One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

How is your company promoting well-being? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading for how employers can promote well-being by targeting oral health.


With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/promoting-wellbeing-through-dental-health


Is it Time for Unlimited Time off?

More and more employee benefits are being designed around employee health, wellness and happiness, but many of them are designed to keep employees at work. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


While more and more perks — catered lunches, on-site gyms, immunizations programs — are about employee health, wellness, and happiness, they ultimately are also designed to keep workers at work. A recent article in Quartz at Work points out that more than anything, employees want more time off and out of the office. Unlimited time off, to be exact.

Once the perk of tech firms and startups, more companies are beginning to explore unlimited paid time off. And, though still rare at only one to two percent of companies, it’s a popular request in part because workforce demographics continue to shift. Nearly half of employees are Millennials, whose priorities are changing the benefits conversation. For this group, finding more balance and having more control of their time are key. In part, this may be because time off has fundamentally changed. Well and Good looks at the fact that, with near-constant connectedness, vacation days often still involve checking email and getting other notifications.

Add to that cultural and workplace expectations of accessibility and availability, and workers are at risk for burnout. One in four workers report feeling burned out all the time and almost half feel burned out sometimes. This burnout can cost employers in lost productivity, and employees in terms of health and happiness. Today, someone doesn’t need to psychically spend 90 hours a week at the office to be working 90 hours. With our always-on lives, restorative time off is rarer but still as important to prevent burnout.

That doesn’t mean every business is jumping on the unlimited time off bandwagon. Want other ideas? A writer for The Guardian suggests a middle ground, with more days off the longer an employee has worked at a company. And, while rollover sounds generous, it may make employees less likely to use it. Want to give it a try but concerned about misuse? Business Management Daily suggests it’s also more than reasonable to consider limits on unlimited and critical to set sound guidelines around pay as well as whether days off can be all in a row.

For many employees, unlimited time off offers the extra flexibility for life’s challenges and can aid satisfaction and retention. Before HR Departments worry the system will be abused, research shows that people take significantly less time off when it’s unlimited. In fact, what may be more impactful is a minimum number of days off may be required so as to ensure employees take advantage of a benefit meant to restore and replenish their energy, creativity, and engagement. To work, it needs to be modeled by managers and other higher-ups, as a CEO details in a Chicago Daily Herald article.

Read more:

The Benefit Workers Want Most is Less Work

Vacation Time and Being Off Work Are No Longer the Same, so Avoiding Burnout Is Trickier than Ever

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Unlimited Vacation -- the One Benefit Workers Want More than Anything

Ask These Questions when Considering Unlimited PTO

SOURCE: Olson, B. (7 May 2019) "Is it Time for Unlimited Time off?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/is-it-time-for-unlimited-time-off


Nine Ways To Motivate Employees That Don't Always Involve Cash

Many employers are reporting that the single greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining talent. Read this blog post from Forbes for nine ways employers can motivate their employees.


With unemployment at near historic lows in the United States, employers report that their single greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining talent. The answer for many companies is to throw money at the problem: Bonuses, incentive pay, and out-of-cycle salary increases are often seen as motivators that will entice greater effort and loyalty out of workers.

Turns out, using cash as a carrot isn’t always the best answer, according to new research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans. More than 80 percent of American employees say they do not feel recognized or rewarded, despite the fact that US companies are spending more than a fifth of their budgets on wages.

What employees crave even more is to feel that their managers appreciate them and aren’t afraid to show it, not only in paycheck terms, but in other ways such as flexible work-at-home schedules, gift cards for pulling off impressive projects, or even just by saying “thank you” for a job well done.

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters,” says Whillans, who researches what makes people happy. “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.”

Whillans co-wrote a recent article in Compensation & Benefits Review, “Winning the War for Talent: Modern Motivational Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees,” with Anais Thibault-Landry of the Université du Québec à Montréal and Allan Schweyer of the Incentive Research Foundation.

