October 25, 2016
In a twist on the famous lament of Kermit the Frog, it ain’t easy being an HR professional for a multi-state employer. Ok, so that isn’t as catchy as the original. But the reality is multi-state employers must address the varying state and local laws governing employee benefits and that can be complicated and time consuming.
Take paid sick leave, for example. In a recent article on the topic in Human Resource Executive, Jackie Reinberg, senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, said, “The issues most employers are really struggling with is that systems are not easily adjusted for all of the different localities. A number of them are keeping spreadsheets because they just do not have the bandwidth right now to update all of the systems.”
This is especially challenging because some state and local laws include part-time workers, expanding the number of employees employers need to take into consideration when designing a paid sick leave policy.
To complicate matters even more, starting next year federal law will require employers who contract with the federal government to provide 7 days of paid sick leave. The clock is ticking for multi-state employers to comply with the law and make other modifications to their sick leave policies that are affected by it.
To read the article in Human Resource Executive, click here.
October 20, 2016
Health benefits are a big part of attracting and retaining talent and employers are always on the lookout for benefits offerings that are attractive to potential new hires and appealing to their existing workforce.
One benefit that is gaining in popularity is adoption assistance. A recent article in Workforce reported that the hotel chain Hilton Corp. has added the benefit, including both a stipend to cover the expenses of the adoption process and a broader parental leave program. Both are slated to go into effect in January 2017.
According to Jackie Reinberg, national practice leader of absence, disability management and life at Willis Towers Watson, who contributed to the article, adoption assistance stipends average $10,000, and can range from $5,000 to as high as $25,000.
Just 20% of employers offer it in 2016, according to the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Employee Benefits Survey. But Reinberg expects widespread adoption (pun intended) of the benefit as employers modernize their benefits programs.
To read the article in Workforce, click here.
October 13, 2016
According to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson, employers are increasing their efforts to achieve better health outcomes for their employees at a lower cost by implementing value-based reimbursement and payment arrangements with health insurers and providers.
This finding comes from the 21st annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey. The survey included responses from 600 U.S. employers between June and July 2016, who collectively employ 12.2 million full-time employees.
A recent article in Workforce highlighted findings from the survey and the strategies needed to implement them. Value-based strategies employers plan to use include establishing centers of excellence (COEs) for specialty services through health plans, separate providers, or third-party vendors; implementing high performance networks; and contracting directly with service providers to secure improved pricing.
When it comes to establishing centers of excellence, one big factor to consider is the region, according to Sarah Oliver, senior consultant and health care delivery leader for Willis Towers Watson.
“We’re seeing a movement looking at strategies on a regional basis,” said Oliver. “Depending how big the population is, employers are looking for locations where they have a higher concentration of employees in order to make meaningful impact if they do implement a center of excellence. All of this would be grounded in data and what the underlying issues are.”
For the complete release from Willis Towers Watson, click here.
For the article in Workforce on the findings, click here.
October 7, 2016
In July, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission issued an informal discussion letter in response to requests for clarification of incentive limits for employer-sponsored wellness programs. The request came in the wake of long-awaited final EEOC rulings on employer-sponsored wellness programs, released in May, that placed limits on employer wellness programs, including incentive amounts employers can offer employees to participate in the programs. The final rulings stipulated that incentives could not exceed 30% of the total cost of a major medical plan, but left some questions unanswered, including how employers that offer multiple wellness plans should calculate the maximum incentive limit.
The July letter noted that “the EEOC concluded that where an employer offers more than one group health plan option, but enrollment in a particular [emphasis added] plan is not required to participate in a wellness program, the maximum incentive is based on the total cost of the lowest cost self-only coverage under a major medical group health plan that the employer offers.”
The motivation for employers to encourage participation is in wellness programs is to achieve better health outcomes for employees, which translates to lower health care costs and higher workforce productivity for employers.
Since the way wellness programs are administered and legislation related to wellness continue to evolve, employers should expect additional updated guidelines from the EEOC.
To read the entire informal discussion letter from the EEOC, click here.
October 5, 2016
A recent survey from Willis Towers Watson revealed that over a third (37%) of U.S. employers are changing plan designs to reduce employee out-of-pocket costs at the point of service. The same percentage of employers (37%) are lowering premiums contributions for low-income workers. By 2018, the number of employers taking these steps is expected to rise to 53% and 51%, respectively.
These findings come from the 21st Annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, completed by 600 employers in June and July 2016.
In the face of continued cost pressures, employers have gradually increased the amount that employees pay for employer-sponsored health care. Increases have come in the form of larger premium contributions, higher copays and coinsurance, health plans with higher deductibles, and surcharges for coverage for working spouses eligible for health insurance from their own employers. Now, however, more employers are becoming concerned that health care is becoming unaffordable, especially for low-wage workers.
Other actions employers are taking to improve affordability include seeding health savings accounts (HSAs) tied to account-based health plans (ABHPs) to help employees close the gap created by the higher deductibles associated with such plans. Of employers that offer ABHPs, 85% are seeding HSAs with an average seed amount of $600 per year for employee-only coverage and twice that amount for employees with family coverage.
These steps employers are designed to ensure employees’ physical and financial health and well-being as well as on-the job productivity. The number of employers taking similar steps is expected to rise significantly over the next two years.
September 26, 2016
Some of the fastest-growing Medicare costs stem from doctors using new medical devices for testing and treatment in their offices, recent data shows.
