Employee Benefits: Planning Ahead

In the past year, employers have had to make significant adjustments to their benefits packages to cope with the pandemic. Most significantly, employers with less than 500 employees have had to adopt new paid leave policies to help employees combat COVID-19 and new childcare demands, with 44% planning on expanding their paid leave benefits in 2021.

But that isn’t the only thing that’s changed. As employers look ahead to upcoming open enrollment and prepare for the year ahead, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Virtual enrollment

Since in-person meetings are sharply declining for safety concerns, employers are shifting the yearly in-person meeting with their broker to virtual walk-throughs over the phone, or doing it themselves online. But it’s more important than ever that employers get the most help they can when it comes to their employee benefits plans.

The changing needs of the workforce, the blowback from delayed elective surgeries, and new regulations mean there’ a lot employers have to navigate if they want to see solid ROI on their benefits packages.

To best prepare your business for the upcoming virtual enrollment period, start by checking off this list:

  • Do some preliminary research and see what’s out there. Get a feel for what other employers of a similar size and industry are doing.
  • Ask your employees what they need the most. Create a tiered list of benefits they express a need for, and benefits they would appreciate, but don’t require.
  • Create a detailed list of questions.
  • Call your broker with your questions and the information you gathered and walk through what’s available to you, making sure to take note of everything.

Research preparation will help you cover all the bases and avoid any gaps or lost opportunities. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do sufficient research and get answers to your questions.

2. Shifting the basics

As you plan for the year to come, take stock of all the changes your organization has gone through in the last months. Have you gone partially or fully remote? Are you considering offering remote positions at your company moving forward? Do you have young parents on your team who are juggling new childcare challenges?

Your benefits strategy may very likely need to be updated to meet the challenges relevant to your employees today. To attract, retain, and engage talent, it’s essential you understand their needs and offer resources for them to maintain a healthy life, both physically and mentally.

And that looks different for remote employees, parents with children at home, and employees suffering from increased strain on their mental health due to the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic. The basics of employee benefit packages need to shift around these new and different challenges to adjust appropriately.

3. Benefits communication

With the vast majority of organizations still working remote and expecting to continue doing so into the year to come, employers must create a solid virtual communication strategy around their employee benefits.

Depending on the technical skill level and abilities of your employees, you may want to offer varying types of education and support around how to use their benefits. Especially with heightened awareness around healthcare, employees may be more anxious to learn everything they can about their benefits to help ease some of their anxiety.

4. Planning for changing costs

With so much up in the air, leaders in healthcare are warning that cost projections for next year are cloudy at best. Increased demand for mental health services, the blowback from delayed elective surgeries, and potential vaccine costs are making it difficult for employers to prepare financially for the unknowns. To help with this, talk with your employees about what services they expect to need. Work with your broker to define a strategy that works best for your business.

Stay tuned

As circumstances change, be sure to keep a finger on the pulse of the insurance industry. Keep tabs on how your employees are feeling and what their concerns are moving forward. Although this can feel overwhelming, remember that there are many resources available to you to help guide you through the confusion and change.

Work closely with your broker and expect them to provide you with objective, informative information. Your broker should be your right-hand man during the next few months, and if they aren’t preparing you with strategies, education, and support, you may need to look elsewhere. As you move through the upcoming six months, stay informed, in touch, and open to new solutions and ideas, and you will come out the other side successfully.

 

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Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Employers, It’s Time to Talk About Telehealth

It’s been a hard year. For businesses, families, individuals, the economy, Australia—basically everyone but our pets. The strain on our collective psyche has worried healthcare professionals who are struggling to adapt to increased demand while trying to deal with disrupted delivery of their services caused by the pandemic.

In late July, the Center for Disease Control released a report that showed 40% of adults reporting they were struggling with increased mental health difficulties and substance abuse coping due to the pandemic.

The world of healthcare has seen a massive shift towards virtual healthcare or telehealth services in recent months. A study from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine found that NYU Langone Health experienced a 683% increase in urgent virtual care visits and a staggering 4,345% increase in non-urgent virtual doctor visits.

What does this mean for employers?

While employers have slowly been integrating teleservices into their benefits packages for some time, they may not have seen much enthusiasm towards the services until now. And that increase isn’t expected to go away. It’s projected that the telehealth industry will see a compound annual growth rate of nearly 40% over the next five years.

