Health Care Costs
High deductible insurance plans come with benefits, drawbacks
Thursday, 29 September 2011 16:00In a study, researchers at the RAND Corporation, Towers Watson and the University of Southern California found that employee health benefits that include deductibles of $1,000 or more can mean big savings for both employer and consumer.
Lower expenditures resulted from patients being able to make their own decisions when it came to care - namely, in choosing whether to see a specialist or take name brand pharmaceuticals - according to the study.
"Unlike earlier time periods, it seems that today's consumers can have greater influence on the level and mix of medical services provided once they begin to receive medical care," said lead author Amelia Haviland, of RAND Corporation.
However, the team also observed a slight decline in cancer screenings and childhood immunizations among consumers during the first year of their high deductible plan. Authors of the study said this statistic raises some concern over individuals skipping needed healthcare services.
Results of this study suggest that organizations should work with staff members to help them choose the most appropriate employee health benefits to suit their needs.
Study reveals many employers in need of education for specialty healthcare
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 16:00Specialty pharmaceuticals, which include medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer and hepatitis C, make up an estimated 11 to 15 percent of total drug costs, according to a report by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
As a result, it may seem a bit troubling that an estimated 25 percent of U.S. employers have a severe or complete lack of understanding of specialty pharmaceuticals and their costs, according to a survey by the Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH).
Just 53 percent of the 120 business administrators surveyed revealed a moderate understanding of these healthcare costs.
“In addition to the uncertainty and challenges that health reform and the economy are placing on employers, health plans and pharmacy benefit managers, the real driver of drug cost trend growth for employers lies in biologics and specialty pharmacy," said Cheryl Larson, MBGH vice president.
The survey also revealed that 30 percent of organizations did not track the rise in costs of specialty pharmaceuticals over the past three to five years.
Results of this study suggest that employers may want to be sure that workers are covered for specialty drugs with their employee health benefits, as well as focus on preventative measures for employee wellness to stave off chronic and hard-to-treat diseases among staff members.
Government agencies looking to cut costs of employee health benefits
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 16:00Much like organizations in the private sector, government administrators are looking toward healthcare expenditures as an area where they can cut costs, according to the 2011 National Survey of Local Governments conducted by Cobalt Community Research (CCR).
The research reveals that about 6 percent of public agencies are considering cutting employee health benefits altogether, while an additional 25 percent reported plans to raise premiums, deductibles and copayments.
"In a very real way, local governments must choose if they will pay for police, potholes, or pills," said William SaintAmour, executive director of CCR. "It's very, very tough to address immediate needs and long-term benefit costs. This report explores how local leaders are striving to do it."
Additionally, researchers said that about 60 percent of the 1,690 municipalities surveyed are not taking advantage of employee wellness programs and other preventative and educational initiatives aimed at staving off illnesses.
This suggests that government agencies may want to look into ways in which they can proactively improve staff wellness while lowering costs stemming from employee health benefits before they eliminate important care for workers.
High costs of healthcare are influencing risky behavior
Monday, 26 September 2011 16:00There are a number of ways to lower costs stemming from healthcare, from preventative measures to obtaining a tailored insurance plan. However, a recent study reveals that most Americans are more likely to forgo appointments, procedures or medications instead.
In a poll, researchers at Consumer Reports found that 48 percent of respondents reported that they would be likely to save on healthcare by postponing a doctor's visit, skipping recommended tests or purchasing cheap pharmaceuticals from outside the U.S.
Additionally, some 16 percent said they have avoided getting a prescription refill, while 13 percent said they've used expired medication and 12 percent have skipped doses. Individuals with low incomes were most likely to use these risky tactics, with about 35 percent admitting to taking unsafe money-saving measures.
"Our polling suggests that the burden of prescription drug prices is coming down as our medicine cabinets are more frequently filled with generic drugs. But the costs of multiple prescriptions has proved to be onerous for many Americans, so much so that some consumers are making unhealthy tradeoffs," said Lisa Gill, prescription drug editor, Consumer Reports Health.
