Entries in Employers (14)

Friday
Sep192014

Humana Study on Workplace Wellness: It’s not just ROI

By Clive Riddle, September 19, 2014 

Humana has just published a 22 page report Measuring wellness: From data to insights which based on their study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, examining “why companies implement workplace wellness, how data influences these programs and identifies obstacles that inhibit program participation.” The study surveyed 225 U.S.-based executives and 630 full-time employees from organizations with workplace wellness programs. 

Beth Bierbower, President of Humana’s Employer Group Segment, tells us “It’s interesting to validate that employers now view ROI as an important, but not exclusive or even primary measure of a wellness program’s success. Employers are now seeing that employee health is important beyond health care costs, it has profound impacts on productivity, retention, workplace engagement and morale.” The report states that instead of asking about ROI, “perhaps the question should be, ‘do we improve health at a reasonable price’ as opposed to ‘do we save money by doing so.’” 

Here are some key findings highlighted from the study:

  • Nearly 70 percent of executives consider their organization’s wellness program to be cost effective, even though not all of the outcomes are measurable.
  • While 86 percent of executives say improving employee health as an indirect driver of productivity, morale and engagement is their top reason for implementing a wellness program, cost factors are still important, including reducing employee health care costs (66 percent) and controlling medical claims (48 percent).
  • About 30 percent of employees rate subsidized gym memberships, onsite health and wellness facilities, and budgeted wellness activity time during business hours, as the three most important services that would motivate participation.          
  • 64 percent of employees have used fitness devices to monitor health and capture data, but only 19 percent use them regularly.         
  • Two-thirds of executives feel data collection and interpretation is the biggest challenge confronting effective workplace wellness.         
  • 53% of survey respondents say their organization collects health-related employee data as part of its wellness program
  • The biggest disconnects between executives and employees regarding their perceptions of obstacles to employee participation in wellness programs, were in regards to the statements: “Employees don’t perceive health and wellness as a high priority” (30% of executives agreed vs. 2% of employees); “Employees are concerned that personal information will not remain confidential (43% of executives agreed vs. 27% of employees); and “Employees distrust employer motives” (24% of executives agreed vs. 11% of employees.)     
Friday
Aug222014

Towers Watson 2014 Employer Survey Results

By Clive Riddle, August 22, 2014

Towers Watson has just released results from their annual Health Care Changes Ahead Survey which “offers insights into the focus and timing of U.S. employers’ plans and perspectives related to their health benefits, and their efforts to better manage costs and employee engagement.”

Their headline takeaway? “U.S. employers expect a 4% increase in 2015 health care costs for active employees after plan design changes… If no adjustments are made, employers project a 5.2% growth rate.

Towers Watson’s Randall Abbott tells us “in the current economic climate, affordability and sustainability remain dominant influences on employers’ overall health care strategies. Expense management and worker productivity are equally critical to business results. While employers are committed to providing health care benefits for their active employees for the foreseeable future, persistent concerns about cost escalation, the excise tax and workforce health have led to comprehensive strategies focused on both year-over-year results and long-term viability for health care benefits and workforce health improvement. The emphasis is on achieving or maintaining a high-performance health plan. And CFOs are now focused on a new gold standard: managing health cost increases to the Consumer Price Index. This requires acute attention to improving program performance.”

Here’s some key employer responses from their survey findings:

  • 73% of employers said they are somewhat or very concerned they will trigger the excise tax b
  • 43% said avoiding the tax is the top priority for their health care strategies in 2015.
  • 81% plan moderate to significant changes to their health care plans over the next three years
  • Pharmacy-only cost trend is projected to be 5.3% after plan changes (6% before changes)
  • 48% are considering tying incentives to reaching a specified health outcome such as biometric targets during the next three years ( 10% intend to adopt it in 2015)
  • 37% are considering offering plans with a higher level of benefit based on the use of high-performance or narrow networks during the next three years (7% in 2015)
  • 34% of employers are considering telemedicine during the next three years (15% in 2015)
  • 33% are considering significantly reducing company subsidies for spouses and dependents during the next three years (10% have already done so; 9% intend to do so in 2015)
  • 26% are considering spouse exclusions or surcharges if coverage is available elsewhere during the next three years; (30% already do so; 7% expect to add it in 2015)
  • 30& are considering caps on health care coverage subsidies for active employees, using defined contribution approaches during the next three years (13% already have them; 3% are planning them for 2015)
  • 50% are considering full-replacement ABHPs (Account Based Health Plans) during the next three years: (17% offer only an ABHP today; 4% intend to do so for 2015, and another 28% are considering it for 2016 or 2017)
  • 76% are exploring the use of personalized digital technologies, including mobile health applications and fitness wearables