So, what exactly does that mean for employers? That it’s well past time to ensure they are offering telehealth services to their employees, not just as a quick fix, but as a long-term solution. Because of the pandemic, most providers have successfully made the switch to offering virtual care, allowing those already with insurance to stick to what’s available to them.

But that may not be enough. Employers must make telehealth services available to their employees—not just in the form of physical wellness, but behavioral and mental health.

As the effects of the pandemic continue to wear on individuals and families, it will be increasingly less likely that organizations will avoid seeing these effects in their employees. They must take steps now to help prevent further harmful effects from manifesting in their employees by creating systems that can successfully address these issues as they arise.

Where to go, and who to ask

There’s a lot of information about different services and how they’ve made a difference for employers. To get a handle on all of it, take these steps:

  • First, do your research. Ask your broker about telehealth services you can provide and read up on them.
  • Survey your employees. Find out what they want and need.
  • Create an implementation plan. Educate your employees, not just once, or in one way. Some of your employees may not be as comfortable adapting to new technology as others, so make sure you provide ample training and assistance to use it successfully.

Going forward

Like any new system, benefit, or practice you introduce to your employees, it’s critical you don’t just set it up and forget about it. Monitor the program closely and follow up with your employees to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Identify areas that can be improved and locate issues to address.

Now is not the time to be haphazard about your process. While the pandemic may make telehealth services easier to implement in some ways, remember that it is an attempt to address a critical issue that can quite literally mean life or death depending on its success or failure.

In the end, the best thing that employers, leaders, organizers, and advocates can do is work together to provide the best quality care to the largest number of people. Make sure you’re doing your part to support your employees and set them (and your business) up for success.

 

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Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

Healthcare predictions: What’s in Store for This Year and Beyond?

Guest blog content provided to Q4iNetwork consultants by freshbenies freshbenies-Logo-CMYK 2018

Love it or hate it, healthcare changes over time— as do the consequences for employers, employees, providers, and patients.

Each year, freshbenies attends dozens of conferences, speaks with thousands of benefits consultants, and reads hundreds of thousands of words about this industry. After all, we’re in this thing together.

Based on what we’ve learned, here are ten predictions for the coming year.

1. Costs will rise. Again.

This seems so obvious to those of us within the industry. So why even list it? Let alone as number one? Because it can’t be ignored, and it continues to rise. Last year, the annual healthcare costs for a family of four were over $28,000. Bottom line: families will continue to carry higher portions of healthcare increases, and it shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten.

2. Low unemployment will drive creativity.

While rate increases are a constant, the biggest shift this year is to a 3.7% unemployment rate. Fear of loss is always a better motivator than the desire for gain. A tight labor market will drive employers to try innovative solutions more readily. This includes creative benefit plan designs, perk programs and programs for non-benefitted employees.

3. Innovative benefit plans will gain momentum. 

The pendulum will begin to swing toward less traditional plans, including:

  • Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID)
  • Reference-based pricing models
  • Association health plans
  • Captive medical plans 
  • Direct Primary Care (DPC) 
  • High-performance centers of excellence

When suggested in the recent past, many companies have declined to install these ideas amid complaints of complexity, employee confusion or skepticism of savings. But given the low unemployment rate and the fact that consultants are getting better at explaining these solutions and pulling them together – these types of benefit plans will increase. 

4. Perks will pop.

Perks will continue to gain interest and traction. Services like gym memberships, healthcare navigation experts, telehealth, consumerism savings networks, pet care, identity theft protection, flexible hours, remote work, student loan repayment, car wash services, free snack programs, etc. are often the things people list when they brag about their workplace culture. They’ve become differentiators even among the big expense of health insurance. An employer can lose an employee to another company from the draw of perks that scratch an itch employees didn’t even know they had.

5. “Caring” support for workers will grow.

Every employer says they care about their people. But how do they actively show it? Smart employers are getting significant PR power by touting two specific sets of services…

  • Behavioral Health – The US Department of Health & Human Services estimates that 96.5M Americans live in areas with shortages of mental health providers. Effective tools that offer video visits with counselors and psychiatrists or even text-based guidance with specialists provide employees with new methods of care.
  • Caregiver Support – It’s estimated that 1 in 5 employees care for an adult family member or friend. This significantly affects an employee’s work life by adding stress and taking 15 to 20 hours of their time each week. New solutions are capturing employer interests, such as services that pair employees with a licensed coach whose expertise best matches their specific caregiving situation, as well as secure portals for documentation and collaboration. These benefits bring much-needed help, increase productivity and build tremendous loyalty. 

