road from above

On November 16, 2017 Wills Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), announced that is has renamed one of its Exchange Solutions as Benefits Delivery and Administration (BDA). The company also said that it has introduced Via Benefits TM, a new consumer-facing brand name for some of the solutions within BDA, previously captured under OneExchange® and Acclaris.

“Our benefits delivery and administration solutions have continually evolved to address the challenges that employers face within the ever-changing benefits landscape,” said Gene Wickes, head of Benefits Delivery and Administration, Willis Towers Watson. “This new segment name and brand better reflect our current product suite and strategy, and we believe they more accurately capture the spirit and reality of our vision, how clients think about their benefits strategies, and how we currently bring our solutions to market. Our mission is to help our clients unlock the value of their benefits programs with strategies and solutions that empower people to maximize the value of their benefits dollars in this evolving marketspace.”

The BDA segment combines the company’s leading administration, benefits accounts and marketplace (often called exchange) offerings for North American employers and plan sponsors. The company delivers a range of integrated benefits delivery solutions designed to meet employers’ unique needs wherever they are in their benefits strategy lifecycle.

The Via Benefits name signifies a journey toward finding a personalized portfolio of insurance coverages to meet the diverse needs of participants.

Read the entire press release here.

 

Nearly 100% of employers are satisfied using a benefits marketplace (also known as a private exchange) to deliver an online shopping experience for choosing health and other benefits to employees, according to the 2017 Employer Experiences on Benefits Marketplaces Survey report by Willis Towers Watson. The majority of employers believe it has impacted their employees and company in a positive way by helping to control costs, simplify administration, and improve company culture:*

  • 97% of employers are satisfied with the benefits marketplace.
  • 86% think the benefits marketplace has helped them control benefits costs.
  • 89% say moving to the benefits marketplace has impacted their company culture positively.

Willis Towers Watson surveyed employers who use our benefits marketplaces to offer employees health benefits and more. This survey targeted employers with benefits effective dates between April 2016 and March 2017.

Read the full employer report: Willis Towers Watson Employer Satisfaction with Benefits Marketplaces 2017.

Read the employee report: Willis Towers Watson Health Care Consumerism in a Marketplace Environment 2017.

See the full infographic: Willis Towers Watson Infographic Everybody Wins

Click for the full WTW 2017 Employer Satisfaction Survey Infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Data reflective of Willis Towers Watson Mid-Market and broker channel market

When in doubt, get a second opinion. This is generally good advice when it comes to health-related issues. And a growing number of employers are taking it to heart by requiring employees to get a second opinion before starting treatment for a medical problem.

According to the 2016 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey, 23% of employers have implemented expert medical and second opinion programs. That number is expected to more than double to 58% in the next two years.

In a recent article in Workforce, Jeff Levin-Scherz, national leader of Willis Towers Watson’s North American health management practice, explained that there are two reasons for the increase in employer interest in second opinion programs. First, health care has become more individualized and it’s hard for people to find the best and most qualified physicians and for physicians to give the best advice in every circumstance. Second, the options for expert second opinion programs available to employers have increased and improved.

Said Levin-Scherz, “Employers are able to gain much more valuable service for their employees in expert medical opinions now than they were a number of years ago.”

For the complete article in Workforce, click here.

Therapy On A Virtual Couch

February 28, 2017

Telemedicine is experiencing a surge in popularity among employers for faster, more convenient, and less expensive diagnosis and treatment of illnesses that can be effectively handled remotely. Increasingly, these conditions include behavioral health issues such as depression or anxiety.

In 2016, 68% of employers offered their employees telemedicine consultations with health care providers as an alternative to in-person visits, a number that could grow to 90% by 2018, according to the 2016 Willis Towers Watson Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey. In addition, as reported in a recent Money Magazine article, more states are requiring insurers to cover telemedicine.

Interviewed for the Money article on the topic of telemedicine mental health treatments, Dr. Allan Khoury, an MD, PhD and senior health care consultant with Willis Towers Watson, said, “Virtual therapy can be as effective as traditional therapy.”

Dr. Khoury noted that this is especially true for people who don’t live nearby a psychiatrist or therapist or don’t want to be seen walking into the offices of a mental health services provider because of concerns about privacy or social stigma.

At the same time, because easy to access sometimes means easy to ignore, Dr. Khoury advised patients not to rely solely on virtual therapy if they’d be more likely to follow through on an expert’s advice if they met in person.

To read the entire article in Money Magazine, click here.

To help employees cope with rising out-of-pocket medical expenses, a growing number of employers are offering employees gap insurance. Gap insurance is supplemental insurance that covers the difference between what a core medical insurance plan pays for services and the contribution a policyholder is expected to make. Common examples of gap insurance include coverage for hospital stays, accidents, and critical care for major illnesses.

