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Does Healthcare Consumerism Even Have A Chance?

Jeff Griffin

I’ll make a prediction. It’s going to be very difficult for all of us to become more informed consumers of healthcare when large swaths of that very system seem to be working against us at every turn.

For years now, my organization has championed price transparency in healthcare. We believe it to be the very best solution to bringing down runaway medical care and prescription drug costs, which have pushed up the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance by more than 50% this past decade.

We believe price transparency holds this power to improve group health insurance rates because it ideally allows employers to better ascertain which insurers offer the best discounts while at the same time allowing employees to shop around for healthcare services and prescription drug costs amongst various providers.

That’s why we were hopeful regarding a Trump administration rule that took effect in January, mandating that nearly all hospitals must make their prices public – a move that hospitals sued to stop but lost in both district and circuit courts.

For years now, it seems as if insurance companies have been the ones who have been made out to be the bad guys, and while they aren’t entirely off the hook, it’s nice to see hospitals finally identified as complicit in this mess.

On the flipside, we’re disappointed that just this week the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an order to delay the effective date for another Trump era executive order designed to lower prescription drug costs, again through actions which would bring about more pricing transparency. 

Setting aside what is hopefully just a temporary setback to the drug pricing transparency effort, one has to believe that the ruling on hospital price transparency alone holds great promise. And this would be true if it weren’t for the outrageous and rather nefarious transgressions being instituted by many hospitals around the country to circumvent this ruling.

These actions certainly have us wondering if consumer-directed healthcare even stands a chance.

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Topics: Price Transparency

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Fitness-Oriented Employee Benefit Options in a Post-Pandemic World

Jeff Griffin

Employer reimbursement of gym memberships was a popular employee benefit before COVID-19 hit the U.S. back in March 2020. Since then, workout facilities have suffered some of the highest pandemic-related losses and may not be a viable option for as many employers in the future.

From prolonged forced closures to capacity limits to time-consuming enhanced cleaning protocols, many fitness industry insiders and gym members themselves feel that gyms will never be the same as they were pre-pandemic

Despite these setbacks to the fitness industry, people are anxious to exercise again, especially after a long period of inactivity during quarantine. This is not to say that some people haven't doubled down on exercise during the pandemic, but the vast majority of people have not.

Faced with this quandary, employers may find it challenging to determine which fitness-related benefits to offer as we transition from lockdowns into such an altered physical and attitudinal landscape.

Today's blog post explores how the fitness landscape has changed and some potential options to consider in place of traditional gym memberships.

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Topics: wellness, workplace wellness

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A Closer Look at the Employment-related Provisions of the American Rescue Plan

Jeff Griffin

While my blog post yesterday provided an overview of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARPA), I thought it might be helpful to take a closer look and deeper dive into the employment-related provisions of the ARPA, which President Joe Biden signed into law last night before his televised address to the nation.

Along with providing financial relief to individuals, schools, businesses, and state and local governments, the law contains the following measures of which will undoubtedly be of special interest to employers and their employees:

  • A subsidy for COBRA premiums, funded through employer tax credits
  • Extension of employer tax credits for FFCRA employee leave voluntarily provided through Sept. 30, 2021
  • Expansion of employee earnings eligible for the FFCRA tax credit
  • Inclusion of testing and immunization as reasons for FFCRA leave
  • Extension of $300 increase in weekly unemployment benefits
  • Extension of weekly unemployment benefits for workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for these benefits
  • Expansion of subsidy for ACA premiums
  • Increase in DCAP contribution limits
  • Extension and expansion of the employee retention tax credit

Let’s discuss each of these in further detail;

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Topics: Legislation, COVID-19

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Overview of the American Rescue Plan Act

Jeff Griffin

Seven weeks into President Biden’s term, the American Rescue Plan Act, his first major piece of legislation, is set to become law. The House passed a final version of the $1.9 trillion relief bill yesterday afternoon, and just moments ago the President signed it into law, in advance of his first prime time address to the nation later today.

