthcare satisfaction there is a similar disconnect, with 94% of employers saying employees are satisfied with the health insurance plan their company offers, while only 79% of employees say they are satisfied with their health plan.

In addition, 90% of employers say employees are satisfied with the healthcare benefits other than health insurance, but only 79% of employees say they are satisfied.

However, while employers and employees may not share the same amount of satisfaction in their healthcare offerings, many companies are making the effort to reduce the cost of their healthcare for their staff.

At least 41% of companies have taken measures to reduce costs, while 71% of companies have taken positive measures in the last 12 months. The percentage of midsize businesses reporting to provide insurance for part-time employees has increased significantly since July 2013 from 13% to 21%.

Still, lack of communication continues over cost concerns as well. While about four in five employers feel their company is concerned about the affordability of health insurance and healthcare expenses, just over half of employees feel the same — even after employers said cost concerns would not be felt by employees.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olsen C. (2017 January 05). Disconnect between employers, employees over wellness, health plan satisfaction[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/disconnect-between-employers-employees-over-wellness-health-plan-satisfaction?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Employees putting billions more than usual in their 401(k)s

Interesting article from BenefitsPro about employee's increased input into their 401(k)s by Ben Steverman

(Bloomberg) -- Saving for retirement requires making sacrifices now so your future self can afford to stop working later. Someday. Maybe.

It’s not news that Americans aren’t saving enough. The typical baby boomer, whose generation is just starting to retire, has a median of $147,000 in all of his retirement accounts, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

And if you think that’s depressing, try this on: 1 in 3 private sector workers don’t even have a retirement plan through their job.

But the new year brings with it some good news: If people do have a 401(k) plan through their employer, there’s data showing them choosing to set aside more for their later years.

On average, workers in 2015 put 6.8 percent of their salaries into 401(k) and profit-sharing plans, according to a recent survey of more than 600 plans. That’s up from 6.2 percent in 2010, the Plan Sponsor Council of America found.

An increase in retirement savings of 0.6 percentage points might not sound like much, but it represents a 10 percent rise in the amount flowing into those plans over just five years, or billions of dollars. About $7 trillion is already invested in 401(k) and other defined contribution plans, according to the Investment Company Institute.

If Americans keep inching up their contribution rate, they could end up saving trillions of dollars more. Workers in these plans are even starting to meet the savings recommendations of retirement experts, who suggest setting aside 10 percent to 15 percent of your salary, including any employer contribution, over a career.

While workers are saving more, companies have held their financial contributions steady—at least over the past few years. Employers pitched in 4.7 percent of payroll in 2015, the same as in 2013 and 2014. Even so, it’s still more than a point above their contribution rates in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

One reason workers participating in these plans are probably saving more: They’re being signed up automatically—no extra paperwork required. Almost 58 percent of plans surveyed make their sign-up process automatic, requiring employees to take action only if they don’t want to save.

Automatic enrollment can make a big difference. In such plans, 89 percent of workers are making contributions, the survey finds, while 75 percent make 401(k) contributions under plans without auto-enrollment. Auto-enrolled employees save more, 7.2 percent of their salaries vs. 6.3 percent for those who weren’t auto-enrolled.

Companies are also automatically hiking worker contribution rates over time, a feature called “auto-escalation” that’s still far less common than auto-enrollment. Less than a quarter of plans auto-escalate all participants, while 16 percent boost contributions only for workers who are deemed to be not saving enough.

A key appeal of automatic 401(k) plans is that they don’t require participating workers to be investing experts. Unless employees choose otherwise, their money is automatically put in a recommended investment.

And, at more and more 401(k) and profit-sharing plans, this takes the form of a target-date fund, a diversified mix of investments chosen based on a participant’s age or years until retirement. Two-thirds of plans offer target-date funds, the survey found, double the number in 2006.

The share of workers’ assets in target-date funds is up fivefold as a result.

A final piece of good news for workers is that they’re keeping more of every dollar they earn in a 401(k) account. Fees on 401(k) plans are falling, according to a recent analysis released by BrightScope and the Investment Company Institute.