Rewards that signal to employees that they did a good job and that their manager cares about them will encourage employees to want to work even harder, the research shows. Whillans provides nine tips for business leaders on how best to reward their workers in ways that will bring them greater job satisfaction and motivate them to work harder.

When recruiting, emphasize benefits. Talking up a job’s perks, such as flexible work schedules and skill training, can give companies a recruiting edge. A 2018 study that Whillans and her team conducted of more than 92,000 job ads found that the more benefits an employer described, the higher the application rates.

Cash can motivate workers—in some types of work. Cash rewards are best suited as a motivator for work that is measured quantitatively, Whillans says. But money is less meaningful as a motivator in the complex creative jobs that make up most work in our modern knowledge-based society.

If you give cash, include a meaningful note. It’s best to avoid merely adding a cash bonus to a worker’s paycheck; a separate bonus check stands out more as a recognition of their work. And managers should also include a sincere handwritten note explaining why the employee deserved the bonus.

Reconsider performance incentives. Decades of research confirms that financial incentives can boost effort and performance. But when an employee’s pay is contingent on performance, they can become obsessed with earning more. What often works better is to turn around the timing of the reward, handing it out immediately after an employee excels at a particular task, rather than dangling it beforehand.

Consider thoughtful gifts instead of cash. A 2017 study of 600 salespeople found that when a mixed cash and prize reward program was replaced with an equivalent value all-cash package, employee effort dropped dramatically, leading to a 4.36 percent decrease in sales that cost the company millions in lost revenue, Whillans’s article says. The firm may have inadvertently demotivated salespeople who preferred prizes or discouraged workers who liked having a choice.

Give the gift of time—and other intangible perks. A Glassdoor survey Whillans and her team conducted with 115,000 employees found that providing intangible non-cash benefits, like flexible work options or the ability to choose assignments, led to much stronger job satisfaction than straightforward cash rewards.

Encourage employees to reward one another. Companies can build recognition into their business practices by creating peer-to-peer recognition programs in which employees are provided monthly reward points that they can give away to colleagues for work-related wins. Employees who earn a certain number of points can redeem them for various perks, such as a restaurant gift card or an extra personal day.

Make the recognition public. If employees are receiving a $500 bonus, hold a workplace event to hand out checks, and invite the employees’ peers. Perhaps add a certificate of appreciation along with the check.

Sometimes a simple thank you is enough. Among the happiest employees, 95 percent say that their managers are good at providing positive feedback, Whillans says. A simple, heartfelt “thank you” from a manager is often enough for employees to feel like their contributions are valued and will motivate them to try harder.

Why rewarding employees works

Whillans says these types of rewards work because they tap into three strong psychological needs: Employees long for autonomy, with the freedom to choose how to do their work; they want to appear competent, armed with the skills needed to perform; and they want to feel a sense of belonging by socially connecting with colleagues in a meaningful way.

When these needs are satisfied, employees feel more motivated, engaged, and committed to their workplace—and they report fewer intentions of leaving their jobs, Whillans says.

SOURCE: 


IRS Releases Information Letter on Returning HSA Contributions to an Employer

An informational letter was recently released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) clarifying that IRS Notice 2008-59 was not intended to provide an exclusive set of circumstances in which employers could recoup contributions made to employee HSAs. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Generally, a person’s interest in a Health Savings Account (HSA) is nonforfeitable. However, in the past, the Internal Revenue Service’s Notice 2008-59 described limited circumstances under which an employer may recoup contributions made to an employee’s HSA.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Information Letter 2019-0033 (Letter), clarifying that IRS Notice 2008-59 was not intended to provide an exclusive set of circumstances in which an employer can recoup contributions made to an HSA. If there is clear evidence of an administrative or process error, an employer may request that the contributions it made to an employee’s HSA be returned. This correction should put the employer and employee in the same position that they would have been in if the error had not occurred.