These findings underscore the need for preventative measures - like screening methods or stress management techniques - in order to stave off chronic illnesses, which often come with a lifetime of prescription medication.
Employees not taking advantage of flexible spending accounts
Tuesday, 20 September 2011 16:00Flexible spending accounts (FSA) allow workers to contribute money toward healthcare expenses without paying taxes on the income that they set aside. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there is currently no law limiting the amount that employees can put into an account.
However, according to the American Payroll Association (APA), there may soon be a $2,500 cap on the amount that workers can contribute to a FSA, though it's unclear how this will actually affect U.S. employees. A recent APA survey reported that just 12 percent of respondents contributed $2,500 into their FSA over the past year.
A total of 39 percent of surveyed workers reported contributing less than this amount into an FSA, while 46 percent said they did not use their FSA at all.
APA officials said that this may be a problem, considering rising costs of healthcare.
"Employers should encourage employees to take advantage of these and other pre-tax, voluntary payroll deductions to ease the burden of these anticipated expenses," said APA executive director Dan Maddux.
Companies save big on healthcare with prevention efforts
Thursday, 15 September 2011 16:00The benefits of employee wellness programs have been touted in recent years as money-savers for companies concerned about the rising costs of healthcare. However, it's sometimes hard to quantify just how much organizations stand to save.
A group of businesses in the Kansas City region recently announced that they were able to avoid $11 million in healthcare costs over three years after implementing several initiatives in the workplace aimed at disease prevention and tailored employee health benefits.
Some of the interventions these 15 companies used were increasing access to health information, decreasing obstacles to preventative care, encouraging workers to reduce their risks of illness and improving treatment options for chronic diseases.
"By implementing a value-based approach to health benefit design, this group of employers has been able to better address worker health and productivity while also lowering overall healthcare costs," said Christine Wilson, president and CEO of the Mid-America Coalition on Health Care.
Administrators estimated that $194 was saved per employee as a result of chronic illness prevention.
Since stress is a leading cause of chronic disease, this suggests that employee wellness programs aimed at managing tension may help reduce workplace stress and cut costs stemming from employee health benefits.
Hospital workers spend more than average on healthcare
Sunday, 11 September 2011 16:00One might think that doctors and nurses have the skills and knowledge to avoid illness and lead an exemplary lifestyle. However, this may not be true, as a new study reveals that hospital employees spend more on healthcare and are generally sick more often than the general population.
Research conducted by Thompson Reuters shows that healthcare workers spend about 10 percent more on costs stemming from insurance, doctor and emergency room visits, as well as prescriptions.
Moreover, the study revealed that hospital employees and their families were 22 percent more likely to make a trip to the emergency room when compared to the public.
"Ideally, the healthcare workforce would be a model for healthy behaviors and the appropriate use of medical resources," said researcher Raymond Fabius, M.D. "Unfortunately, our data suggests that the opposite is true today. Hospitals that tackle this issue can strengthen their business performance and community service."
Results of this study suggest that medical workers may be in need of tools and resources for healthy living. Additionally, employee wellness programs for stress management have been shown to reduce healthcare costs by reducing the negative effects of chronic anxiety.
Healthcare costs are infringing on income gains
Wednesday, 07 September 2011 16:00A study conducted by the nonprofit RAND Corporation reveals that over the past decade, income gains have amounted to an extra $95 per month for U.S. families when taking into account the rise in healthcare costs.
By comparison, if the cost of insurance, pharmaceuticals and medical procedures had grown in proportion to that of other goods and services, American families would have experienced a $545 increase in monthly income.
"Accelerating healthcare costs are a primary reason that the so many American families feel like they are just treading water financially," said lead author David Auerbach. "Unless we reverse the trend, Americans increasingly will notice that health costs compromise their other spending options."
The researchers examined costs and income from 1999 to 2009, and found that spending on healthcare increased from $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion. For individuals, costs went from an annual expenditure of $4,600 in 1999 to $8,000 in 2009.
Results of this study suggest that employee wellness programs aimed at reducing workplace stress and improving staff health may help curb the cost of employee health benefits, which may be good for both worker and employer.
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