Unlike core medical plans, employers tend to offer gap insurance as voluntary insurance, meaning that employees pay for it themselves, although often at a discount negotiated by their employer.

Another difference is that gap insurance is not constrained by the rules covering core medical coverage. This means, for example, that individuals with pre-existing conditions can be excluded from coverage. However, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal on the growing popularity of gap insurance, Amy Hollis, a senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson who leads the voluntary benefits practice for the company, pointed out that many providers will remove this provision for an employer.

As an alternative to gap insurance, Hollis also said that some employees might be better off putting money into a tax-advantaged health savings account and using those funds to pay out-of-pocket expenses. But for employees with a low tolerance for risk or who have access to plans that are relatively inexpensive, gap coverage could make sense.

To read the entire article in the Wall Street Journal, click here.

How To Choose An EAP

January 19, 2017

To alleviate a wide variety of issues, including the effects of workplace stress, financial concerns, and relationship problems, many employers offer services called Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Despite many employers offering them, however, EAPs are often not fully used by employees.

A recent article in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers tips for employers looking to increase EAP participation. These include picking right the EAP for the size of their workforce and ensuring that EAP counselors have the right education and experience to meet employees’ needs. Quoted in the article, Mandi Conforti, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, noted in particular that employers should look for counselors who can properly assess employees needs. Said Conforti, “You need counselors who are clinically trained to do biopsychosocial evaluations, because many people contacting an EAP have more than one problem they are dealing with.”

Not surprisingly, the most effective EAPs are those that are customized to the needs of a specific workforce. This is especially true when there are high rates of issues such as alcohol or substance abuse.

To read the article in Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM), click here.

For more information on EAPs, see our previous OneExchange blog post on the topic here.

robharkins

For highlights of my perspective in articles and blogs, see my comments on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This post is part of our Exchange Innovator Series featuring leading private exchange, health care reform and Medicare experts from Willis Towers Watson. See John Barkett and Sherri Bockhorst.

I’m Rob Harkins, private exchange practice leader for mid-market employers, for Willis Towers Watson’s private exchange business sector.

As part of the Health and Benefits segment, it’s my mission to ensure satisfaction internally, as well as externally, with our leading mid-market clients, accessing a modernized technological approach to benefit delivery, whether their need is individual Medicare, pre-65 retiree benefits, or group coverage.

I’ve been heavily involved during the merger of Willis and Towers Watson, enhancing the transition and acting as a bridge between our Health & Benefits consulting group and our base of mid-market employers, with populations ranging from the hundreds to the tens of thousands.

My health insurance roots

harkinsdinnerwfriends

Baltimore with my wife and friends

I cut my teeth on exchanges at Extend Health – a start-up that was acquired by Towers Watson in 2012. Having worked on Medicare Advantage with a focus on state and public sector employers, I was a steward for our channel partner relationships between consultants that wanted to provide a private Medicare exchange to their clients, including Towers Watson and Willis. I eventually moved from Extend Health to become the exchange practice leader at Willis. Collaborating with Liazon, I developed the Willis private exchange platform. In the process, I kicked the tires on every private exchange in the market in order to create something that would deliver true value to our employer clients and their employees.My education was in health care administration, which provided a terrific springboard for my career. I’ve worked in a range of companies, from start-ups to major national health insurance carriers, and this breadth of experience helped me to develop products and solutions that synched with innovation in the health care space.

 

My attention and focus is always drawn to what we can do operationally to innovate with technology and engage employees. I’ve always been the change agent. My true passion is looking at what is on the horizon and integrating the very best components of the past, present and the future into one integrated vision. One of my strengths is getting employers to understand how and when change can be beneficial. I believe in identifying various opportunities that can bring clients value, and then helping them get there by painting that picture for them.

Where I see health insurance going

harkinshike

I love the outdoors and hiking

One of the top reasons employers are now turning to private exchanges is the changing workforce.

A digitally savvy younger workforce does not want to access benefits from an antiquated system. They just don’t. No one wants to get into a car and wind down a window or push a button to lock a door. Health exchanges are to benefit delivery what the smartphone has been to the telephone.

The benefits world moves very slowly, especially when it comes to employers who have a very paternalistic approach to employees. But how can we continue to deliver on paper or in a clunky benefit administration system that has to rival the ease with which we can buy cars? The system has to be very sophisticated.

harkins-familty-cruise

Very proud of my big family

Private exchanges are bringing benefits into the 21st century—with access and choice. Ten years from now, everyone will be using exchanges, because the way it was done yesterday just can’t continue. Once you change technology, there’s no going back. The dial-up phone is gone.

I believe that there will be gradual embracing of all the components that are part and parcel of the technology enhancements exchanges bring.