The Letter lists the following examples of when an employer may recoup HSA contributions:

  • An amount withheld and deposited in an employee’s HSA for a pay period is greater than the amount shown on the employee’s HSA salary reduction election.
  • An employee receives an employer contribution that the employer did not intend to contribute but the amount was transmitted because an incorrect spreadsheet is accessed or because employees with similar names are confused with each other.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because it is incorrectly entered by a payroll administrator (whether in-house or third-party) causing the incorrect amount to be withheld and contributed.
  • An employee receives a second HSA contribution because duplicate payroll files are transmitted.
  • An employee receives as an incorrect HSA contribution because a change in employee payroll elections is not processed timely so that amounts withheld and contributed are greater than (or less than) the employee elected.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because an HSA contribution amount is calculated incorrectly, such as a case in which an employee elects a total amount for the year that is allocated by the system over an incorrect number of pay periods.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because the decimal position is set incorrectly resulting in a contribution greater than intended.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (14 March 2019) "IRS Releases Information Letter on Returning HSA Contributions to an Employer" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-information-letter-on-returning-hsa-contributions-to-an-employer


4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings

Fifty-two percent of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Read this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employers are adopting workplace wellness programs to improve employee health and subsequently lower their health insurance spend. As they do, benefit managers are tasked with vetting options that will deliver meaningful health and financial results for their companies.

This vetting process typically involves answering questions that range from which types of participation incentives their organization should offer to what type of wellness programs will yield the greatest health-improvement outcomes.

But there’s a problem: Very few benefits managers ask for details about wellness biometric testing, even though most programs are, at least in theory, designed around the information that screening provides. Biometric screening typically involves one or more laboratory tests as well as physical readings, such as blood pressure and body weight, to identify markers of health risks if not an actual disease.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 52% of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening.

Just as workplace wellness programs are not all the same, biometric screening can vary. Failure to question the specific details of a proposed biometric screening program can lead to suboptimal results.

Before moving forward with biometric screenings as part of a workplace wellness program, benefit managers should pause to ask themselves certain questions. Doing so will enhance the likelihood of favorable outcomes — both for employee wellness and the financial bottom line.

1. Why should we screen?

It sounds simple, but setting clear goals for biometric screening is a step too many benefits managers overlook. This may be because they do not know how to anticipate the kind of actions that will be available to them and their employees given the results.

Based on my experience, the most compelling reason to provide biometric screening as part of a wellness program is to help individuals identify risks for several chronic conditions that, if caught early, may be prevented. With insights from a biometric screening, an individual may be better able to take steps to reduce health risks. Common goals may be to reduce body weight, exercise more or visit a physician for treatment.

Biometric screening often can reveal disease risks an individual may not otherwise know. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, for instance, found that one in three first-time participants in a company-sponsored, lab-based wellness program by Quest Diagnostics were not aware they were at risk for a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, according to biometric screening results. Many of these individuals were in a health plan, suggesting that healthcare access alone does not guarantee preventive care to identify risk for common chronic health conditions.

Biometric screening also can help an employer identify programs to target at-risk employee segments based on the type of risk with appropriate interventions. Reliable insight into disease risks for a workforce population may also aid the prediction of future healthcare costs.

2. What should we screen for?

Ideally, biometric screening should provide enough information into disease risks for both individuals and the employer in order to take meaningful actions. Here, many employers miss the mark by implementing bare bones biometric screening options. The result is potentially misleading results — and missed opportunities to identify individuals at risk.

Take diabetes screening, for instance. A non-fasting fingerstick glucose screening really doesn’t tell us anything considering the variety of food individuals might have eaten, and how that may have affected their measurement.

A fasting fingerstick glucose test may help identify diabetes risk in some individuals and be less costly to perform than a hemoglobin A1c test, which involves a venipuncture blood draw. However, a study from Quest Diagnostics found that some individuals in a workforce population with normal fasting glucose results were still at higher risk for diabetes, and a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test identified them.

In a similar manner, many employers overlook screening for chronic kidney disease, one of the major causes of kidney transplantation. Eighty-nine percent of participants identified as at risk for chronic kidney disease did not know it, according to the aforementioned PLoS ONE study. The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) lab test can help identify this condition very cost-effectively, but it’s often absent in biometric screening programs. Other conditions that laboratory tests can help identify include metabolic disorders, thyroid disease, and colorectal cancer, among others.