The total cost of running a 401(k) plan is down 17 percent since 2009, to 0.39 percent of plan assets in 2014. The cost of the mutual funds inside 401(k)s has dropped even faster, by 28 percent to an annual expense ratio of 0.53 percent in 2015.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Steverman B. (2017 January 5). Employees putting billions more than usual in their 401(k)s [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/01/05/employees-putting-billions-more-than-usual-in-thei?ref=hp-news&page_all=1


Obamacare Enrollment Is Beating Last Year’s Early Pace

Great article from Kaiser Health News about ACA enrollment by Phil Galewitz

Despite the Affordable Care Act’s rising prices, decreased insurer participation and a vigorous political threat to its survival, consumer enrollment for 2017 is outpacing last year’s, according to new federal data and reports from state officials around the country.

Americans’ anxiety about how a new Republican-controlled Congress and President-elect Donald Trump will repeal and replace the health law is helping fuel early enrollment gains in the online marketplaces that sell individual coverage, state exchange officials and health consultants said.

Healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace which handles coverage for 39 states, enrolled6.4 million people from Nov. 1 through Monday, about 400,000 more than at the same time a year ago, the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday. Monday was the deadline in those states to sign up for coverage starting Jan. 1, but open enrollment will continue until Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage.

“The marketplace is strong … and now we know the doomsday predictions about the marketplace are not coming true,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a press briefing.

The surge in sign-ups on the federal marketplace mirrors activity on several state-run Obamacare exchanges, according to figures obtained from states independently by Kaiser Health News. Minnesota, with more than 54,000 enrollees as of Monday, doubled the number of sign-ups it had at the same time last year. Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington had enrollment growth of at least 13 percent compared to a year ago.

“Because of the new administration and the high likelihood of changes coming to the ACA, it is creating a sense of urgency” for people to enroll, said Michael Marchand, director of communications for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Enrollment exceeded 170,000 customers on the Washington exchange as of this week, up 13 percent compared to same time a year ago.

Other state exchanges saw moderate increases: Connecticut, 3 percent; Idaho, 4 percent; Maryland, 1 percent. California’s enrollment is about same as a year ago. Rhode Island’s enrollment dropped to 27,555 from 31,900 for the same period last year. State exchange officials cited a drop in customers who were automatically renewed because UnitedHealthcare dropped out.

About 12.7 million people enrolled in the state and federal exchanges for 2016 coverage at the end of the previous enrollment season. HHS predicted in October that an additional 1.1 million people would sign up for 2017 coverage. Burwell said Wednesday that her department is sticking with that projection, even though “the headwinds have increased” since the election.

Obamacare, now in its fourth open enrollment season, took some heavy blows this year after several big insurers — including UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna — withdrew from many marketplaces for 2017 because of heavy financial losses. At the same time, remaining insurers increased premiums by 25 percent on average.

All of that, plus a changed political climate in Washington, was expected to dampen enrollment. While the surprise presidential election outcome may have been the primary force for changing those expectations, other factors also have fueled enrollment growth this fall, state officials pointed out in interviews.

More people who don’t qualify for government subsidies are buying health plans on the exchanges because it’s an easier way to compare available plans in one place. Noting that trend, Premera Blue Cross in Washington recently stopped selling individual coverage off the exchange.

In Minnesota, higher government subsidies — which reduce premiums for people with lower incomes — is the main reason why more people have signed up, according to Allison O’Toole, CEO of MNsure, the state-run exchange. The subsidy amount is tied to the cost of the second-lowest silver plan on the exchange, so as premiums rise for that plan, the subsidy rises too. Premiums soared by an average 50 percent in Minnesota for second-lowest silver.

Another factor driving earlier enrollment in that state was caps set by several Minnesota insurers on the number of new enrollees they would accept. People signed up earlier to make sure they could get the plan they wanted, according to O’Toole.

Minnesota’s growth is surprising because one of its biggest carriers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, stopped selling its most popular health plan on the exchange. That forced about 20,000 people to change insurers or switch from Blue Cross’ PPO, which has a broad provider network, to its HMO plan with a narrower network.

In Colorado, the 18 percent increase in enrollment so far has exceeded officials’ expectations, said Luke Clarke, the spokesman for Connect for Health Colorado, the state exchange. “We had an office pool and no one picked a number that high,” he said. “It was a healthy surprise,” particularly because premiums increased in the state by about 20 percent on average.

Conservatives warn it’s still too early for Obamacare supporters to celebrate.

“I suspect that some states saw big increases because local advocacy groups were able to tell their constituents that they should enroll before Trump is sworn in and Republicans take over Congress — thereby pretty much guaranteeing that they get a full year’s coverage regardless of what Republicans might do on repeal,” said Joe Antos, a health economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Under that scenario, large enrollment increases this fall might be followed by a dropoff in January over the 2016 numbers and the final enrollment tally could end up similar this year’s, he said. Antos noted the true enrollment figures will be known once people pay for their coverage and stay enrolled for the full year.

