Getting on the Track to Financial Wellness

A study by Lincoln Financial finds that 55% of workers in the U.S. say they are on the right track to achieving financial well being. The study looked into the lives of the right-trackers, and found these five factors contribute to their feelings of financial security and financial success:

  1. 71% have created a financial plan.
  2. 98% are focused on the future.
  3. 78% exercise at least once a week.
  4. 63% feel good about themselves, which makes them more optimistic.
  5. 57% are enrolled in more than three non-medical benefits.

Employees define financial wellness in these terms:

  • 29% Being prepared for unforeseen events that could affect my
  • financial situation.
  • 27% Living comfortably and having control over day-to-day finances.
  • 25% Having financial freedom that allows me to enjoy my life.”
  • 19% Other.

Voluntary benefits that improve financial wellness can boost the bottom line

People who are under financial stress are less productive employees, bringing down businesses’ bottom lines, studies show, but employers can help by offering education, tools and voluntary benefits. “In addition to securing online financial education resources, companies can take advantage of value-added programs and financial wellness platforms offered by their current benefit providers, as well as other non-traditional voluntary benefits, such as financial counseling services and employee purchase programs that address further aspects of financial wellness,” Elizabeth Halkos writes.

BenefitsPro.com (8/12)

Do Wellness Programs Actually Help People Manage Chronic Conditions?

Forty-four percent of consumers enrolled in wellness programs have a diagnosed chronic condition, according to a HealthMine report. But just 14% say that their wellness program helps them manage their disease. Only 29% say their wellness program offers a disease management program. Only 11% participate in disease management through their wellness program. And just 6% have connected a disease management application/tool to their wellness program. Bryce Williams, CEO and president of HealthMine says, “Health plans and wellness programs need to have real time analytics that guide each member on health actions. We are loaded with health data including lab results, insurance claims and more, but we are not analyzing the data or offering recommendations consistently enough. Programs that do will close gaps in care, thus helping members manage their chronic conditions and minimize costly co-morbidities and utilization.”

Wellness Plans Need More Personalization

The keys to maximizing a wellness plan is to offer personalization, provide rewards, and understand what employees want, according to a survey by Welltokget and the National Business Group on Health. The study, which is based on the responses of over 1,000 full-time employees at large companies, reveals the following:

  • 81% say their company wellness plan has improved their physical well-being.
  • 60% say that including family in wellness programs is likely to increase participation.
  • 37% of those who did not participate in the company’s wellness program did not find it relevant to them, and 20% didn’t know it was available.
  • 78% of those earning $200,000 more would engage in healthier behaviors if they got rewards as would 98% of all employees under 35 and 85% of those over 55.
  • 86% said the top motivators for improving their health came from colleagues, followed by their direct manager (57%).
  • 64% of Millennials said that their direct manager influenced them to improve their health compared to 51% of those 55 and older.
  • 24% of Millennials said HR influenced them to improve their health compared to 40% of those 55 and older.
  • 63% of households making less than $50,000 want employers to play a role in their financial well-being compared to 44% of those making $200,000 or more.
  • 60% of participants from 18 to 34 say that employers should be involved in financial health compared to less than half of those 45.
  • 58% of women say employers should play a role in employees’ financial health versus 48% of men.
  • 77% of employees say that their employers should play a role in helping them get cost effective care.
  • 74% say the employer should provide emotional/personal support resources.
  • 53% say employers should play a role in helping them stop unhealthy behaviors.
  • 53% say employers should help them manage financial issues.
  • 24% participate in emotional health benefits.
  • 37% participate in financial security programs.
  • 48% of employees participate in programs to help them improve their physical health.

Brian Marcotte, CEO and president of the National Business Group on Health said, “It is clear that employees can benefit from employer-sponsored programs aimed at improving physical, financial and emotional health, along with decision support resources to maximize their health care experience. The one size fits all approach to communications has proven ineffective in engaging employees and engagement is now the number one challenge facing employers. Personalization is the key. Emerging engagement platforms…shows great promise…by leveraging data, predictive analytics, and technology to reach people with personalized, timely, relevant, and actionable information.” For more information, visit welltok.com.

