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


CMS Publishes 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Final Rule

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released its final rule and fact sheet regarding benefit payment and parameters for 2020. Read this blog post from UBA to find out which topics this final rule addresses.


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published its final rule and fact sheet for benefit payment and parameters for 2020. Although the final rule primarily affects the individual market and the Exchanges, the final rule addresses the following topics that may impact employer-sponsored group health plans:

  • The 2020 maximum annual limitation on cost sharing is $8,150 for self-only coverage and $16,300 for other-than-self-only coverage.
  • For fully-insured plans, any indication of a reduction in the generosity of a benefit for individuals that is not based on clinically indicated, reasonable medical management practices is potentially discriminatory.
  • Amounts paid toward cost sharing using direct support by drug manufacturers (for example, coupons) to insured patients to reduce or eliminate immediate out-of-pocket costs for specific prescription brand drugs that have a generic equivalent are not required to be counted toward the annual limitation on cost sharing.
  • Federally Facilitated Small Business Health Options Programs (FF-SHOPs) may operate a toll-free hotline rather than a more robust call center.

The final rule is effective on June 24, 2019. The final rule generally applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (13 June 2019) "CMS Publishes 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Final Rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/cms-publishes-2020-benefit-payment-and-parameters-final-rule


What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines

Clinical guidelines are designed to optimize patient care in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. Read this blog post for what HR professionals should know about these guidelines.


Your employees and their family members frequently face tough questions about their healthcare: How do I know when it’s time to get a mammogram? When does my child need a vision screening? Should I get a thyroid screening? If I have high blood pressure or diabetes, what is the best treatment for me?

For the providers who care for them, the key question is: How do we implement appropriate, science-backed treatments for our patients, testing where needed, but avoiding potentially harmful or unnecessary (and expensive) care? The answer is to seek guidance from and use clinical guidelines —along with existing clinical skills — wisely.

Clinical guidelines are sets of science-based recommendations, designed to optimize care for patients in areas such as screening and testing, diagnosis and treatment. They are developed after a critical review by experts of current scientific data and additional evidence to help inform clinical decisions across a spectrum of specialties.

Based upon this process, guidelines are then released by a number of sources and collaborations, including academic and non-profit healthcare entities, government organizations and medical specialty organizations.

From preventive care to treatment protocols for chronic conditions, guidelines provide a framework healthcare providers use with patients to help guide care. However, it’s important to note that clinical guidelines are not rigid substitutes for professional judgment, and not all patient care can be encompassed within guidelines.

The impact on healthcare and benefits

Clinical guidelines are used in myriad ways across the healthcare spectrum, and providers are not the only ones who utilize them. Insurers also may use guidelines to develop coverage policies for specific procedures, services and treatment, which can affect the care your covered population receives.

To illustrate a key example of an intended impact of guidelines on health plan coverage, consider those issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose A and B level recommendations comprise the preventive services now covered at no cost under the mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

As another example, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which accredits health plans and improves the quality of care through its evidence-based measures, uses the American Heart Association guidelines when creating its quality rules for treating high cholesterol with statin drugs.

Other examples exist among commercial coverage policies. For example, some cancer drug reimbursement policies use components from nationally recognized guidelines for cancer care.

Because science is rapidly changing, guidelines are often updated, leading insurers to revisit their policies to decide if they will change how services and medications are covered for their members. Providers and health systems may modify processes of patient care in response to major changes in guidelines and/or resultant changes in payer reimbursement.

Not all guidelines are updated on a set schedule, making it even more important for providers and organizations that rely on guidelines to stay on top of changing information, as it can have a direct impact on how they work. Attending conferences, visiting the recently established ECRI Guidelines Trust, and regularly reviewing relevant professional association websites and journals can help ensure needed guidelines are current. Lack of current information can affect care decisions and potential outcomes for patients. Those who have access to the most up-to-date, evidence-based information are able to work together to make well-informed healthcare decisions.

Why it matters for employers

As employers or benefits consultants, it’s critical to ensure that your health plan, advocacy or decision support providers, and other partners that depend on this information to guide their practices and decisions understand and follow current, relevant guidelines.

Further, by combining information from relevant guidelines and data from biometric screenings, health risk assessments, claims and other sources, it’s possible for clinical advocacy and other decision support providers to identify employees with gaps in care and generate targeted communications (through a member website and/or mobile app) to help them take action to improve their health.

Clinical guidelines are science distilled into practical recommendations meant to be applied to most patients for quality healthcare. By maintaining current, relevant guidelines, organizations and providers who work with your covered population can ensure that all parties have the key information they need to make the best decisions for their health.