“As with everything related to ACA,” Antos said, “it’s easy to find a happy story if you squint hard enough and don’t wait for the enrollment process to complete — or the plan year to end.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Galewitz P. (2016 December 21). Obamacare enrollment is beating last year's early pace [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/obamacare-enrollment-is-beating-last-years-early-pace/


2014 Work-Related Illness & Injury Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released statistics on work-related injuries and illnesses in 2014. According to the BLS, two key factors are used to measure the severity of these injuries and illnesses:

* Incidence rate: The number of cases, per 10,000 full-time employees, of injuries and illnesses that require time away from work.

* Average days away from work: The average number of days an employee spends away from work to recover from an injury or illness. The BLS found that the overall incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases in 2014 was 107.1, down from a rate of 109.4 in 2013. The number of days away from work was approximately the same in both years. Additionally, the BLS detailed the most common workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as the most commonly affected parts of the body.

Common Injuries and Illnesses
Sprains, strains and tears were the most common workplace injury in 2014. The incidence rate for these injuries was approximately 38.9 cases per 10,000 full-time employees, which represents a decrease from 2013’s rate of 40.2 cases. However, these are still significant injuries; on average, workers with sprains, strains or tears needed 10 days away from work to recover.

The statistics also show that soreness and pain were common injuries, but generally required fewer days away from work.

Commonly Affected Parts of the Body
The upper extremities (e.g., hands, shoulders) were most affected by injuries and illnesses in 2014, with an incidence rate of 32. Hands accounted for 40 percent of those cases, the most among upper extremities. However, shoulder injuries and illnesses required an average of 26 days away from work to recover, more than any other part of the body.

Musculoskeletal Disorders
The BLS specifically noted that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 32 percent of all workplace-related injuries and illnesses in 2014. Although the incident rate of MSDs was lower than it had been in 2013, these injuries can affect employees in any industry.

For more information on preventing workplace injuries and illnesses, contact Hierl Insurance Inc. today.


What’s employers’ No. 1 concern in 2017?

Does the new year have you worried? Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about employers concerns in 2017 by Phil Albinus

In the aftermath of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory last month, the top employee benefit concern among employers remains their role on the Affordable Care Act. According to a survey of 800 employers conducted by brokerage solution provider Aon, nearly half — 48% — responded that the employer mandate is their biggest concern for the new administration.

According to J.D. Piro, head of the Aon’s law group, the concern stems from whether or not Trump will repeal and replace Obamacare and what plans the 115th Congress has for Medicare.

“It’s all of those [issues] and the employer mandate which has the reporting obligations, the disclosure obligations, 1094 and 1095 forms and the service tracking ... all of that goes into the ACA. The concern is, is it going to be dropped, expanded or modified in some way?” Piro tells EBN.

“Employers have all sorts of questions about that,” he adds.

The employer mandate was by far the top employer concern, according to the Aon survey, which was administered after the election. “Prescription drug costs” received 17% of responses and the “excise tax” received 15% of respondents’ attention. “Tax exclusion limitations on employer-sponsored healthcare” garnered 10% of votes while “paid leave laws” and “employee wellness programs” trailed at 8% and 2%, respectively.

The results didn’t surprise Piro. The employer mandate “is something employers had to get up to speed on and learn how to administer in a very short period of time. It was so complex that it was delayed for a year. It’s not yet part of the framework, and people are still addressing how to comply with it,” he says.

Looking ahead

While Piro declined to make any predictions about what the new administration will accomplish in terms of healthcare, he does think Congress will act quickly, if at least symbolically.

“I think something will happen in 2017. The most likely scenario is Republicans will pass some sort of repeal bill in the first 100 days of the new administration, but they will put off the effective date of the repeal until 2018 or 2019,” he says. “It will be somewhere down the road so they can decide when and what the replacement is going to be.”

The sheer complexity of ACA and Medicare will not make its repeal an easy matter for either the new Trump administration or Congress.

“This is an interconnected web of laws and rulings and the ACA affects every sector of healthcare. It’s thousands of pages of regulations,” Piro says. “Repealing it is not as easy as turning off a light switch or unplugging a computer and plugging it back in again.”

