Benefit ViewThe newly available Extend Health BenefitView™ dashboard lets employers ensure no retiree is left behind during the enrollment process. BenefitView gives employers access to something they’ve never had before on a Medicare exchange: real-time, interactive reporting on the experience of their retirees as they transition from the employer’s group coverage to their own individual Medicare plans on an exchange.

In “Retiree Medicare exchange previews improved transparency,” Employee Benefit News sheds light on how valuable this degree of insight is to HR professionals leading their companies and employees through a health care benefit transition this significant.

BenefitView is the culmination of eight years of our insight into delivering a premium health insurance exchange experience for consumers and employers on the Extend Health private Medicare exchange.

BenefitView answers burning HR questions

BenefitView offers employers immediate answers to questions around goals and milestones when transitioning from a group plan to the individual Medicare market:

  • Have retirees responded to our communications?
  • Are their calls to benefit advisors getting through in good time?
  • Are they making and completing their appointments with benefit advisors?
  • How long are those calls taking on average?
  • Are they choosing plans and which ones?
  • Are there groups that we may need to do additional outreach to?

BenefitView gives employers up-to-the-minute, unfiltered answers to these questions with the click of the mouse.

BenefitView users and creators tell us what they think

We talked to representatives from a few of the employers who have used BenefitView for mid-year transitions. Here’s what they had to say.

“Before our transition started, we wanted to make sure our retirees first understood that they were going to get more choice and control over their Medicare health benefits. Then we wanted to provide retirees with all the right information they needed to participate,” said Melissa (Missy) Hartfiel, benefits planner, Global Compensation and Benefits for International Paper. “With BenefitView, we can instantly see all the data on our progress – the number of retirees contacted, the number of calls and enrollments completed, how quickly our retirees were being answered, and the length of those calls. This inspired a lot of confidence in the Extend Health solution. As a non-techy, I also appreciated that BenefitView is visual and easy to use – there was no learning curve and I got all the data I wanted with one click.”

“The data HR professionals see in BenefitView is the same data that Extend Health sees in-house,” said David Lash, senior director of product management for Extend Health. “This actually makes our weekly progress meetings with employers much more strategic. We don’t have to spend time communicating numbers or determining where we are in the process. We’ve been looking at the same numbers all along and we are able to focus our energy on optimizing the course for each phase of the transition. It’s much more efficient for everyone. More than the technology involved, our goal for this tool was to create this premium experience for employers.”

“Employers sponsor and subsidize these transitions of their retirees to individual plans to assure that every retiree gets a chance to have the supplemental Medicare coverage they want while managing company costs and future liabilities,” said Brian Bohlig, chief marketing officer for Extend Health. “It’s very important to employers, to us and most importantly to retirees that these transitions go as smoothly as possible.  Extend Health has always provided employers frequent and comprehensive progress reporting to ensure smooth transitions – but now we’ve made it real time and on demand. BenefitView makes communication between Extend Health and employers seamless, and protects employers from finding out after the fact that their retirees missed out on getting the health care coverage they needed or wanted.”

Another Extend Health client, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, also experienced the difference BenefitView could make in the process of selecting individual Medicare plans. “With BenefitView, I was able to give our HR Director up-to-the minute progress reports whenever she asked for them,” said benefits manager Scott McIntyre. “As we neared the end of our enrollment period, we were checking BenefitView daily and adjusting our communications and outreach to make sure we were giving all of our retirees every chance to participate. BenefitView allowed us to keep our finger on the pulse of what was happening with our retiree transition whenever we wanted.”

BenefitView specifications

Real-time information available to employers through BenefitView includes:

  • Number of retirees enrolled versus the total number eligible in time remaining
  • Percent of eligible retirees contacted
  • Number of appointments scheduled
  • Number of appointments met
  • Plan types selected across different populations
  • Average premiums across different populations
  • Number of unique plans selected
  • Number of unique carriers selected
  • Total number of calls
  • Average wait times for before reaching a benefit advisor
  • Average time to handle calls

Get a BenefitView demo

Contact Extend Health online or by phone 1.888.232.1653 for a demonstration of BenefitView. Check out BenefitView online yourself.

Visit Extend Health to use the ExtendExchange™ platform – the nation’s largest private Medicare insurance exchange.

Kaiser recently released the results of its thirteenth annual Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) Employer Health Benefits survey. Each year they conduct a survey of 3,184 “nonfederal private and public employers with three or more workers.”

This survey looks at many employer-sponsored health coverage trends including premiums, employee contributions, cost-sharing and much more. New for 2011 it also includes, “the percent of firms with grandfathered health plans, changes in benefits for preventive care, enrollment of adult children due to the new health reform law, and the use of stoploss coverage by firms with self-funded plans.”

The findings in this year’s survey show that the percentage of large employers (those with 200 or more workers) offering retiree health benefits in 2011 is 26%, which is the same percentage that was offered in 2010. The steep decline in employers offering retiree benefits seems to have moderated in recent years, and reached a plateau at least for the time being.

