Deferred Medical Care - Employer Tips for Mitigating the Costs

David Rook

To keep rising group medical premiums as low as possible, employers have, for years, aggressively promoted preventive medical care. This strategy has been and continues to be one of the best cost containment strategies for taming the alarming and seemingly never-ending increases in health care premiums.

Not only does the early detection of health issues result in better patient outcomes, but it also helps prevent a medical claim from becoming catastrophic in terms of cost. High-cost claims not only create a financial burden for the patient but also contribute to year-over-year increases in medical premiums for the employer, which inevitably trickles down to the entire workforce enrolled in the health plan.

The pandemic, however, changed how individuals accessed health care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 41% of people deferred care during 2020 and 2021 due to concerns related to the pandemic.

Many individuals who postponed elective or in-person care to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 are now starting to address their deferred care. Accordingly, employers are struggling to respond to this surge in employee health care usage in a cost-effective manner.

Furthermore this deferred care is contributing to an already tight labor market since absences from work for medical appointments and recovery is on the rise. 

By implementing strategies to address deferred medical care, employers can better prepare for increased future health care costs and workforce absences. Here are strategies to help employers with these issues. 

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Topics: Cost Containment, COVID-19

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The Omicron BA.2 Subvariant – What Employees Are Asking About COVID-19 At-Home Testing & Mixing Booster Shots

Jeff Griffin

Several high-profile people have tested positive for COVID-19 these past few weeks, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Miley Cyrus, Daniel Craig, and nearly 75 of Washington's elites such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland, just to name a few.

Accordingly, interest has grown in a fourth vaccine dose, approved recently by the FDA, for Pfizer and Moderna, for people age 50 or older (as well as a few other groups with weakened immune systems).

With major cities in Europe and China, as well as some parts of the U.S. seeing an uptick in cases driven by the BA.2 subvariant, the CDC quickly backed the FDA's decision, though it's worth noting that both agencies made their decisions without consulting their committees of independent vaccine experts. While this has been done before, this action continues to come under intense scrutiny.

With renewed worries about another wave of coronavirus infections comes three questions employees and employers have on their minds:

1) Are today's at-home tests capable of detecting the Omicron BA.2 subvariant? 

2) Are health plans still required to cover at-home rapid tests?

3) What's the latest guidance on mixing booster shots?

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Topics: Preventative Care, COVID-19

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White House Announces Vaccination Requirements for Large and Mid-Size Employers

Jeff Griffin

Nearly 100 million workers, or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce, will be impacted by new vaccine requirements announced by President Biden yesterday. 

Prompted by a surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths - most especially among the unvaccinated - the requirement stipulates that employers with 100 or more employees require their workforces to be vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 testing.

While it’s expected to be challenged in the courts, this new requirement is part of a six-point initiative the White House laid out yesterday to boost vaccinations, increase access to testing, and broaden the availability of Covid-19 treatments.

Final details of the plan will come by way of an "emergency temporary standard" issued in the next few weeks by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Businesses that don’t comply may face fines of up to $14,000 per violation. 

Per yesterday’s announcement, workers will be considered vaccinated if they receive a single Johnson & Johnson dose or two doses of the vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer. It’s unclear how a booster shot might play into things if/when approved by federal regulators.

Here are additional details of the plan.

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Topics: COVID-19

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Employer Vaccination Mandates and Medical Premium Surcharges

Jeff Griffin

Many employers are struggling to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among their workforce, concerned not only about the safety of the workforce but also the costs of COVID-19 treatment that could be avoided through vaccination.

Some, like Delta Airlines, are turning to higher premium costs, or a surcharge, for any group health plan participants who remain unvaccinated. This decision by Delta, taken once an FDA-approved vaccine came on the market, should by no means be interpreted as a full-throated endorsement of this action. In fact, it’s quite likely that Delta’s decision will be tested in the courts.

Challenges are likely to come in three areas: wellness positioning, surcharge amounts, and possible discrimination. Nevertheless, Delta’s decision has prompted some employers to consider doing something similar.

Here are issues employers need to consider if they decide to take similar action.

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Topics: Compliance, Cost Containment, wellness, COVID-19

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Preventing Post-Pandemic Employee Turnover

Jeff Griffin

The COVID-19 pandemic is finally getting under control. As more Americans get vaccinated, states are gradually lifting restrictions, and life is returning to pre-pandemic normalcy. Finally, individuals can get to the tasks they’ve been postponing for more than a year.

Unfortunately for employers looking to retain employees, some employees are now ready to find new jobs.

Turnover is a common occurrence throughout any given year. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, year-over-year turnover trends drastically reduced. Workers instead clung to their jobs as a way to maintain financial security, having seen countless others get furloughed or laid off.

Now, as the economy opens back up, employers are pushing for employees to return to the workplace. But, a significant number of employees are unwilling to return to the status quo that was established pre-pandemic.

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Topics: Company Culture, Employee Retention, COVID-19

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Post-Pandemic Baby Boom or Bust?

Jeff Griffin

Employers bracing for a post-pandemic baby boom can rest easy. A spike in post-pandemic pre- and postnatal healthcare costs, as well as an influx of maternity and paternity leaves, aren’t likely to come to fruition. 

While nationwide data on birth numbers isn’t expected to come until later this year, an Associated Press analysis of data from 25 states indicates that the anticipated baby boom looks more like a bust. Recently released data by the CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau also supports much of the same. 

The data indicates that births have fallen dramatically in many states during the coronavirus outbreak. Births for all of 2020 were down 4.3% from 2019. Still, more tellingly, births in December 2020 and in January and February 2021 (nine months or more after the spring 2020 lockdowns) were down 6.5%, 9.3%, and 10%, respectively, when compared with the same periods a year earlier.

Together these declines account for an 8% decline versus a year ago, making this period the lowest the birthrate has dropped in over 40 years. This is good news for employers since childbirth and newborn care are oftentimes the most expensive medical conditions billed to employer-based insurers.

That said, falling birthrates present a host of other challenges that dwarf high claims costs.  

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Topics: FMLA, COVID-19

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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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