SOURCE: Sivalingam, J. (18 March 2019) "What HR pros should know about clinical guidelines" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-hr-managers-should-know-about-clinical-guidelines?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees

Over the last 20 years, there has been a growing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the United States. An estimated that 75% of patients with Type 2 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar. Read on to learn more.


Over the last 20 years, there’s been a growing prevalence in the U.S. of Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that significantly impacts employers, their employees and family members clinically, financially and through quality of life. With that comes an increase in the use of insulin for people with Type 2 diabetes to better control blood sugar to reduce long-term complications, which includes eye, kidney and cardiac disease, as well as neuropathic complications.

Most of these patients manage their condition with oral medicines versus insulin, and it’s estimated that 75% of patients with Type 2 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar, even though doing so may not be needed. Blood sugar testing is an important tool in managing diabetes as it can help a patient be more aware of their disease and potentially control it better. But it also can be painful, inconvenient and costly.

Blood sugar testing can be an important tool in managing diabetes, and there are two types of tests. The first is a test conducted at home by the patient that shows the blood sugar at a specific point in time. The second type is called HA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control) that shows the average blood sugar over the last two to three months. The value of at-home testing is now thought to be questionable.

In 2012, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute began a study to evaluate the value of daily blood sugar testing for people with Type 2 diabetes not taking insulin. The endpoint for the study was whether there was a difference in HA1c levels for those who did daily testing and those that did not. The conclusion of the study found that there were no significant differences between those two populations.

In response to these findings, the institute developed an initiative called Rethink the Strip that involves stakeholders including primary care practices, healthcare providers, patients, health plans, coalitions and employers. Given the cost for test strips and monitors for patients with Type 2 diabetes who test their blood sugar daily, it’s important to adopt an evidence-based patient-centered approach around the need for and frequency of self-monitoring of blood glucose.

As employees and employers cope with the costs associated with blood sugar testing, there are several strategies that should be considered to better manage this issue. They include:

1. Support shared decision-making. Like all interventions within healthcare, it’s important to weigh both the benefits and the risks of daily blood sugar testing in a thoughtful manner between the patient and their provider.

2. Managed benefit design. Employers should pay for daily blood sugar test strips in cases where it brings value (e.g., Type 1 and Type 2 patients who are taking insulin as well as patients that are either newly diagnosed or are going through a transition period, for example, post hospitalization or beginning a new medication regimen).

3. Involve vendors. To ensure alignment in all messaging to plan members, ask health systems and/or health plans and third-party vendors to align their communication, measurement and provider feedback strategies on when it’s appropriate for daily blood sugar testing.

These strategies can help employees with diabetes understand how their daily activities (nutrition, exercise and stress) and medications impact their condition. This benefits the employee in reaching treatment goals and feeling their best, while also helping employers and employees reduce the need for unnecessary and costly test strips.

SOURCE: Berger, J. (14 March 2019) "To check or not to check: Managing blood sugar in diabetic employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/managing-blood-sugar-in-diabetic-employees?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


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


It’s a job applicant’s market: What it means for employee benefits

Studies show that up to 60 percent of people recognize employee benefits as a major deciding factor when considered a job offer. Read this blog post to find out what today's hiring landscape means for employee benefits.


When it comes to employee benefits, stock options and paid holidays may no longer be enough to attract top talent — especially in today’s competitive hiring landscape.

With job openings on the rise, it has become more difficult for companies to compete for the most talented, highly sought-after candidates. The strong labor market also means more Americans are willing to quit their current job in favor of something better — in fact, this past year, employees voluntarily left jobs at the highest rate since 2001.

Comprehensive employee benefits packages have never been more important for employers looking to hire the best and brightest. Studies have shown as many as 60% of people cite benefits as a major deciding factor when considering whether to accept a job offer. The question is: What kinds of benefits are employees looking for most?

Of course, there are some benefits that have become commonplace among employers, including health and dental insurance, retirement plans and paid time off. However, these incentives may just be table stakes in the hiring game these days — for example, nearly half of privately owned firms in the United States offer health insurance, and 79% of Americans work for an employer sponsoring a 401(k)-style retirement plan.

Although many employees have come to expect benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, employers don’t need to go above and beyond as many larger companies, like Google, do — offering free meals and on-site haircuts. Flashy perks may seem appealing on the surface, but in reality, employees are seeking benefits that support them through — and help alleviate the stress that can come with — life’s major moments.

This kind of support can come in a number of forms. For example, many companies have seen their employees push for more comprehensive parental leave benefits, giving new parents time they need to refresh and bond with their child. While many countries around the world offer more than a year of paid parental leave, the U.S. doesn’t guarantee paid time off for new parents, and the national average for parents taking time off after having a child is only 10 weeks.

Employees may want to feel empowered to further their education or professional development, helping to bolster their confidence in their career. Starbucks is a proponent of this. To help employees take their education to the next level, the company offers full tuition reimbursement for online degrees through Arizona State University.