3. How often should we screen?

Annual biometric screening reinforces the importance of management places on employee wellness. It can also help identify health risks in individuals who are new to the organization. An annual program also provides a regular cadence of engagement that is not too onerous on employees while minimizing the confusion that can occur when screening happens less frequently.

Annual screening has an added benefit of allowing the employee to track her progress over time. Quest provides graphic charts that show changes in an individual’s numbers year over year. This is a powerful motivator for those who have adopted healthful behaviors to stay the course. And longitudinal changes also can reveal patterns, like modest annual weight gain, that the individual may otherwise dismiss until they see the cumulative effect.

4. How can we connect employees to care and intervention?

Screening is just one facet of a successful wellness program. Some individuals who identify health risks may proactively modify their behavior or consult a physician. But not all will. Employers can improve the odds of at-risk employees accessing the care they need following biometric screening.

Most employees in biometric programs receive a personalized report of their screening results. Additionally, many participants can consult over the phone with a third-party administered physician.

At Quest, for instance, we offer programs that help at-risk employees access behavioral change programs. If an individual’s screening results suggest evidence of prediabetes, that employee may participate free of charge in a 16-week, CDC-based diabetes prevention program that includes coaching and lifestyle modification. An individual with a problematic cholesterol result may be able to access a similar program for heart disease prevention.

Biometric screenings can be a powerful facet of an employee wellness program. Understanding the reasons to screen, which methods to use and how often to use them, and the paths to connect employees to care are key. Benefit managers who do this well will be rewarded with a wellness program that results in healthier employees and lower healthcare costs over time.

SOURCE: Goldberg, S. (21 February 2019) "4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-questions-to-ask-before-adding-biometric-screenings


Younger generations driving lifestyle benefits

Forbes revealed in a recent study that millennials will make up seventy-five percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. Millennials and Gen Z's self-confidence is pushing companies to adopt more non-traditional benefits. Read on to learn more.


Younger generations are often characterized as entitled and demanding — but that self-confidence in their work is pushing companies to adopt benefits outside the traditional healthcare and retirement packages.

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce, according to a study by Forbes. The first wave of Generation Z — millennials’ younger siblings — graduated college and entered the workforce last year. With these younger generations flooding the workplace, benefit advisers need to steer clients toward innovative benefits to attract and retain talent, according to panelists during a lifestyle benefits discussion at Workplace Benefits Renaissance, a broker convention hosted by Employee Benefit Adviser.

“Millennials came into the workforce with a level of entitlement — which is actually a good thing,” said Lindsay Ryan Bailey, founder and CEO of Fitpros, during the panel discussion. “They’re bringing their outside life into the workplace because they value being a well-rounded person.”

Catering benefits to younger generations doesn’t necessarily exclude the older ones, the panelists said, in a discussion led by Employee Benefit Adviser Associate Editor Caroline Hroncich. Older generations are accustomed to receiving traditional benefits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate new ones introduced by younger generations.

“Baby boomers put their heads down and get stuff done without asking for more — that’s just how they’ve always done things,” Bailey said. “But they see what millennials are getting and are demanding the same.”

In a job market where there are more vacant positions than available talent to fill them, the panelists said it’s important now, more than ever, to advise clients to pursue lifestyle benefits. While a comprehensive medical and retirement package is attractive, benefits that help employees live a more balanced life will attract and retain the best employees, the panelists said.

“Once you’ve taken care of their basic needs, have clients look at [lifestyle benefits],” said Dave Freedman, general manager of group plans at LegalZoom. “These benefits demonstrate to workers that the employer has their back.”

The most attractive lifestyle benefits are wellness centered, the panelists said. Wellness benefits include everything from gym memberships, maternity and paternity leave, flexible hours and experiences like acupuncture and facials. But no matter which program employers decide to offer, if it’s not easily accessible, employees won’t use it, the panel said.