Towers Watson included a number of questions measuring the private health insurance exchange opportunity:

  • 28% have extensively evaluated the viability of private exchanges
  • 24% said private exchanges could provide a viable alternative for their active full-time employees in 2016.
  • 64% said evidence private exchanges can deliver greater value than their current self-managed model would be a top decision factor
  • 34% said adoption of private exchanges by other large companies in their industry would be a top decision factor
  • 26% said an inability to stay below the excise tax ceiling as 2018 approaches would be a top decision factor
  • 99.5% have no plan to exit health benefits for active employees and direct them and their families to public exchanges, with or without a financial subsidy.
  • 77% are not at all confident public exchanges will provide a viable alternative for their active full-time employees in 2015 or 2016.

Of course it should be noted Towers Watson has their own private exchange product, OneExchange, that serves more than 1,100 employer clients with active employee and retiree options. Towers Watson just announced that during “the first half of 2014, 45 major U.S. employers launched OneExchange for full-time, part-time or retired employees. This is the largest number of employer implementations outside the typical fall enrollment period in the private exchange’s eight years of operation.” Major new clients they listed included GameStop; International Paper; Northrop Grumman; and the State of Rhode Island.

Friday
Sep062013

NBGH Annual Survey: Consumer Driven Plans, Private Exchanges and Seven-Percent

By Clive Riddle, September 6, 2013

The National Business Group on Health recently released findings from their annual benefits survey addressing plan design and cost issues for 2014. What did they conclude after getting results from 108 large employer organizations? The cost of providing health benefits will rise 7% (third consecutive year projected at that  rate); employers continue to further embrace consumer driven plans; and there is potential interest in exchanges – particularly private exchanges.

Regarding consumer driven care:

  • 36% of respondents said consumer driven plans were the most effective tactic to control rising costs
  • 72% offer at least one CDHP
  • 22% planning to implement a total replacement CDHP next year, up from 19% this year

Meanwhile, NBGH President Helen Darling tells us “Private exchanges are another option some employers are considering. In the last year, there has been an increase in the number of private exchanges that are being launched. And while some employers are considering private exchanges for active employees sometime in the future, very few (3%) are considering eliminating health care coverage entirely,” said Darling.

41% responded that COBRA participants might find public exchanges to be the most cost effective option. 26% felt some pre-65 retirees might opt to join exchanges, while 20% believe that some part-time employees will do so.

The survey also covered these topics:

  • 44% currently have an on-site clinic in at least one of their locations, with 9% are expecting to build a clinic next year
  • 66% will cover surgical interventions for the treatment of severe obesity in 2014
  • 36% will cover FDA-approved medications and intensive, multi-component behavioral interventions for participants with a BMI of more than 30
  • 89% offer a tobacco cessation program
  • 77% offer telephonic or on-site health coaching
  • 55% offer on-site weight management programs
  • 88% conduct health assessments
  • 83% do biometric screenings
Thursday
Mar282013

If Kaiser Is Not the Answer, What Is the Question?

by Kim Bellard, March 28, 2013

The New York Times recently published an interesting article, “The Face of Future Health Care,” that raised questions about whether even a model like Kaiser is delivering what we need to reform our health care system.  It’s the old “be careful what you wish for…” dilemma.

After all, Kaiser could be considered a prototype for what ACA wanted when it created Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).  It is a fully integrated hospital-physician organization, delivering care and managing risk with salaried physicians and other health care practitioners, and its own hospitals.  Hospitals all over the country are rushing to build their own versions, buying up physician practices at a record pace – one survey indicated that 52% would do so this year, while another predicted 75% of physicians would be so employed by 2014.