A Small Boost in Millennials’ Financial Health Has a Lifetime Impact

Improving financial wellness of younger employees from four to a five on a 10-point scale translates into a 12% improvement in projected retirement savings. The report by Financial Finesse is based on over 35,000 financial wellness assessments completed in 2014 and 2015. An improvement from four to six brings a 27% improvement in projected retirement savings. The report reveals that debt is a growing concern, with many employees at risk of becoming significantly over-leveraged. This could be a problem for older employees who may carry consumer debt into retirement. Baby Boomers had the biggest decrease in the percentage that have a plan to pay off their debt (64% to 58%) and the biggest increase in those that are experiencing late fees (11% to 15%). Fifty-five percent of Generation X participants said getting out of debt is a top-three priority. Fifty-three percent said that lacking emergency savings is a top-three vulnerability. Forty-three percent of Millennials have serious debt, making it a top-three vulnerability. A higher percentage of employees across all generations are running a retirement calculator, checking credit scores, and projecting college expenses.

Millennial Women Want Wellness Care

Millennial women see health as total well being − physical, mental, and spiritual in contrast to the traditional healthcare model that emphasizes disease management. They want to minimize their use of the healthcare system, according to a survey by womenshealthconversations.com. Survey respondents are 22 to 36, hold college or post-graduate degrees, and are working professionals. Also, most are single.

Participants estimate that they spend 25% of their monthly income on preventative and integrative behaviors. Respondents are skeptical about doctors and pharmaceutical companies that are only concerned with prescriptive care. One participant said, “Why isn’t massage or acupuncture covered under insurance? I think the whole system is focused on procedures and not prevention; there needs to be a shift.”

More Companies Are Offering Financial & Emotional Wellness Programs

More companies are investing in total well-being programs to address financial and emotional health of their employees, according to a report by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. Employers are adding programs that help employees manage stress, improve their resiliency, and meet financial challenges. In 2016, 87% of employers offer emotional or mental well-being programs, and 76% provide financial health programs. Sixty-seven percent plan to expand their efforts while 17% plan to maintain offerings at the current level. Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting said that employers are focusing on things that affect well-being, such as emotional stress and financial challenges.

Mollie O’Brien is director of Total Rewards at BASF, which has more than 15,000 employees in the United States. She said that BASF has seen strong employee participation and engagement since launching its wellness program a few years ago. O’Brien said that the company is looking at strengthening financial wellness offerings to meet the needs of a diverse workforce.

By far, stress management is the most popular emotional well-being program. Fifty-four percent of employers offer this program and 12% plan to do so in 2017. Also popular is resiliency training, which helps employees manage setbacks in the workplace or outside of work. Twenty-seven percent of employers offer this program, with another 20% planning to do so in 2017.

Seventy-three percent of companies offer on-site financial seminars, and 59% make a financial coach available to employees. In 2016, 13% of employers offer student loan repayment assistance – a benefit that’s typically been offered only in the public sector. Another 21% are considering adding this benefit.

In 2015, 81% of employees received incentives, up from 73% in 2014. The percentage of employees receiving incentives increased steadily as employers expanded well-being programs. The number of employers using outcomes-based incentives is expected to drop from 44% in 2015 to 24% in 2016. Brian Marcotte, CEO and president of National Business Group on Health said that social factors and the work environment play an important role in employee engagement and their view of their well-being. Companies are integrating initiatives that focus on financial and emotional well-being, social connectedness, and job satisfaction with more traditional offerings

Study Reveals Leading Healthcare Benefit Trends

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The Healthcare Treds Institute issued a massive survey of employee benefit trends. The good news is that employers are looking to insurance brokers and benefit consultants to help them evaluate health benefit designs and distribution models. Forty percent of employers say they will depend on insurance brokers to learn about new health benefit models, such as defined contribution plans and private exchanges, and 31% will depend on benefit consultants. Nearly 40% rely on insurance brokers to learn about health benefit designs and platforms.

“The ACA has created a dynamic marketplace in which brokers have a front row seat navigating in this new era,” according to the study. Human resource professionals have new responsibilities due to the ACA. Thirty percent are looking for help from benefit consultants. However, 30% are researching independently compared to 26% in the previous year. Employers gave the following answers to this question, “What partners would you depend on to help you learn about new health benefit designs and distribution models?”