“Traditional gym memberships can be a nightmare with all the paperwork,” said Paul O’Reilly-Hyland, CEO and founder of Zeamo, a digital company connecting users with gym memberships. “[Younger employees] want easy access and choices — they don’t want to be locked into contracts.

Freedman said brokers should suggest clients offer benefits catered to people based on life stages. He says there are four distinct stages: Starting out, planting roots, career growth and retirement. Providing benefits that help entry-level employees pay down student debt, buy their first car or rent their first apartment will give companies access to the best new talent.

To retain older employees, Freedman suggests offering programs to help employees buy their first house, in addition to offering time off to bond with their child when they start having families. The career growth phase is when most divorces happen and kids start going to college, Freedman said. Offering legal and financial planning services can help reduce employee burdens in these situations. And, of course, offering a comprehensive retirement plan is a great incentive for employees to stay with a company, Freedman said.

Clients may balk at the additional costs of implementing lifestyle benefits, but they help safeguard against low employee morale and job turnover. Replacing existing employees can cost companies significant amounts of money, the panelists said.

“Offering these benefits is a soft dollar investment,” Freedman said. “Studies show it helps companies save money, but employers have to be in the mindset that this is the right thing to do.”

SOURCE: Webster, K. (25 February 2019) "Younger generations driving lifestyle benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/younger-generations-driving-lifestyle-benefits?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


How to build a multigenerational benefits strategy

Many employers and HR teams are now managing workforces that stretch across three to five different generations. Read this blog post to learn more about why having a multigenerational benefits strategy is important.


Employers and HR teams are managing employees for a workforce that stretches across three to five generations. This workforce is complex, and its workers have varying needs from generation to generation. That’s why a multigenerational benefits strategy is in order.

Baby boomers preparing for retirement may have an ongoing relationship with doctors and a number of medical appointments in a given year. On the other hand, millennials and members of Generation Z— the latest generation to enter the workforce — may shy away from primary care doctors and focus more on options to pay off student loans and start saving for retirement.

Given these dynamics, it’s important that two separate departments, finance and HR, need to develop a benefits strategy that keeps costs as low as possible while being useful to employees. Finance leaders understand they need to retain employees — turnover is expensive — but they’re still interested in cost containment strategies.

Employers should approach their multigenerational benefits strategy on finding a balance between cost containment and employee engagement.

Cost containment

For the first time in six years, the number of employers offering only high-deductible health plans is set to drop 9%. But the idea of employee consumerism is here to stay as employers see modest rises in health insurance premiums.

To effectively contain costs, employers should first weigh the pros and cons of their funding model. While most companies start out with fully-insured models, employers should seriously evaluate a move toward self-funding. Sure, self-funding requires a larger appetite for risk, but it provides insight into claims and utilization data that you can leverage to make informed decisions about cost containment.

One way to move toward a self-funded model is with level-funding, which allows employers the benefit of claims data while paying a consistent premium each month. In a level-funded plan, employers work with a third-party administrator to determine their expected claims for the year. This number, plus administrative fees and stop-loss coverage, divided by 12, becomes the monthly premium.

A tiered contribution model might also help to contain costs without negatively affecting employees. In a typical benefit plan, employers cover a specific percentage and employees contribute the rest — say 90% and 10%, respectively. In a tiered contribution plan, employees with salaries under a certain dollar amount pay less than those high earners. That means your employee making $48,000 pays $50, while your employee making $112,000 pays more. It’s a way to distribute the contribution across the workforce that enables everyone to more easily shoulder the burden of rising healthcare costs.

Employee engagement

To create a roadmap that not only helps you gain control of your multigenerational benefits strategy but keeps employees of all ages happy, it’s necessary to consider employee engagement. While new options like student loan repayment could be useful to part of your workforce, it’s best to start much simpler with something that affects everyone: time away from work.

