Health Care Costs
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.
As health benefit costs rise, employers work to offset increases
Monday, 22 August 2011 16:00A recent United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Health Plan Survey revealed that there has been a rise in use of consumer-driven health plans (CDHP) over the past year, and that the cost of such programs has risen by 8 percent over the past year.
CDHPs now make up about 23 percent of all insurance plans offered, amounting to a nearly 14 percent growth from 2010.
The survey found that employers are offering higher health reimbursement account or savings account contributions to help offset the rising costs of employee health benefits, from an average of $1,481 last year to $1,656 this year. Contribution rates for families went from $2,857 last year to $3,198 in 2011.
"For the first time in more than seven years of reporting, CDHPs nationally did not create a savings over the clients' in-force plan prior to renewal. This year experienced an increase (2.1 percent), albeit less than the average 8.2 percent increase of all plans," said Bill Stafford, UBA VP of member services.
Additionally, the survey revealed that about 81 percent of companies offering employee wellness programs include health risk assessments.
Organizations expecting a 7.2 percent hike in insurance costs next year
Thursday, 18 August 2011 16:00In light of expectations that employee health benefit costs will surpass the rate of inflation by double, administrators report that they plan to shift some of those expenses onto staff members, according to a report by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).
A survey by the organization revealed that many employers expect a 7.2 percent increase in health insurance costs. This is 0.2 percent less than last year's hike, but still well above the growth expected in business profits.
Rising costs combined with a slow economy present some difficult challenges for organizations.
"Employers are being much more aggressive in their use of cost sharing techniques and cost control programs, and are making certain that employees have more reasons to be cost-sensitive health care consumers," said Helen Darling, president and CEO of NBGH.
A total of 53 percent of survey respondents said they plan to increase employee premiums on health insurance, and 39 percent revealed plans to increase deductibles.
Considering that higher costs and lower profits contribute greatly to workplace stress, and chronic anxiety is associated with a host of physical and mental conditions, these findings suggest that employee wellness programs may be able to help. Providing workers with the tools and resources to manage their stress has been shown to be an effective strategy in improving staff health, strengthening employee performance and reducing costs stemming from insurance benefits.
Midsize businesses may benefit most from employee wellness programs
Tuesday, 09 August 2011 16:00Midsize employers may be better able to take advantage of employee wellness initiatives, Crain's Cleveland Business recently wrote. The smaller number of total employees can make the participation of each individual in a program count for more in terms of the effect on the organization.
Byron Stout, VP of human resources at Meritrust Credit Union told the source that the company chose to become self-insured after its insurance provider did not reduce premiums, despite a successful employee wellness program.
After 11 months of self-insurance, the company found health care costs nearly a quarter below the budget. Stout explained the wellness program to the source, noting that there are three tiers which increasingly reward healthy behaviors, such as exercise and healthy eating, as well as debt reduction and financial responsibility.
"We know that when our employees are happy, it reflects on their work and extends to our customers," Stout told the source.
Employees who participate receive financial incentives, which may include skipping a health plan premium payment.
According to the National Institutes of Health, exercise, eating nutritionally and a healthy social life can reduce stress from work pressure or other sources. Emotional stress can lead to physical discomfort or pain. Reducing and managing stress may help employees stay happy and focused on the job.
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