  • Insurance broker 39.7%
  • Will research independently 30.8%
  • Benefit consultant 30.8%
  • Insurance carrier 24.4%
  • TPA 19.2%
  • None 15.4%
  • Trade Association 11.5%
  • Payroll company 10.3%
  • Other 5.1%

What Benefits Employers Are Offering

About 40% of employers offer three or more health plan options, which are usually a PPO, an HDHP, and an HMO. Employees are choosing HDHPs (39%) over HMOs (35%). The following is a breakdown of benefits that employers offer:

  • PPO 59.5%
  • Flexible spending account (FSA)59.5%
  • Health savings account (HSA) 52.1%
  • High deductible health plan (HDHP) 38.8%
  • HMO 34.7%
  • Self-insured plan 22.3%
  • Health-reimbursement arrangement (HRA) 15.7%
  • Catastrophic insurance 8.3%
  • Dental plan 73.6%
  • Vision plan 67.8%
  • Prescription drug coverage 67.8%
  • Mental health coverage 52.1%

How Healthcare Reform Has Affected Employee Benefit Packages

Forty-nine percent say that healthcare reform will increase employee cost-sharing; 39.6% say it will increase premium contributions, and 3.6% say it will shift their company towards a defined contribution plan. Employee cost-sharing has risen every year for 10 years. Employers and the medical industry have had to deal with other ACA implications, such as the employer mandate and new compliance, which has caused an increase in capital and human resources. Employers have done the following in response to health reform:

  • Increased employee cost sharing 49%
  • Has had no effect 30%
  • Enhanced wellness/preventive health programs 23%
  • Increased employee engagement in their health 19%
  • Increased employee engagement in reducing healthcare costs 18%
  • Adopted new wellness/preventive health programs 17%
  • Reduced covered benefits 15%
  • Added HDHPs/CDHPs 14%
  • Stopped offering healthcare benefits 9%
  • Shifted to a defined-contribution plan

The Cadillac Tax

The impending 2018 Cadillac Tax is a prevalent challenge for employers. The ACA 40% excise tax will be imposed on the portion of group health plan premiums that exceed specified thresholds. The concern may be more regional since it could be triggered in parts of the country where healthcare costs are high and less likely to be triggered in parts of the U.S. with below average healthcare costs. Thirty-five percent of employers are very concerned about the 2018 Cadillac Tax; 25% are somewhat concerned; and 30% are not concerned. Sixty-one percent are making no changes to their benefits in light of the impending Cadillac tax while 18% have changed plans to avoid the Cadillac Tax. Recent news reports along with lobbying efforts may be influencing the 61% of companies who have a wait and see approach about the Cadillac Tax.

Defined Contribution Plans

Employers continue to learn more about defined contribution plans and private exchanges with about 35% saying they are familiar with them. This is an increase of about 5% over last year. Twenty-eight percent say that exchanges help employees understand the value of their benefits. Twenty-five percent say that a defined-contribution plan would help employees understand the value of their benefits and make more cost-conscious benefit decisions.

Five percent of employers offer defined-contribution plans (not on a private exchange) while same offer defined-contribution plans on a private exchange. Also, 7% are considering offering a defined contribution plans on a private exchange while 53% have not explored defined contribution plans.

Fifty-five percent of employers who are considering a defined-contribution plan, say they would explore the option for 2017 or 2018. This suggests that near-term adoption will be gradual. But the adoption curve may steepen as the benefits of defined-contribution plans become better known.

Private Exchanges

Employers want private exchanges to provide many solutions including health spending accounts (62%), carrier integration (58%), COBRA compliance (56%), automation of premium payments (51%), and payroll integration (50%). Employers choose private exchanges to control costs and increase employee choices, which is why employers say, most often, that they are looking for health spending accounts. Incorporating consumer directed healthcare coverage, such as HDHPs, HSAs and HRAs, helps private exchanges create a competitive marketplace that promotes cost-savings for employees and employers.

To succeed a private exchange needs to provide broad choices and help participants in the selection process. Sixty-two percent of employers say that it is somewhat important to very important to have health-spending accounts in an insurance exchange. Also considered somewhat important to very important are carrier integration (59%), COBRA compliance (56.4%), and premium payment automation (53%). Employers say they would choose the following offerings in an exchange:

  • Plan and cost comparison tools 80%
  • Online capabilities 69%
  • Combined benefit enrollment 47%
  • A help line 47%
  • Transparency solutions for treatment cost comparisons 45%
  • Mobile applications 45%
  • Progressive cost tracking tools 35%
  • Consolidated employer billing 35%
  • Integrated consumer healthcare accounts 30%
  • Financial account options 28%

Employers rank several exchange features as important, such as being a private exchange instead of a public exchange (83%), having a large selection of plan choices at targeted benefit levels (58%), and being provided by their broker or benefit consultant (55%). These findings indicate that broad choice is more important than who runs the exchange (broker versus carrier).