Here are a few key findings:

  • 26% of large employers are offering retiree Health benefits – no change from last year.
  • 72% of all firms have at least one grandfathered plan under ACA.
  • 65% of small businesses haven’t checked to see if they qualify for ACA small employer tax credits.
  • 56% of covered workers are in grandfathered plans.

You can access the survey online at http://ehbs.kff.org. You read the report online, or down load the full report, a summary, and presentation slides as well as various other documents and supplements.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

Washington Extension

October 7, 2011

Medicare News

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that among Medicare beneficiaries in their last year of life in 2008, one-third had a surgical procedure performed. One-fifth had surgery in the last month of life, and one in ten had surgery in the last week of life. The rates of surgery varied dramatically across the country, but geographic variation is controversial because it is unclear whether it reflects unnecessary care or true differences in patient needs. This report adds to the influential research conducted by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care showing Medicare beneficiaries living in areas of the country with lower intensity of end-of-life care do not have higher mortality rates.

The Michigan state legislature voted to end retiree health benefits for future and newer sitting legislators, in the face of state budget shortfalls. Retiree health benefits cost the state about $5 million in the last fiscal year. Governor Rick Snyder has promised to sign the legislation.

ACA Updates

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its highly-anticipated report on the criteria for determining essential health benefits (EHB) that ACA-qualified health plans must cover. The ACA defined ten categories of commonly-covered health services that plan benefits must include. The IOM identifies criteria for defining and updating specific components of the EHB, including: use a public deliberation process, include only medically necessary services that are value-based, promote some state flexibility, make annual updates based on credible evidence of effectiveness of benefits, and rely on typical coverage in the small employer market. Unlike Medicare’s coverage standard of “reasonable and necessary”, the IOM recommends higher standards for benefit coverage, such as the treatment demonstrate meaningful improvement over current effective services/treatments, and is cost effective. These criteria (among others) are aligned with the criterion that the EHB package, in aggregate, be affordable.

In ongoing litigation regarding the ACA, 26 states and the NFIB filed petitions to the Supreme Court to appeal the ruling in the Eleventh Circuit which struck down the individual mandate but upheld the remainder of the ACA. The Department of Justice also filed its own petition requesting review of the Circuit Court decision, significantly increasing the odds that this issue will appear on the Supreme Court’s docket this term (though the Court may have more than one case to choose from). Outstanding questions remain about the ability of the Court to rule on a federal tax law before anyone has actually paid the tax (i.e. the individual mandate penalty).

Nebraska will wait until the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the ACA before setting up a health insurance exchange. According to the governor, the state is designing a program and applying for federal funding, but won’t build a “formal proposal” until the Court decides. Minnesota’s prospects are less clear: while the governor has secured millions of federal dollars, and has support to design a state-run exchange from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and some Republicans in the legislature, a debate rages about whether the governor needs authorization from the GOP-controlled legislature—which has been unwilling to pass a bill—to set up an exchange.

On the Hill

House Republicans released their 2012 draft budget for health, labor and education, totaling $153.4 billion. This compares with the Senate Democrats’ proposed budget of $165.3 billion. The Republicans’ draft bill prohibits funds to implement the ACA, as well as provisions to rescind funding already provided for ACA programs. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee, recently wrote to the “Super Committee” recommending they cut ACA Medicaid expansions and affordability credits to achieve their $1.2 trillion deficit reduction goal.

Reports/Other News

About one quarter of retirees think that life in retirement is worse than before they retired, according to a RWJF/NPR/Harvard School of Public Health poll. This compares with only 14% of pre-retirees who expect that retired life will be worse. Retirees cite costs of medical treatment and long-term care as especially worrisome. Many fewer pre-retirees think that their health will be worse (13%) during retirement than retirees who say their health actually is worse (39%). Pre-retirees are also less confident (38%) that Medicare will provide benefits of at least equal value to current benefits than retirees (52%).

Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2011 rose 8% for single coverage (to $5,249) and 9% for family coverage (to $15,073) over 2010 costs, according to this year’s Kaiser Family Foundation/HRET employer health benefits survey. The percentage of total premium paid by workers is similar to 2010 (18% for individuals, 28% for family coverage). Among firms offering coverage to employees, 26% offer retiree coverage, similar to 2010. State and local governments are most likely to offer retiree health benefits (83%), while large firms in the retail and wholesale industries are least likely (15% and 16%). Nearly all (91%) of offering large firms cover early retirees below age 65, while 71% cover Medicare-age retirees. AHIP blames rising insurance costs on prices for medical services, asserting that Washington must do more to control cost growth. Kaiser attributed 1-2% of the premium increase to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including allowing children up to age 26 on their parents’ health insurance.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report showing 170,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries received prescriptions for controlled substances from five or more physicians in 2008, indicating fraud and prescription drug abuse in Part D. In ten individual cases examined by the GAO, physicians did not know that their patients were receiving drugs prescribed by other physicians. Although Part D plans are required to perform retrospective drug utilization reviews to identify inappropriate or unnecessary medication use, plans are not authorized to restrict drug access based on the findings.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

Employer group insurance premiums for family coverage grew 9% this year (triple the rate from 2010) and 8% for single coverage, according the 13th annual Employer Health Benefits survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite the increases, employers held the percentages workers paid toward premiums to about the same as they paid in 2010 (18% for single coverage and 28% for family coverage).