Kaiser may not have been the first integrated delivery system, nor are they the only one, but they certainly are the largest and have been around for decades.  With all those decades, though, one would expect they would be dramatically lower in cost, and that is not generally the case.  San Francisco public radio station KQED did a report “Why Isn’t Kaiser Less Expensive?” last spring.  In their report, critics accuse Kaiser of shadow-pricing, while Kaiser’s CEO George Halvorson insists they don’t and are usually at least 10% cheaper.  That’s nothing to brag about: with even 1% lower annual trend, they should have gotten 10% cheaper in these early years of the 21st century alone.

All this is not to pick at Kaiser.  I have long admired models like Kaiser, Geisinger Health System, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Intermountain Healthcare, or The Mayo Clinic.  It just seems intuitively obvious that like an integrated system, without the same incentives to overtreat that are pervasive elsewhere, should produce better results.  Each of the systems has been fairly successful in their core markets, although less so the further away from home they get, yet none are delivering radically different cost or quality results than other providers.

And, really, why should they?  They only have to be a little better each year than their competition.  The new mantra in health care is “value-based purchasing,” but we’re a long way from there.  The Catalyst for Payment Reform reports that only 11% of payments to doctors and hospitals are based on performance, while the Commonwealth Fund reports that less than 1% of health insurance premiums was spent on quality improvement in 2011.  This is disappointing but hardly surprising.  Most purchasers are buying with essentially house money; that is, someone else’s money. 

The biggest sources of health coverage are Medicaid, Medicare, and employer-sponsored health insurance.  The persons covered under all of these are largely shielded from the true cost of that coverage.  Medicaid is funded entirely by taxes, Medicare is also largely tax-funded, even when considering beneficiaries’ lifetime contributions, and, of course, employer coverage has the tax preference.  The “tax expenditure” for employer health insurance is, by far, the largest such expenditure – more than twice as large as the mortgage deduction, for example.  It’s all just compensation to employers; money “contributed” to employee benefits is simply money not spent on employee wages.  The tax preference helps shield employees from how much is being spent on their behalf, and it creates a huge disparity with people buying individual coverage, who receive no tax break.

ACA doesn’t equalize the tax preference, but it does introduce a vast set of new subsidies for individual coverage.  The Society of Actuaries has recently reported that individual premiums may be 32% higher due to ACA, joining the chorus of warnings about what may start happening in 2014.  Even HHS Secretary Sebelius now acknowledges they may be higher, but notes that the new subsidies will offset much of these.  While I think it is good public policy for more people to be covered and for economically disadvantaged people to get assistance in making coverage affordable, I worry greatly about creating a large new class of people sheltered from the true cost of health insurance.  It’s making a bad situation much, much worse.

Steve Brill has gotten much deserved attention for his lengthy and insight Time article “Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.”  Brill painstaking walks through the crazy world of health care prices, especially their inconsistency between payors.  Some have used his work to call for single payor or other rate-setting, while I would argue that the system is a symptom of what happens when no one is paying enough attention to prices.

Frankly, I question whether the ACO/integrated delivery system is going to be the solution to our health care mess.  Hospitals are like factories: full of capital-intensive equipment and expensive to operate unless run at capacity.  Yet they aren’t really run like modern factories in terms of management practices, as a recent study in JAMA pointed out.  Similarly, physicians and other health care providers have some definite income expectations and fixed overhead obligations. 

All too often, combining hospitals and other providers in integrated delivery systems may be more about consolidating market power or assuring current revenue levels than about improving the cost and quality of the care for patients.  One AEI scholar recently pointed to the “humongous monopoly problem in health care,” and that’s with ACOs still in an early stage.  AEI is not the first to cite this issue, as I’ve written about previously, but I still don’t think enough attention is being paid.

We’re moving quickly to a health care system that features geographic provider monopolies or cartels, consumers too shielded from costs, and a regulatory environment that creates larger barriers to entry for new competitors in either delivery or financing of care.  That’s the perfect storm for a disaster. 

For radically different results, we’ll need radically different approaches.  Clayton Christian wrote about disruptive innovation in health care over ten years ago, and yet we’re still waiting to see it.  It may mean breaking the health/medical connection that HMOs led us to try to integrate in health coverage, giving consumers more fiscal accountability for the former while still protecting them from catastrophic expenses that can result from intensive medical interventions.  It should mean putting more of the data and technology – like mobile apps -- in the consumers’ hands, as advocated by people like Eric Topl (The Creative Destruction of Medicine) or Joe Flowers, and using that data to measure performance and help prescribe treatment. 