These benefits are great, but don’t cover all aspects of life where employees need support. For example, if an employee finds themselves in a situation where they need to care for an elderly parent, family leave may not be enough — especially as they find themselves navigating complicated Medicare/Medicaid documents and nursing home or hospice payments. Particularly in situations that pack on a lot of additional stress, companies can provide comprehensive financial wellness plans as a way to give their workforce peace of mind.

Financial wellness plans are an emerging area of employee benefits and provide assistance with everything from estate planning, to advice from certified personal accountants, to identity theft protection. There’s a clear demand for these services, too. PWC’s 2018 financial wellness survey found that over 50% of employees are stressed about their finances and want help.

Financial wellness plans don’t just offer practical benefits, but emotional benefits as well. Most people don’t realize how many instances in life, big or small, require some form of financial guidance, and without any professional support, these matters can be intensely stressful. Whether an employee is creating a prenuptial agreement, taking out a mortgage when buying their first house, or trying to navigate student loans when sending their child to college, knowing their company provides support and counsel for these situations alleviates the associated pressure. Employees want to know their employers can help them tackle anything life throws at them.

Ultimately, employees have come to expect benefits and perks providing coverage for all stages of life — whether they’re planning to have a child, want to take time to get their degree or are beginning to think about estate planning on top of traditional retirement planning. To attract and retain the best talent in 2019, employers should think first and foremost about how they can support their workforce in achieving financial wellness.

SOURCE: Freedman, D. (22 January 2019) "It’s a job applicant’s market: What it means for employee benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/its-a-job-applicants-market-what-it-means-for-employee-benefits


Goodbye group benefits. Hello personalized pay

With diverse expectations about pay and benefit packages, off-the-shelf benefit options are presenting employers with a challenge. Continue reading to learn more about benefit and pay expectations.


In the past, it was typical for a company to provide all employees with access to the same group benefits — regardless of their age, demographics or education level. From health insurance to retirement plans and paid time off, these uniform benefit packages were designed to meet the needs of the entire workforce in one fell swoop.

But over the past few years, these off-the-shelf benefit options have presented a bit of a challenge. With five generations now in the workplace — Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and the silent generation — there are diverse expectations about pay and benefit packages.

For example, baby boomers and the silent generation tend to value health insurance and a robust retirement plan. Meanwhile, Gen X workers seek a healthy work-life balance, advancement opportunities and a competitive 401(k) — or a retirement savings plan that lets you set aside and invest money from your paycheck, to which your employer can then contribute. Millennials and Gen Z prioritize flexibility — they want more paid time off, the ability to work when and where they wish and tuition reimbursement.

There is no one-size-fits-all compensation package that can fairly satisfy each generation of workers. Employees today want to feel heard, understood and cared for by their employer. Furthermore, most want a job that fits with their personal interests and lifestyle.

As a result, companies are moving away from traditional group benefits and taking a more personalized approach to compensation.

Many organizations are using social listening tools, focus groups and surveys to gather information about the types of benefits employees want. Others are taking it a step further and having one-on-one conversations to determine what motivates each individual worker and provides them with a sense of purpose at work. How else will we know what, specifically, each employee wants unless we ask them?

By collecting this information, organizations can tailor packages that effectively meet the varying wants and needs of the diverse workforce. They’re offering mixes of pay, bonuses, flex time, paid time off, retirement plans, student loan repayment assistance and professional growth opportunities. Some companies have designed an a la carte menu of benefits, with which employees can pick and choose the perks they care most about.

According to a recent survey conducted by WorldatWork and KornFerry, organizations also are offering more non-traditional benefits that can further acknowledge employees’ concerns and responsibilities outside of work. Eldercare resource and referral services, women advancement initiatives and disaster relief funds all became significantly more prevalent in employee benefits programs within the last year. Telemedicine, identity theft insurance and paid parental leave offerings increased as well.

And many organizations are taking innovation one step further. One firm recently introduced a new benefits reward program in which employees earn points based on both personal and company-wide achievements and then cash them in for perks across various categories: health and wellness, travel, housing, transportation, time off, annual grocery passes — you name it. The purpose is to give employees the power to choose the types of perks that mean the post to them.

Personalized pay can boost attraction and retention

The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, and the war for talent is extremely tough. The average tenure for workers is 4.6 years. For millennials, it’s half that.

This sort of high employee turnover can take a massive toll on a company’s bottom line: Experts estimate that it can cost up to twice an employee’s salary to recruit and train a replacement. Not to mention, employee churn can damage company morale and tarnish your company’s reputation.

Customized pay and benefits plans can make an employer be more attractive in a tight, crowded job market. If you want to not only attract top talent but retain them as well, it’s worth taking the time to understand what matters to your candidates and offering them personalized pay and reward packages.