So what caused the sharp increases in the cost of health premiums this year? Since many have voiced concerns about the impact health care reform would have on costs, fingers will naturally point there first, but the study points out that it was not the main contributor. The research shows that provisions of the new health care law that were in effect only had about a 1.5 to 2 percent impact on the 9% increase. According KHN, “Many factors drive premium growth, the main one being actual spending on medical care, including jumps in prices charged by hospitals and doctors and growing use of expensive new drugs and technologies.”

Learn more about the results of this study in this article on Kaiser Health News. Download a summary or the full report.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

Extend Health CEO Bryce Williams has written a new piece just published on the Society for Human Resource Management Web site. Bryce is known around here not only for his deep knowledge of health care insurance, but for constantly thinking about ways we can empower employers to provide affordable health care benefits to their employees. This new article offers some sage advice for employers who want to continue to offer early retiree benefits but need to control their costs. The key? Start moving them to defined contribution plans now:

“Until 2014, can early retirees be helped? The answer is yes: by beginning to move them from legacy group plans to ‘defined contribution health plans’ and providing education and tools, HR managers can empower their early retirees to become cost-conscious and careful consumers, changing their mindset from ‘I don’t know how much my health benefits cost and I don’t care’ to ‘I know how much my health benefits costs and I do care.'”

The article outlines a roadmap for supporting early retirees through the transition from group plans to individual plans purchased on the coming state insurance exchanges, with advice for the kind of programs and education that will help this vulnerable population become “empowered individual health insurance consumers” — while at the same time giving employers the ability to plan, predict, and control costs.

Our quarterly newsletter, TheExchange, is out today.  This issue includes an interview with Alain Enthoven, professor of economics at Stanford University.  Professor Enthoven has been at the heart of the issue of health care reform in this country for many decades; he was the first person to propose consumer-choice health care concepts that later developed into the exchanges in the PPACA. In his interview he gives his first-person perspective on the history of health care reform over the last few decades, and timely advice on three things Congress ought to do as they debate repeal of the legislation. Here’s one thing he recommends: Read the rest of this entry »

Our CEO Bryce Williams recently talked to the San Francisco Business Times about our exchange and how this model can provide cost savings both for employers and their retirees. You’ll need to subscribe (at no cost) to the e-journal to read the whole article, but here’s an excerpt of the discussion:

“Extend Health offers clients — mostly big firms — control over costs by ditching the high premiums of group plans for lump sums placed into employee health care accounts. So far, the company has saved its clients over $1 billion; the average family saves $500 annually….

“The one-size-fits-all model is dead and going to continue to die off,” Williams said. “There is a massive amount of overspending for health coverage today that doesn’t need to be happening.”

 In “Retiree Benefits Are Cheating Our Children,” his latest column for Newsweek Magazine, Robert J. Samuelson urges state and local governments to reduce or eliminate health care benefits for retirees. Extend Health feels that Mr. Samuelson’s suggestion is unfair to the teachers, firefighters, police, and yes, even the administrative personnel who took  jobs in the public sector in good faith that a lifetime of service for the public good would not put their or their families’ health and well being at risk when they retired.

We suggest that there’s a better way. State and local governments facing budget-busting health care liabilities can use a Medicare exchange now and get better buying power for their Medicare-eligible retirees with actuarial certainty of future spending. In 2014, early retirees can use the new state-run exchanges to buy individual policies at competitive prices, and their employers can manage long-term financial obligations by limiting their contribution – without breaking commitments made in good faith to people who chose a life of service. It’s a win-win solution that is working today – so that neither retirees nor their children and grandchildren are cheated.

A very interesting chart just posted on the Kaiser Health News site shows that the percent of large employers offering retiree health benefits is at its lowest point ever in 2010. You can also view a whole lot of other interesting data from this page, if you’re interested in knowing more about the state of retiree health care benefits.

With new Medicare regulations taking effect in 2011, we’ve identified four changes to Medicare Part C, D and Medigap plans that retirees should know about because they could affect their healthcare coverage. They  are: 

  1. Some Medicare Advantage (Part C) Private Fee for Service (PFFS) plans are ending
  2. Medicare Part D plans are being consolidated
  3. Four Medigap plans will no longer be sold and two new ones will be offered (Parts M and N)
  4. While average premiums for Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans will decline slightly, some plans’ premiums will rise

Information about the changes and what retirees can do in response follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

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