A more aggressive paid time off policy, telecommuting policies and paid family leave are becoming increasingly popular. Many companies are offering PTO just for employees to pursue charitable work — a benefit that resonates with younger workers and can improve company culture. And a generous telecommuting policy recognizes that employees have different needs and shows that employers understand their modern, diverse workforce. Beyond basic time away from work, an extended leave policy outside what the law guarantees is another tool that can keep employees engaged.

Making it easier for employees to get care is another trending benefit, which can keep employees happy and contribute to cost containment. Concierge telemedicine has been called the modern version of a doctor’s house call. This relatively inexpensive benefit provides your employees access to care 24/7 by phone or video chat, which is convenient regardless of the user’s generation.

Employees and other covered individuals can connect to a doctor to discuss symptoms and get advice, whether they are prescribed a medication or they need to seek further care. This is another benefit that’s useful for young workers who may not have a primary care doctor or older workers with families.

Finally, your tech-savvy workforce expects to access their plan information wherever they need it. Ensure your carrier offers a mobile app to house insurance cards, coverage and provider information.

When it comes to a multigenerational benefits strategy, creating harmony between finance and HR might seem like a daunting task. But considering some relatively small benefit changes could be what allows you to offer a benefits package that pleases both departments — and all of your employees.

SOURCE: Blemlek, G. (26 February 2019) "How to build a multigenerational benefits strategy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-build-a-multigenerational-benefits-strategy?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value

Employers are seeking alternative ways to get a better value when it comes to their healthcare spending. Read this blog post to learn more about alternative health options.


While employers may be the largest purchasers of healthcare outside of the federal government, rarely does one organization have enough influence when negotiating with the powerful health plans and provider systems. As a result, employers — and ultimately the consumers for whom they purchase healthcare services — pay the price.

Instead of taking these lumps of coal sitting down, there are a growing number of employers on the cutting edge of healthcare purchasing seeking alternative ways in 2019 to get better value for their healthcare spending. They are looking for the diamonds in the rough.

In more than half of the healthcare markets in the U.S., providers have merged reducing competition and leaving employers and consumers with little choice for their care. Employers must stop insisting that health insurance products provide access to the broadest network of healthcare providers — if providers know they’ll be kept “in network” no matter how they behave, employers and payers further reduce their negotiating position. Employers also should band together to be sizable enough to call the shots, but this rarely happens.

While this lack of market power and influence is a major frustration for employers, it’s far from the only one. Educated employers also know that the healthcare system produces uneven quality and high prices have nothing to do with excellent care. The amount an employer pays for a service merely represents the relative negotiating strength of the health insurance carriers and providers.

As prices continue to drive healthcare cost growth, Americans are finding their healthcare unaffordable and are willing to trade choice for affordability. Many Americans no longer view having the ability to pick any doctor they choose as essential if it means increased premiums and cost-sharing that comes at the expense of other basic needs. These shifting attitudes represent an opportunity for employers seeking diamonds to pursue the following new healthcare benefits options. Here are some.

Narrow networks: Health insurance plans built around a narrower network that cuts out care providers who are outlandishly expensive or have a particularly poor record on quality. Alternatively, center a smaller network around a direct contract with an accountable care organization selected for its potential to deliver higher quality and value. More commercial health insurance carriers and lesser known third-party administrators are offering and supporting these options. Premiums and cost-sharing are typically lower for the consumer than with broader network plans.

Centers of excellence (CoE): Steer patients to designated high-quality providers with expertise in a given medical area who are willing to enter into an alternative payment arrangement or offer a more reasonable price in return for more patients. Make CoEs attractive through more generous coverage or make them mandatory if employees want an elective or non-emergent procedure (e.g., bariatric or spine surgery). Either way, employers reduce the risk that employees will receive subpar or low value care.

Alternative sites of care: Increase access to and use of alternative sites of care including onsite or near-site clinics and telehealth services. These enhance the convenience of primary or behavioral healthcare for employees and can help the employer better control referrals to overpriced hospitals or specialists.