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, four of the top 10 fastest-growing Medicare services from 2012 to 2014 involved new medical devices being used by doctors in their offices, instead of in care settings where they might typically be used.
The appeal to doctors of using these new devices is clear: because of the way Medicare payments are structured, their use can be very lucrative. There is also the convenience factor for both doctors and patients. And in an era when technology offers sophisticated medical innovations small enough for use in doctors’ offices, it’s easy to see how doctors are tempted to use cool new devices.
But the consequences of doctors using more medical devices in their offices is an uptick in Medicare spending, to the tune of $135 million, according to Medicare billing records. While that amount of money is a drop in the bucket of total Medicare spending, if the trend continues, it could result in meaningful increases.
So while in-office testing and treatment has its advantages, it’s a trend that bears watching from a cost-benefit point of view.
To read the article in the Wall Street Journal, click here.
September 23, 2016
In August 2016, Willis Towers Watson opened a state-of-the-art technology hub and service center in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area city of Tempe, AZ. The center is filling over 400 positions to work on software development and customer service for clients across the country. The number of employees there will increase to 800 over time.
New hires in the center include software engineers, quality assurance specialists, product managers, licensed benefits advisors and customer service representatives, all serving employers and employees who use our private exchange solutions.
With the addition of the new center, our Exchange Solutions segment now has more than 5,000 employees in 12 U.S. development and service centers focused on developing and supporting technology-based employee benefit solutions.
According to Gene Wickes, managing director of Exchange Solutions for Willis Towers Watson, the center will help the company achieve three key goals:
- Accelerate the development of a consistent and seamless user experience across all exchange offerings by unifying development teams
- Accommodate staffing needs as Exchange Solutions scales to handle the high volume of phone calls during enrollment periods—already over 1 million and growing
- Continue the significant investments already made in the cutting-edge call center technology and training that continuously improve the efficiency of benefit advisors and customer service representatives
September 22, 2016
Willis Towers Watson this week released a list of the top 10 questions employees should ask their employers about 2017 plan offerings before selecting new plans or renewing existing ones. The questions are based the results of our 21st annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, which quizzed employers on their expected cost increases for 2017 and the actions they plan to take to manage costs while delivering quality care.
According to the survey, employers expect an average increase of 5.0% in total health care costs in 2017. Areas of focus for plan changes are prescription drugs, spouse and dependent coverage, and expensive medical procedures such as specialized surgeries.
In addition to questions about steps employers might have taken to keep costs down, we suggested that employees ask which health plans their preferred doctors and other providers accept; what new benefits–including voluntary benefits–employers might have added; and whether employers have introduced new technologies such as a private benefits exchange to help employees select and manage benefits.
For the complete list of 10 questions, read the press release here.
September 13, 2016
The League of California Cities® announced today that it is working with Willis Towers Watson to give cities more health care options to offer to their retirees through the League of California Cities’ Health Benefits MarketplaceSM (HBM). The HBM launched in August and is a consumer-driven platform that lets cities redesign their approach to medical insurance and gives retirees and active employees coverage choices that align with their individual needs.
“California city officials have expressed the need for solutions to the ongoing pressure they face in reducing Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liabilities and providing competitive health benefits to active employees and retirees,” said Chris McKenzie, executive director, League of California Cities. “The Health Benefits Marketplace provides cities with the flexibility to leverage technology to enable greater health care choice as well as help manage OPEB liabilities and rising health care costs by decoupling and unbundling active employee and retiree costs.”
Reducing OPEB liabilities and providing health benefits to active employees and retirees is a challenge for many cities. The HBM provides cities with an efficient tool to leverage technology to enable greater health care choice as well as help manage OPEB liabilities and rising health care costs by allowing cities to handle retiree health benefits separately from health benefits for active employees.
Medicare and early-retiree coverage on the HBM is provided by Willis Towers Watson on its OneExchange™ marketplace. OneExchange lets cities achieve an immediate reduction in retiree health benefit costs, including long-term liability and the administration of health plan management. Retirees enjoy the value and transparency of a robust marketplace, meaningful choice of individual plans, and the expert assistance of licensed benefit advisors to help them choose coverage that fits their needs.
Diversified Benefit Strategies serves as the League’s private exchange consultant.
“The League went through a rigorous selection process to choose its partners for the Health Benefits Marketplace,” said Barry Eyre, lead consultant, Diversified Benefit Strategies. “Willis Towers Watson and Connecture have proven to be excellent partners in the creation of a highly flexible platform designed to meet the needs of public agencies in California.”
To learn more about the League’s Health Benefits Marketplace visit www.cacities.org/hbm and for the full announcement, see League of California Cities Announces New Partners in Offering Improved Health Benefits Options to Local Cities.
Despite efforts to establish quality metrics for health care and empowering health care consumers to choose elements of their own coverage, recent findings still show that people shop primarily around cost. This is according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), covered in a recent article in the New York Times.
According to the HHS analysis of buying trends in the public health insurance marketplace, two-thirds of people went for the lowest- or second-lowest-priced plans for the plan year 2015. For the plan year 2016, approximately half of people chose the cheapest plans.
According to health economist Austin Frakt in a different article in the New York Times, choosing a health plan based on premium price alone may be problematic because it leaves out other aspects of choosing care, such as the cost of the deductible. Other aspects of care, such as quality of care and number of doctors in the area, are also left out when only cost is considered.
This is where employers can step in. With clear and regular communication, and simple benefit tools, employers can help employees make the the best health care decisions possible given their health status and budgets.
To read the entire article in the New York Times, click here.