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wellness digest—week of october 24

October 31, 2011

in annual enrollment,e-patient,health care,health communication,wellness,wellness digest

 

a roundup of last week’s news that caught my interest.

1. worker costs rise. don’t expect salaries to

the connection between rising health care costs and stagnant wages and job creation is one you won’t frequently find discussed in corporate america’s messaging about health benefits. yet this causal relationship is critical for employees to understand. do your communications touch on it?

“The trouble is, this means employers are paying more for workers without actually paying their workers more. Higher benefit costs eat into profits without directly raising a company’s output in the way hiring more workers would. In fact, this can actually discourage hiring. And the more that companies have to spend on benefits, the less take-home pay goes to workers. This undermines the virtuous cycle of consumer spending and job growth needed to help lower the 9.1% unemployment rate.”

2. premiums, deductibles and cost sharing in employer health plans keep rising

i pulled a number of slides from the kaiser family foundation’s annual survey of employer health benefits for my post on walmart’s rollback. this article reviews the overall findings from this survey.

“But…coverage won’t come cheap, as premiums, deductibles and cost sharing continue to rise, sometimes even more steeply than in previous years. More employers are also moving to high-deductible plans that shift increasing expenses onto their employees, requiring them to pay more before benefits kick in. And companies are making it pricier to insure spouses and children.

“There is a bright spot, however: Employees who participate in the increasing number of company wellness programs can often reduce premium and other cost increases.”

 3. push for health-cost data

“gimme my damn data!” is the e-patient’s cry. e-patients know that having their own health data allows them to more successfully navigate the health care system and manage their care. this article shows how “gimme my damn data” is becoming the employer’s cry too. employers want pricing data available to their employees so their employees, in turn, can become better informed, better equipped health care consumers.

“But Web services that reveal health-care pricing typically have to be built using data that are collected by the health insurers, which are generally the ones processing medical bills for an employer’s workers. Some, such as Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp., are sharing at least certain information with third-party firms when clients ask them to do so. In other cases, according to benefits consultants, vendors and employers, insurers are declining to let the information be handed over to the outside companies.”

4. investment guidance for employees long overdue

if you’ve managed or written financial communications, then you know most include a line that goes something like this: “X Company does not provide financial advice. be sure to review your personal goals with a financial advisor.” this lack of personal advice left many employees bewildered or among the ranks of nonparticipants. that’s changing, with a new law going into effect december 27.

“That’s what’s changing. Now companies, under the new exemption, can arrange for workers to get specific advice from the firm running their plan as long as the advice is based on a computer model certified as unbiased and as applying generally accepted investment theories, or the adviser is compensated on a ‘level-fee’ basis, meaning the fees do not vary based on investments selected by the plan participant.”

5. incentives & communication drive higher participation for marsh & mclennan companies

cohealth member ray goldberg explains how his company approached the design and launch of their wellness effort, healthy me. he offers many transferable lessons, like this:

“We offered a $150 incentive to colleagues, spouses and domestic partners enrolled in our health plan—but with a twist: To receive the incentive, participants had to complete the health assessment andcall to speak with a health adviser to discuss the results.

“Why did we do it this way? We had two objectives—to capture data on our health risks that didn’t show up in health claims, and to get participants to manage their health risks through coaching. In this approach, it’s easy for the participant to reach the health adviser—much easier than the reverse. And when they make that call, participants are expecting to discuss their health, so we expected they’d be more open to the idea of health coaching.”

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