So, move over mainstream. When it comes to the tactics employers use to purchase healthcare, alternative is likely to become less fringe. Narrow networks, CoEs or alternative sites of care may not solve all of the frustrations. But employers’ pursuit of these new models sends a strong signal that lumps of coal aren’t going to cut it. Employers are on the hunt for a shinier, more attractive set of solutions.

SOURCE: "Move over mainstream: Alternative health options a road to better value" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/move-over-mainstream-alternative-health-options-a-road-to-better-value?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


4 ways to help employees master their HDHPs in 2019

How can employers help their employees better understand their High Deductible Health Plans? Whether your employees are HDHP veterans or newbies, there are things companies can do to help improve employee understanding. Read on to learn more.


With 2018 in the books, now is a great time to give HDHP veterans and newbies at your company some help understanding — and squeezing more value out of — their plans in 2019.

Here are four simple steps your HR team can take over the next few months to put employees on the right track.

1. Post a jargon-free FAQ page on your intranet

When: Two weeks before your new plan year begins

Keep your FAQ at ten questions (and answers!), maximum. Otherwise, your employees can get overwhelmed by their health plans and by the FAQ.

When writing up the answers, pretend you’re talking directly to an employee who doesn’t know any of the insurance jargon you do. Keep it simple and straightforward.

Make sure your questions reflect the concerns of different employee types: Millennials who haven’t had insurance before, older employees behind on retirement, employees about to have a new kid, etc. To get a clear sense of these concerns, invite a diverse group of 5-7 employees out for coffee and ask them.

Some sample questions for your FAQ might be:
• Is an HSA different from an FSA?
• Do I have to open an HSA?
• How much money should I put in my HSA?
• This plan looks way more expensive than my PPO. What gives?

2. Send a reminder email about setting up an HSA and/or choosing a monthly contribution amount

When: The first week of the new plan year

When your employees don’t take advantage of their HSA not only do they miss out on low-hanging tax savings, your company misses out on payroll tax savings, too.

So right at the start of the new year, send an email that explains why it’s important to set up a contribution amount right away.

A few reasons why it’s really important to do this:

  • You can’t use any HSA funds until your account is fully set up and you’ve chosen how much you’re going to contribute.
  • If you pay for any healthcare at all next year, and don’t contribute to your HSA, you’re doing it wrong. Why? You don’t pay taxes on any of the money you put into your HSA and then spend on eligible health care…which puts real money back in your pocket. (Last year, the average HSA user contributed about $70 every two weeks and saved $267 in taxes as a result!)
  • There’s no “use it or lose it” rule! Any money you put into your HSA this year is yours to use for medical expenses the rest of your life. And once you turn 65, you can use it for anything at all. A Mediterranean cruise. A life-size Build-a-Bear. You name it.

3. Give your HDHP newbies tips on navigating their first visit to the doctor and pharmacy

When: The week insurance cards are mailed out

When employees who are used to PPO-style co-pays realize they have to pay more upfront with their HDHP, they can get…cranky. And start to doubt their plan choice — or worse, you as their employer choice.

So set expectations ahead of time to avoid employee sticker shock and to prevent you from getting an earful. Specifically, remind employees which types of visits are considered preventative care (and likely free) and which aren’t. Then explain their options when it comes to paying for — and getting reimbursed for — the visit.

4. Share tips on saving money on care with all your HDHP users

When: Any time before the end of the first quarter of the year

Specifically, you might recommend that your employees:

  • Check prescription prices on a site like Goodrx.com before they buy their meds
  • Visit an urgent care center instead of the ER, if they’re sick or hurt but it’s not life-threatening
  • Use a telemedicine tool (if your company offers one) to get free online medical advice without having to leave their Kleenex-riddled beds

Sure, following this communication schedule requires extra elbow grease. But if you defuse your employees’ stress and confusion early, they’ll feel more prepared to take control of their healthcare and get the most out of their plans. And as a bonus, you and your team get to spend less time answering panicked questions the rest of the year.

SOURCE: Calvin, H. (2 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees master their HDHPs in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-ways-to-help-employees-master-their-hdhps-in-2019