6. Engagement will drive more decisions. 

Continued rate increases coupled with poorly-implemented cost containment tools will draw employers to focus on achieving employee engagement. Stats revealing low utilization will bring cancelation of past programs. A shift will take place from checking the box of offering a service to moving the needle on ROI via higher utilization. 

Employers will be driving employees to programs that:

  • reduce in-patient, urgent care or emergency room visits
  • include Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), Centers of Excellence, and wearables
  • help employees effectively navigate the healthcare system, from selecting top-tier physicians, and providing price transparency to medical bill review and negotiation

7. AI growth will not be artificial.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in the healthcare app space will surpass $1.7 billion this year, while health data analytics will reach $68 billion. The strongest advancements will be with machine learning in diagnostic imaging, drug research, and risk analytics. On the benefits side, we’ll see AI functions being touted throughout websites and apps.

8. Little help will come from DC (Republicans)

With a divided Congress, we can’t expect significant changes in federal health laws over the next couple years. Rather, most changes to the “flavor” of ACA will come from the thousands of issues inside the law that were at the discretion of the various departments like Health & Human Services. 

Hopefully, we’ll see bipartisan agreement with updates to Health Savings Account (HSA) laws. What’s controversial about that, right? Right. Be hopeful, but don’t hold your breath.

9. Lots of single-payer talk will come from DC (Democrats)

Remember when Republicans had one consistent chant of “repeal and replace?” Turns out it was a great slogan, but there was no actual plan to implement it. That’s exactly what “single-payer” is among Democrats this year. 

Lawmakers have many different ideas about what these two words mean, but that won’t slow them down. Single-payer was one of the top subjects during the 2018 mid-term elections and it will gain traction throughout 2019, right into the 2020 election. But it’s unlikely that a workable plan will be developed.

10. True employee benefit consultants will be in demand.

Brokers who aren’t consistently improving their knowledge will fall by the wayside. Consolidation will continue and true consultants will be in demand more than ever before. 

What does this look like? True employee benefits consultants will stop talking about how many decades they’ve been in business and start talking about how they can deliver results to the businesses they help.

They will separate themselves from the broker crowd by coming up with new ideas and new solutions that deliver better healthcare while keeping costs in check.

And when it comes down to it, isn’t that the future we all want to see?

 

Photo credit Andriy Popov 

Out of Pocket Costs: 3 Pain Points to Address

Guest blog content provided to Q4iNetwork consultants by freshbenies freshbenies-Logo-CMYK 2018

It’s a sad healthcare reality that more and more Americans are being forced to decide whether they can afford to use their medical plans.

And while great brokers and employers are implementing strategic ideas to contain skyrocketing out of pocket costs, it seems to become even more challenging every year.

Employers are paying more to provide coverage, but employees and their families are also paying more than ever before as out of pocket costs continue to rise.

Here are three key problems associated with rising out of pocket costs that must be addressed by businesses and employee benefits advisors alike.

1. Shrinking coverage and higher costs go hand in hand 

Employers are paying higher prices for plans with shrinking networks and narrowed formularies. These plans are forcing families to shoulder over 40% of medical cost, which averages about $11,500 annually— with $4500 of that being out of pocket spend. This has resulted in an increase of more than $1,000 every year for working families for the last four years running.

How do smaller networks and the rising cost of care play out? Consider this statistic: one-third of patients are referred to specialists each year, and 50% of those referrals are out-of-network.

With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see how the pain points of rising premiums, smaller networks and high out of pocket costs quickly collide for employees. 

2. Foregoing care is costly for everyone

High Deductible Health Plans have been associated with a 55% reduction in office visits.

On the front end, HSAs have consistently remained a strong option for lower premiums and tax incentives, driven by the idea that it would empower employees to be better consumers. On the back end, however, we’re seeing that without providing practical transparency tools, education, and direction on how to navigate the cavernous healthcare space, people are tending to just avoid it altogether. Which means they are skipping both inappropriate and appropriate care. 

The great irony is that while the US spends the most on healthcare, we are not among the healthiest populations. Too often, Americans are being forced to decide whether they can afford to use their medical plans.

From missing an early diagnosis for a major medical issue to foregoing care for a respiratory issue that later lands an employee in the ER, these decisions are costly for families— and for employer-provided medical plans as well.