Wellness

Wellness programs continue to gain interest as 35% of employers have initiatives in place compared to 30% last year. Another 22% are considering implementing a program. Sixty-five percent are considering adopting a wellness program in 2017, and 16% are considering adopting one by the end of 2016.

Fifty-five percent of those offering wellness programs, offer an employee-assistance program (EAP); 53% offer flu shots or vaccinations; and 37% offer a smoking cessation program. The disease management tools that most employers offer are for diabetes (30%) and depression or other mental health (30%). Fifty-four percent of employees are not offering disease management tools. But 30% are providing services for diabetes and mental health conditions. To promote positive health outcomes, 44% of employers offer at least one wellness program; 31% offer biometric screening; and 20% offer a disease management program.

Forty-four percent have at least one wellness initiative in their workplace. Employers that are interested in offering wellness plans should consider how it would affect productivity, absenteeism, turnover, retention, and recruitment, according to the survey authors. Including these factors in the ROI discussion can help demonstrate additional savings a company could achieve.

When it comes to wellness incentives, HSA and HRA contributions (18%) and premium reductions (16%) are most popular. Companies are split on whether to offer wellness incentives with 58% not providing rewards to employees and 42% offering some type of incentive in varying monetary amounts to participate. The value of the incentives remains relatively modest. Companies interested in wellness incentives can use the ACA as a guide. Eighteen percent offer $250 or more of incentives to employees for health-related tasks. Common values of incentives are $101 to 250 and $1 to $50. For more information, visit www.HealthcareTrendsInstitute.

Study: Effective wellness plans need culture of health, good communications

A corporate culture of health and a good communications strategy are needed for effective employee wellness programs, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers said creating a culture of health required a supportive environment and employee engagement. “In the companies we visited, healthy options were accessible and easy to adopt,” the authors wrote. Safety + Health magazine online (2/23)

Study Looks At the Effectiveness of Health Policies

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The Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) released six policy briefs that look at how national and state policies affect health care costs and utilization. Researchers looked at commercial claims data for more than 50 million insured Americans. The following are Key findings:

  1. Provider consolidation drives up spending on cancer treatment: The consolidation of outpatient practices drove significant increases in cancer treatment spending. Hospital outpatient departments and their affiliated clinics were able to charge insurers additional facility fees. Consolidation also increased the use of more expensive medicines and other outpatient care components.
  2. Unrestricted access to physical therapy reduces opioid use and lowers costs: Seeing a physical therapist as the first point-of-care for lower back pain reduces potentially costly services later on, including emergency department visits and use of prescription opioids. Patients who sought physical therapy first for lower back pain had significantly lower costs, including out-of-pocket costs, for physician, outpatient, hospital, and pharmacy care compared to patients who saw another type of provider.
  1. Nurse practitioners push down the price of primary care: Prices for primary care services fell 1% to 4% in states that allowed nurse practitioners to treat patients without a supervising physician. However, spending on health care increased. Higher total health care costs may be a result of increased volume in services, which may stem from increased access to care.
  2. Designing insurance benefits to incentivize patients to choose low-priced providers for colonoscopies can lead to savings of 8.5% per procedure: Medical spending would decrease by approximately $95 million per year if just three health insurers-Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare, adopted a reference-based payment program for colonoscopies. These estimates were modeled on the health care savings of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).
  3. Reimbursement for telehealth services is nearly 40% lower than non-telehealth care: Telehealth claims submitted by primary-care providers have increased from 1,246 claims in 2009 to 2,558 in 2013. But they continued to be reimbursed at lower rates. While many states permit reimbursements for telehealth services, only seven states have passed laws that mandate reimbursement parity between telehealth and non-telehealth care.
  4. Mental Health Parity law has a limited effect on access to mental health services: The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) has had little to no effect on access and use of mental health services for patients with depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Last Updated 10/28/2020

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