We’ve had a very paternalistic health care system, with health care experts telling us what care we need and other experts choosing coverage for us.  Let’s hope we can change that.  We need consumers engaged, taking responsibility, and demanding accountability from providers.  We need new types of competitors, using 21st century technology and science, to help consumers manage and finance their health needs.

We have to make sure that legislation and regulations focus on what’s best for the patient, not necessarily for existing health system entities, in order to help ensure we don’t stifle innovation (e.g., FDA regulation of mHealth).  The facts that traditional Medicare benefit design is still largely based on 1960’s Blue Cross Blue Shield designs, or that, generally speaking, you can’t use telemedicine to consult with an expert physician in a different state due to licensing or coverage restrictions, amply illustrate the problem. 

Whatever the future health system looks like, it won’t look like what we have today.  Dinosaurs were remarkable effective for hundreds of millions of years, but the environment dramatically changed and they became extinct.  A lot of the dinosaurs that have historically been the basis for our health care system will become extinct in the new health care environment, or evolve beyond recognition.  As with evolution, it will be messy, proceed with many false starts, and produce unexpected winners.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the future looks like.

Friday
Mar082013

High Deductible PPO Plans Versus CDHPs

By Clive Riddle, March 8, 2013

United Benefit Advisors has just released results of their annual health plan survey, with responses from 11,711 employers sponsoring 17,905 health plans nationwide, with results applicable for small to midsize companies. The survey includes a focus on Consumer Driven Health Plan (CDHP) vs. PPO comparisons of premiums, deductibles and enrollment. Their study found that “Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) -- high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) often paired with health savings accounts (HSAs) or health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) -- are not achieving long-term savings greater than what would be reached by raising the deductible on traditional PPOs.”

Unlike most national large employer benefit consulting firms, UBA – whose survey concentrated on smaller firms – is not bullish on account based plans, and would rather place their bets on straight PPO plans with a higher deductible. Although one could argue, it might be easy to make a stripped down high deductible PPO health plan yield immediate lower costs than a CDHP that has account administration costs, up-front wellness benefits and other bells and whistles. That doesn’t necessarily mean the PPO HDHP would be the best long term solution for an employer’s and employee’s objectives, unless immediate premium costs is the only concern.

UBA CEI Thom Mangan tells us “Employers are turning to CDHPs as a cost-cutting solution against the relentless upward spiral of health care costs. However, our research shows that small-to midsize businesses in particular, who may be considering these plans may first want to consider increasing the deductible on the plans they already have to achieve the same initial savings. Or, prior to implementing a CDHP plan, employers should build a culture of health and wellness in their workplace that drives employee behavior towards quality, low cost medical care and prescription drugs.”

Here’s some of the data UBA has shared from their findings:

  • Nearly 60 percent of the 11,711 employers surveyed said they plan to offer a CDHP in the next five years
  • PPOs remain the dominant plan type with 61.7 percent of U.S. employee enrollment
  • The greatest savings of a PPO over a CDHP was achieved with a deductible of $2,000-$2,999, where PPO cost per employee was $7,811 and CDHP was $8,859, a savings of $1,000 per employee.
  • Savings created by CDHPs over the plans they were replacing or HSA, averaged 1.75 percent in 2012, a significant reduction from prior years.
  • Enrollment also decreased to 15.6 percent (a 1.8 percent decrease from 2011), and nationwide enrollment among employers with 1,000 or more employees dropped substantially from 15.9 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2012.
  • The area of the country that has seen the biggest increase in CDHP growth is Minnesota, which saw the percent of employees enrolled in CDHPs increase from 15.5 percent in 2010 to 37.1 percent in 2012, a rate 18.4 percent higher than the national average in those same years.
  • Other areas with rapid CDHP growth include Indiana, Virginia and the Northeast region. The only western state to see CDHP popularity increase was Oregon, where percent of employees enrolled in CDHPs increased from 12 percent in 2010 to 20.3 percent in 2012.
  • Overall, CDHP enrollment in the west is the lowest in the country with only 7.7 percent of employees covered, a slight increase from 7 percent in 2011 and 4.6 percent in 2010. HMOs account for 31.3 percent of the market in the west.