And if that wasn’t enough, people are also skimping on medications due to the rising cost of prescription drugs, which brings us to our third issue.

3. Rx is a BIG contributing factor 

Three in ten Americans (about 32 million people) have been hit with price hikes on drugs they routinely take. Most consumers feel they have little to no options when facing this situation.

This pharmacy out of pocket cost driver cannot be ignored. A few things to consider:

  • Increasing use of specialty drugs will prove to be the fastest growing cost component in any medical plan.
  • Removing medications from medical plans doesn’t remove the need for that prescription.
  • Empowering employees with tools and education can uncover more cost-effective options.

Higher overall medical costs, coupled with soaring out of pocket spend, make it harder to care for your employees and their families. The time to accept this as the norm is over. It’s time to do better by and for everyone.

If you’re working with a forward-thinking employee benefits broker to find creative new ways to address and solve these problems, you’re on your way to being part of the solution.

 

Photo credit vimvertigo 

Are You Working With an Insurance Salesperson or a Benefits Consultant? Here’s How to Tell.

Today’s employers are screaming for an increased ROI on their employee benefits. They want an affordable option that takes care of themselves, their families, their employees, and their businesses.

Meanwhile, healthcare costs continue to spiral and the demands on HR have become increasingly complex. This puts employers in a difficult position having to navigate some very complicated and expensive circumstances.

Is it all about cost?

Every business needs to have some degree of control over these critical factors related to benefits and employees.

  • The cost of the benefit/insurance program
  • The time demands of service issues associated with the program
  • Clearly defined goals for the HR/benefit/insurance efforts
  • Their ability to attract/retain the best talent
  • The level of morale and employee engagement in the organization

Historically, insurance brokers have only focused on the first two items: The cost of the program and how it will be serviced.

But as the needs of employers change, so too should the level of discussion and the range of advice your insurance consultant brings to the table.

Sales vs. Consulting

An insurance salesperson will come in talking about two main things:

  • The Product
  • The Price

They may also try to sell you on their great customer service and the power of your relationship with them and their relationship with the carriers. But this is where it ends. 

An employee benefits consultant won’t come in talking at all.

And they won’t breeze in with a spreadsheet full of carriers, price points, and policy recommendations. No, a true benefits consultant will come to you with a list of questions.

In order to be able to offer ideas and advice on how to improve your business through a strategic employee benefits strategy, they need to hear from you. What are your most pressing issues? Your pain points? Those things that are not only keeping you up at night, but also keeping your business from getting where you want it to be?

Ye Olde sales pitch

“We have great relationships with the carriers! Let us give you a free insurance quote! We can beat your price!”

“Nobody provides better service than we do! We’ll be like an extension of your HR department!”

“Look at all of the ‘free stuff’ we’ll give you if you become a client!”

If you’re hearing these things, you’re probably working with a salesperson.

A new approach

True benefits consultants are much more interested in helping employers craft strategies for better alignment between HR and company goals.

Yes, they are committed to ensuring their clients have the right insurance solutions at the right price, but they also understand that insurance is just one part of the answer they must bring to their clients. These folks show up with a level of insatiable curiosity focused on uncovering what may be holding your organization back from reaching new heights.

This kind of conversation can cover anything from employee recruitment and onboarding to benefits communication to plan design to compensation structures to wellness programs and more.

The name game

Don’t be fooled by the terminology. Just because a broker refers to himself as a consultant doesn’t mean he is one. And just because a consultant refers to herself as a broker or agent doesn’t mean she’s simply swooping in for the hard sell. You’ll need to make your assessment based on the focus and level of conversation presented to you.

If it’s all about product, carriers, price, and spreadsheets – you’re probably working with a salesperson. Or a glorified distributor of carrier products.

If it’s all about you, your HR and company goals, your employees, your strategy, their process to help you with those things, and a clear distinction between the insurance carrier and their own advising services, you’re talking to a consultant.

Who would you rather work with?

A policy peddler who focuses on one year at a time or a trusted advisor who wants to help you create a long-term strategy for success?

Think about your current insurance agent. Which category does that person fall into? Is it time to take a look at some other options?

It can be daunting to think about breaking ties and starting anew. But it can also be a great opportunity for you to take your benefits, your broker, and your business to a whole new level of performance.

 

Content provided by Q4iNetwork and partners

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