We all learned how to shop online—no one gave us a training manual. We all figured it out, and our culture changed around the technology, and the technology was very agile and responsive. And that’s what the exchange platform is: It’s a new way of doing things.

To reach me for comment on an article or a presentation, contact Melanie Meharchand, Director of PR and Social Media for Exchange Solutions, Willis Towers Watson.

 

A recent article in Managed Healthcare Executive posed the question, “Are Payers Optimistic About Biosimilars’ Savings?”

The answer, it seems, is a tentative “yes.”

Biosimilars are lower cost version of expensive biologics. The first biosimilar approved by the FDA in the U.S. was Zarxio, a generic of Amgen’s Neupogen, back in March of 2015. This approval opened the door for many others.

What remains to be seen is how companies and their pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) will handle this new class of drugs when managing their drug formularies. One mistake they should avoid is treating biosimilars like generics, says Willis Towers Watson North American Pharmacy Practice Leader, Nadina Rosier.

Quoted in the article, Rosier said, “Biosimilars are not the same as generic specialty drugs, so strategies that ‘auto-substitute’ in similar ways to how generics substitute for traditional drugs are not appropriate. Instead, many PBMs have indicated they are considering formulary approaches that are similar to how traditional and specialty drugs are managed today.”

For the complete article in Managed Healthcare Executive, click here.

Employers are always looking for ways to deliver care that better meets the needs of their workforce at a lower cost. While there are finite ways of doing that, medical innovation is pushing back the barrier on what is possible in the health care space, to the benefit of all.

Here are some of the most promising health innovations coming in 2017 according to the Cleveland Clinic, as described in a recent article for Fast Company:

Diabetes Drugs That Reduce Cardiovascular Disease

Generic drugs like empaglifozin and liraglutide have the potential to blunt the effect of diabetes on the body and even positively affect related conditions such as heart disease. The implications for this discovery are huge, as nearly half of U.S. adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Health Care Systems Talking To One Another

For anyone who has found the lack of communication between different health systems frustrating, the advent of an international standard may provide a solution. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), is a draft standard and application used to exchange electronic health records that could allow hospital systems to integrate billing, insurance, and appointments more seamlessly. This standard is still fairly new, introduced in 2014 by Health Level Seven International, an international nonprofit focused on healthcare interoperability. It remains to be seen whether it will be widely adopted, but it has the potential to connect health care systems more effectively.

Bio-Dissolving Arterial Stents

Stents are small mesh tubes that can be used to temporarily prop open obstructed passageways such as blood vessels. Now a new type of stent dissolves on its own once it is no longer needed. So-called “bio-dissolving stents” are still in the early stages; only one has been approved by the FDA. But more could be on the horizon.

These are just a few of the health innovations coming soon that may shape how diseases are prevented or treated, surgeries performed, and hospital systems managed. For employers, all of these innovations have the potential to improve health outcomes for employees and provide better tools to maintain a healthy and productive workforce.

For the complete article in Fast Company, click here.

With the end of the year just around the corner, we are taking a moment to look back at the most popular posts on the OneExchange blog this year.

Most-read topics included benefits administration, telemedicine, disease management programs, and types of benefits being offered, including student loan repayment, workplace perks such as snow days, and changing PTO policies. We also got to know more about exchange innovator Sherri Bockhorst, a managing director of Willis Towers Watson’s group exchange business.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the top 10 posts:

On workplace perks: “New parents no doubt perked up (pun intended) when companies offered such benefits as unlimited parental leave (Netflix) and $4,000 in “baby cash” for the birth of a newborn (Facebook).”

On telemedicine: “The average telemedicine visit costs between $40 and $49…. This compares favorably with a visit to a primary care doctor ($110) or a trip to the emergency room ($865).”

On biosimilars: “The potential benefit [from the FDA approving more biosimilars] is huge… biosimilars could result in over $44 billion in savings on biologics between 2014 and 2024.”

Read on for the complete list of the top 10 blog posts in 2016:

  1. “Panda Days” and Paid Time Off: What Perks Perk Up Employees
  1. Employers Look To Private Medicare Exchanges As Alternative To Group Retiree Health Coverage
  1. Meet Exchange Innovator Sherri Bockhorst
  1. Little Known Rule Allows Some Seniors To Change Medicare Advantage Plans When Plans Drop Their Doctors
  1. League Of California Cities Partners With OneExchange On New Private Exchange Offering
  1. Employers Add Student Loan Repayment To Benefits Offerings To Attract Millennials
  1. Employee Well-being In The Workplace A Priority For Employers In Coming Years
  1. More Private Exchanges Adding Disease Management Programs
  2. Reimbursement Issues Plague Biosimilars
  1. Telemedicine Benefits Remain Underutilized