Most experts agree that the relief package is more than just a stopgap measure to shore up the economy or respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The bill contains major federal investment in low- and middle-income Americans, intended to drive economic growth by aiming money at people who are more likely to spend it versus those who might be more likely to save the money. (Critics of the bill argue that many of its provisions are aimed at strengthening the country’s social safety net and have little to do with the coronavirus pandemic.)

Highlights of the bill include extended unemployment benefits, direct checks to individuals, housing assistance, aid to schools and child care, and more.

While some of the bill was changed during its time in the Senate, it’s largely similar to the initial version passed by the House. However, some key provisions, such as a higher minimum wage, were scrapped amid efforts to pass the bill swiftly.

In addition, the bill does not include an extension of the eviction moratorium or an expansion of mandated paid sick and family and medical leave. While neither were included in the original House bill, these were popular provisions contained within one of the previous bills.

The $1.9 trillion package enjoys broad public support, with 70 percent of Americans expressing a favorable opinion of it, according to a Pew Research Center poll released yesterday. That includes nearly all Democrats and more than two in five Republicans, although it should be noted that no Republican lawmakers in Congress voted for the bill.

Here are the most relevant provisions included in the bill.

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Topics: COVID-19

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Employer Guidance for Creating Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Programs

Jeff Griffin

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, many employers are starting to consider setting-up onsite COVID-19 vaccination programs.

For many employers, operationalizing an onsite service like this may seem like nothing new since many have offered onsite flu shots as part of their workplace wellness programs for quite some time. That said, and as we all know by now, COVID-19 is nothing like the seasonal flu. Therfore, employers need to take heed of this advice as they begin planning for onsite vaccination efforts.

Most of the advice that follows comes by way of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of this writing, vaccine programs are not yet available to very many employers. Nevertheless, vaccination programs will eventually extend to additional workplaces as vaccine availability increases, meaning that employers should begin planning accordingly. 

As I addressed in an earlier blog post about employer rights with regards to offering and/or requiring workforce COVID-19 vaccinations, employers are in a unique position to help propel vaccinations, accelerating the country towards the 75% vaccination target that has been cited by top infectious disease experts as being required to fully eliminate the need for social distancing.

Company leaders find themselves in this unique position because it's widely believed that they can, in most cases, legally compel most of their employees to get vaccinated, making it compulsory and a requirement for returning to work. Regardless, just making vaccinations more convenient and easily accessible will also go a long way in helping to accelerate inoculations.

As I stated in my earlier blog post, and wish to reiterate here, just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it should be done. Setting that aside, today's blog post simply addresses the guidance the CDC is currently providing with regards to employer-led vaccination programs.

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Topics: COVID-19

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5 HR Technology Trends to Monitor in 2021

Jeff Griffin

With the pandemic entering its second year, many organizations have adopted remote work as part of their everyday business operations. Many employers plan to continue this practice, in whole or in part, once the pandemic subsidies. 

The sustainability of this practice is putting increased pressure on organizations to optimize their remote technology solutions for collaboration, communication, monitoring, security, and performance evaluation when working from a distance.

Of course, applying technical solutions to workplace challenges is nothing new for HR. For almost two decades, technological innovations have helped HR departments become far more efficient, eliminating redundancies while vastly improving data integrity.

By automating a wide range of time-consuming business functions, HR professionals have been liberated to shift their focus from rote administrative tasks to high-impact tasks like strategy, employee engagement, and change management. 

In fact, according to PwC’s 2020 Human Resources Technology Survey, the core issues driving HR technology decisions today include: 

  • Finding, attracting, and retaining talent 
  • Developing people to reach their full potential
  • Improving the employee experience 
  • Creating collaborative work environments 
  • Workforce planning 
  • Ensuring employee well-being, diversity, and inclusivity 

With HR technology solutions in abundance to help enhance the overall employee experience, transform businesses, and assist organizations responding to change, here are five HR technology trends to watch for in 2021.