Organizations need to introduce more flexibility into their pay packages and adapt to the needs of the changing workforce. After all, when you invest in your employees, you invest in the overall success and performance of your business.

SOURCE: Wesselkamper, B. (11 February 2019) "Goodbye group benefits. Hello personalized pay" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tailored-employee-benefit-plans-gaining-popularity


With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?

Do your remote workers take sick days when needed? With many employees working from home full time, the idea of a sick day could become out of date. Continue reading this post from SHRM to learn more.


Your advertising manager works from home full time. She has a nasty cold. But hey—she only needs to walk a few steps from her bedroom to her desk, can nap when she needs to and won't infect her colleagues. So she doesn't really need to take a sick day, right?

Well, she probably should, but as remote work continues to rise, workplace experts find that those who do their jobs from home are inclined to stay on the clock while soldiering through colds, the flu and other maladies—in part because they don't want to appear to be taking advantage of their work-from-home benefit.

"Remote workers find it hard to integrate work with the rest of their life because it is so easy to overwork and even plow through your work while you are sick," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm. "If you are only traveling from your bedroom to your home office, remote workers may rationalize, 'What harm can be done if I work while I am sick? At least I'm not contagious.' "

In addition, the advent of remote working has introduced another trend: managers suggesting that onsite employees work from home when they're sick.

"It's no secret that many [workplaces] have cultures that encourage the 'always-on' mentality," said Erica Denner, head of people and culture at YouEarnedIt/HighGround, an Austin, Texas-based company that focuses on employee recognition, rewards and performance management. "In my experience, I've found that because of this, employees at these organizations can find it difficult to ask for time off when they're sick and are often encouraged to work from home instead."

Circumstances Matter

Thanks to technology that facilitates remote work, there are instances when working during what otherwise would have been a sick day may actually be a win for the employee and employer.

"There are all kinds of reasons to take sick days," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and a senior research advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management. "If employees have a condition that affects their ability to be mobile, like a broken bone or torn tendon, they might have to take a sick day if they work in a traditional workplace because travel to work would be difficult, but they could easily work at home. I can think of other such illnesses, such as having something contagious and not wanting to infect others but feeling good enough to work or being postoperative and being able to work in short spurts. Working at home could be ideal for that."

Consider U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recovered from cancer surgery at home but nonetheless heard arguments in a case before the court. A court spokesperson said Ginsburg would participate "on the basis of briefs, filings and transcripts," CNBC reported.

But if working while ill prevents an employee from fully resting and recuperating, this will likely hinder performance—and even future productivity and morale.

"If an employee is really sick, he or she might power through and get a few things done but might not do them well," Galinsky said.

Working through your cold, sore throat or flu not only can lead to a decline in physical well-being but "also can present mental health challenges," Meister said.

Contractors, or so-called gig workers, in particular, may be wary of taking sick time. Lacking job security, they may fear that doing so would make them appear dispensable to their employers.

What Employers Can Do

To discourage employees from avoiding sick days because they're working remotely:

Communicate to employees that you expect them to take time off when they're sick. Or, encourage them to be open about how much work, if any, they feel they can accomplish. "If you can't produce high-quality work, even from the comfort of your own home, when you're under the weather, relay that message to your manager," Denner said. "If they value your contributions and are a good supervisor, they will understand and step in to help until you're feeling better."

At YouEarnedIt/HighGround, workers are asked to make it clear when they are out sick and unavailable. This includes setting up not only the typical out-of-office notification by e-mail but also notifications across productivity platforms the company uses, such as Slack. "It's remarkable how effective turning on the 'out sick' emoji in Slack is in terms of alerting colleagues you need time to recover," Denner said. "When employees are out on a longer-term medical leave, we actually remove their technology access so they can't check e-mails or Slack. This way, the employee doesn't feel guilty or obligated to respond to messages."

Talk about the importance of taking sick days for one's physical and mental well-being. Bring up the topic during all-hands meetings with onsite as well as remote workers. In benefits materials and handouts, address the importance of taking sick days.

Ensure that managers and executives take sick days themselves. When a boss shows up at a meeting sniffling and coughing, she sends the clear message that work is too important to be interrupted by illness. And that only leaves her subordinates feeling guilty if they take sick days.

"We've found that [modeling sick-day behavior] actually goes a long way in not just encouraging our employees to do the same, but also in further solidifying a culture of trust and respect," Denner said.

Encourage remote workers to take time for themselves even when they're healthy—such as taking a midday break—and reinforce how this is important for their well-being and productivity.

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (6 February 2019) "With the Advent of Remote Work, Is the ‘Sick Day’ Becoming Passé?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/remote-workers-and-sick-days-.aspx


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