“A lot of people are affected by ACA and you have to consider what the impact is going to be.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Albinus P. (2017 January 04). What's employers' no. 1 concern in 2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/whats-employers-no-1-concern-in-2017?utm_campaign=eba%20daily-jan%204%202017&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&eid=909e5836add2a914a8604144bea27b68


Safety Focused January 2017

Sedentary Working Is a Top Health Risk

Sedentary working is a new top health risk that is getting increased attention from health and safety professionals. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to break down body fat and regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. However, more research is needed in order to clear up some confusion over how employers can protect their staff from the perils of sedentary working.

Although studies have linked excessive sitting with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and early death, most of the evidence is based on observational studies, which have failed to show a direct connection between sitting and ill health. Furthermore, more reliable research is needed regarding workplace interventions, such as sit-to-stand desks.

While there is not yet a clear answer as to what employers should do to address sedentary employees, there are things that employees can do on their own in order to stay healthy, including the following best practices:

  •  Stand up for at least two hours per day.
  •  Set a reminder to stand up every 30 minutes.
  •  Stand instead of sit whenever it is practical, such as during meetings or while on the phone.
  •  Walk over to colleagues’ desks for conversations instead of emailing or phoning them.
  •  Use the stairs instead of the elevator as often as possible.

The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

A poor night’s sleep may not only affect your productivity at work—it can also have adverse health effects.

Although the average recommended amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours per night, the average employee gets six hours and 28 minutes of sleep, according to a recent study of 1,060 participants. Two of the top reported side effects of sleep loss were a lack of attention and taking longer to complete tasks. Both suggest that sleep loss may negatively affect productivity.

The effects of a lack of sleep, such as feeling irritable and not working at your best, are well known, but they also include profound physical health consequences. Regular poor sleep is linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a shortened life expectancy.

Getting enough sleep is especially important during the cold winter months, when a lack of sunlight can make people feel more fatigued and sluggish.

With that in mind, the following tips can help ensure a good night’s sleep:

  •  Establish a regular bedtime routine. Doing so will help program your body to sleep better. Go to bed at the same time every night, and create a habit of winding down beforehand by doing activities such as reading a book or taking a bath.
  •  Create a restful sleeping environment. TVs and other electronic gadgets can interfere with your ability to wind down.
  •  Don’t overindulge before bedtime. Too much food or alcohol before bedtime can interfere with sleep patterns. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can interrupt your sleep later in the night

See the original article Here.


Don’t expect tech to solve benefits communications problems

Great article from Benefits Pro about using technology to communicate with your employees by Marlene Satter

Although technology has spawned multiple methods of communication with employees on benefits, that doesn’t mean they’re solving all the problems in conveying information back and forth between employer and employee.

In fact, generational and demographic differences, varying levels of comfort with a range of communication methods and the complexity of information all mean that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in workplace benefits communication.

A study from West’s Health Advocate Solutions finds employees’ expectations cover a wide range in benefits, health and wellness program communication. As a result, human resources and benefits managers have to dig more deeply in finding ways to convey information to employees.

One finding which may surprise them is employees prefer live-person conversations, although some do prefer the option to use digital communication channels in certain benefits scenarios. And 41 percent of employees say their top complaint about employers’ benefits programs is that communication is too infrequent.

Employee benefits in 2017 will feel the effects of political change as well as cultural change. Here are some trends...

The top choice of employees for communicating about health care cost and administrative information is directly by phone (73 percent) with a live person; second choice was a website or online portal (69 percent), while an in-person conversation was the choice of 56 percent.

For information about physical wellness benefits, 71 percent opt for the website/online portal, while 62 percent want to talk to someone on the phone and 56 percent wanted an in-person conversation. Interestingly, 62 percent of men and 44 percent of women prefer in-person conversations.

For personal/emotional wellness issues, 71 percent want that chat with a person on the phone, 65 percent want an in-person conversation and just 60 percent want to interact with a website/online portal.

When it comes to managing a chronic condition, 66 percent prefer to talk to someone on the phone, 63 percent would prefer the website/online portal option and 61 percent want an in-person conversation. Sixty-seven percent of men, compared with 53 percent of women, prefer in-person conversations, while 35 percent of women, compared with 18 percent of men, prefer mobile apps.

And there are generational differences, too, with millennials wanting in-person interactions more than either Gen X or boomer colleagues. But they all want multiple options, and the ability to choose the one they prefer, rather than simply being restricted to a single method.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2016 December 14). Don't expect tech to solve benefits communications problems [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/12/14/dont-expect-tech-to-solve-benefits-communications