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Topics: Technology, Telemedicine, COVID-19

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Prescription Drug Pricing Trends

Jeff Griffin

As prescription drug costs continue to increase, it’s important for employers to understand the trends behind the rise and what they can do to better manage their health care expenses.

This blog post sets out to provide context for why prescription prices continue to rise and offers cost-cutting solutions for employers and employees.

Prescription Drug Cost Drivers

In 2019, the United States spent nearly $370 billion on prescription drugs, keeping trend with significant increases year over year. Although prescription drug spending has historically been a small proportion of national health care costs compared to hospital and physician services, it has grown rapidly in recent years—comprising about 10% of national health care spending.

A multitude of reasons led to this steady rise in prescription drug costs, including the following.

Influx of Specialty Drugs

Specialty medications account for a smaller portion of U.S. prescriptions than non-specialty drugs, yet they commanded nearly half of the pharmaceutical market in 2016 ($180 billion). And that dominance is likely to remain. Specialty drug spending is projected to experience rapid growth over the next several years, due to pricing increases.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Prescription Drugs

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5 Telehealth Trends to Watch in 2021

Jeff Griffin

Employers that are interested in cutting their health care expenses are likely familiar with telehealth. This is the process of communicating with a doctor via an app, or a webcam and computer. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage skyrocketed, making it one of the most popular ways to receive health care.

As such, employers should stay apprised of notable telehealth trends to ensure they stay competitive and provide the best health care options to their employees. This article discusses five telehealth trends to watch for in 2021.

1. More Patient Utilization of Telehealth

As was stated, telehealth exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. To put that into figures, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits in April 2020 were made using telehealth, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And even before the pandemic, year-over-year utilization was up 33% in early 2020, according to Medical Economics.

If these statistics aren’t enough to prove that telehealth is here to stay, look instead at market projections. The telehealth market is estimated to surmount $185 billion by 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights. Considering the market was only worth around $34 billion in 2018, this shows how much of an impact telehealth has made on the health care industry.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Telemedicine, COVID-19

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Can Employers Require COVID-19 Vaccinations, Should They, and Where to Start?

Jeff Griffin

Almost half of Americans state they will not get vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus – at least not right away. Some of this stems from the speed at which the vaccines are being developed, but also from a segment of the population that has always been suspicious of any vaccines (so-called anti-vaxxers).

The possibility that large swaths of the U.S. population may refuse or delay getting any one of the COVID-19 vaccines presents a serious challenge to the nation's health and the health of our business economy.

Employers are in a unique position to help propel vaccinations, accelerating the country towards the 75% vaccination target that has been cited by top infectious disease experts as being required to fully eliminate the need for social distancing.

Company leaders find themselves in this unique position because it's widely believed that they can, in most cases, legally compel their employees to get vaccinated, making it compulsory and a requirement for returning to work.

Now just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it should be done. There are persuasive arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. There are also some exceptions to consider, and some basic questions to be answered, such as where to even start among the workforce. We'll do our best to answer a few of these questions today.

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Topics: wellness, Legislation, workplace wellness

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Virtual Company Holiday Party Ideas During Coronavirus Pandemic

Jeff Griffin

Given the tremendous challenges surrounding in-person gatherings, employers everywhere have been torn between hosting, postponing, or outright canceling their company holiday parties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outsourcing firm that conducts an annual survey of workplace holiday festivities, most employers are either canceling their parties altogether or are hosting them virtually this holiday season. 

 

Their annual survey found that only 23 percent of organizations plan to host a year-end celebration in 2020, down from 76 percent in 2019 - a decline of more than two thirds. And of companies who are planning on holding a holiday party, three out of four are doing so virtually.

 

Since the vast majority of companies who plan to celebrate are embracing virtual as the ideal way to save the day, here are some suggestions and ideas for your party planning committee to consider.

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Topics: Company Culture

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