Healthcare for EVERYONE?!

On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States found the Affordable Care Act constitutional. This decision was long awaited by both sides of the aisle, healthcare providers and, of course, HR professionals and benefits administrators. While many employers had already implemented parts of the law including the lengthened coverage for adult children. However, the brunt of this law would start to become imperative in 2014 including the Insurance CO-OP and eradication of pre-existing condition clauses in existing healthcare plans. In fact, there will be (and, according to HealthCare.gov is currently available in some areas) Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan or a High Risk Pool.

But at what cost? The CO-Ops (Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans) will be available in Affordable Insurance Exchanges. These new competitive markets for health insurance will be administered on a state by state basis. Many states are in the planning stages. It won’t be long until these exchanges will have to be up and running. The planning stage grants given by the Federal government are valued up to $1 million and were offered to all states (but Alaska) and Washington, DC. This grant was the first of many that would become available for the creation of these exchanges.

The question is – will this plan work the way it is intended? Will EVERYONE be getting healthcare? I am sure there will be more to come on this ever changing healthcare initiative. As HR professionals, we need to be on top of the changes and how they will impact our employees, workplaces and communities. Are you ready?

Find out more and follow the progression of this law at http://www.HealthCare.gov.

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Healthcare Reform – An Update

Healthcare Reform is upon us! Are you and your company ready? Yesterday, our local SHRM chapter hosted out monthly meeting where a local benefits administrator, Palmetto Benefit Management (www.PalmettoBenefit.com), gave us a comprehensive update of the legislation; where it is, what is next and how to prepare. I thought I knew about the upcoming changes, but I quickly realized that I need to get on the stick and learn more about what to expect.

To date several pieces have been implemented including dependent coverage to age 26, no caps or maximums for coverage and the requirement of a dedicated lactation room.  Fortunately, we already had a dedicate lactation room but this could be a challenge for some workplaces since there are specific parameters that must be met. And the addition of  dependents to age 26 can cause some significant cost increases for some plans. Be sure that you are adhering or you will when your next open enrollment happens. There are also many  changes in the hopper for 2012, 2013 and 2014 as long as future legislation does not change their timeline or verbiage. Check with your benefits team or counsel to make sure you know how each stage will impact your organization.

Currently, there are several lawsuits in various stages contesting different parts of the Healthcare Reform laws. These include the Medical Loss Ratios (MLRs) and the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as well as suits contesting the Constitutionality of the whole or parts of the Healthcare Reform law. But until there is a formal decision or legislative vote, the bill is law and needs to administered and followed in its current form. Companies should (or already have) determine their healthcare band position, plan options and which employee(s) will be grandfathered.

There is little doubt that there will be no changes up to, during and after the 2012 elections. In 2012, there are several congressional seats up for election as well as the Presidency. A new administration would and could have significant impact of the course of the law and any new measures that are implemented. If President Obama remains in office, the Healthcare Reform legislation will more than likely remain the law of the land in some form.

The Healthcare Reform law continues to be fluid and has changed very recently. For example, on August 1, 2011, contraception was added to the list of free preventative services under
the law. What will be next? There are many ways to stay on top of the changes like joining benefits organizations like WorldatWork (www.WorldatWork.org) and the International Federation of Employee Benefit Plans (www.IFEBP.org). For more information, please check out http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform and www.Healthcare.gov.

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The Case for Wellness

One of the benefits I love about my current employer is our onsite fitness center. It is great to have the flexibility to hit the gym during a daytime break or lunch. I try to go 4 to 5 times a week and do cardio and weights. Sometimes I even can make it to our group exercise classes. It helps to relieve stress and keeps me healthy. Ah, the convenience….

Corporate wellness programs have taken a hit in recent years due to the expense. Ironically, a well administered wellness program can potentially save a company big money in lower absence rates, increased productivity and lower insurance costs. Wellness programs can come in a variety of shapes and forms. Some companies offer health screenings, fitness center
memberships, tobacco cessation and nutritional training. While many employees will take advantage of these benefits, the company needs to communicate the value and encourage participation to optimize the overall benefits of the program. And this communication and message of the importance of wellness needs to be consistently maintained; employee commitment to continue the programs can wane over time.

Putting together a wellness plan can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. As with many programs, garnering support from the company officials is essential in the success of the plan. After the senior leaders give their buy in to a wellness program, the planning process can begin. The next step, find out what the employees want. One of the ways to secure employee
dedication to the new plan over time is to find out what the employees desire in the plan before a wellness program is developed and implemented. If the employees have preliminary input they are more willing to commit to the project and use the facets of the program. After employee input is gathered it is time to figure out what to do and how to pay for it. There are many ways to fund the program and these can vary from company to company. Many wellness plans are self funded by the savings they generate from increases in productivity and reductions in healthcare costs.

One of the nice things about wellness programs are the incredible flexibility. Many companies start off small, maybe offering flu shots to all staff or by promoting a running club. Then the program can grow from there. Other companies jump in feet first and develop robust plans that are comprehensive.

For more information on wellness programs and offerings, visit the Wellness Council of America at www.WELCOA.org.

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Hug Your Cat Day!

A common relief for stress that is prescribed by doctors is to get a pet. There are cat people and there are dog people. I, of course, am a dog person however I hold no ill will toward our feline friends. As a matter of fact I am helping them celebrate Hug Your Cat Day today, June 4, by hugging my little Belle. I know my pup has brought great joy into my life and I know as many other pet owners that she has become an integral part of my daily routine. She has special food (holistic and all natural) and has her regular visits to the veterinarian who sometimes tells me I over react to Belle’s ailments. Like a child, I don’t want her to hurt or be in pain. A visit to the veterinarian can be quite expensive. The flea/tick/heartworm medicine is costly, too. I wish I could cover her under my workplace health insurance. People like me make a market for providers that offer pet insurance. Now we just need to get these types of insurance included in our employer’s total rewards package.

A trend in employee benefits is for companies to offer pet insurance to their employees. This is a small, but growing sector of the market. According to a November 2009 article from the Washington Times, about 3% of US employers offer pet insurance to their staff (Washington Times, 2009). In less than one year, that number exploded significantly. By the end of 2010, 1 out of every 5 Fortune 500 companies offered pet insurance – that’s 20% of the Fortune 500 (PR Newswire, 2011). Growth of this type of benefit offering in the Fortune 500 sector might indicate that it will begin trickling down to large and mid-size companies within the next 5 years shows a trend that more and more companies might follow in the next 5 to 10 years. Offering an employee peace of mind for their “fur kids” would benefit a company by encouraging retention and employee value.

According to American Pet Products, in 2010 the US spend over $48 billion on our pets and 62% of US households have a pet (American Pet Products). Pet insurance sounds like a great benefit for companies to offer.

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Additional Reading on Pet Insurance

Washingon Times (2009, November 12). Retrieved from Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/12/employers-pitch-in-for-pet-health-care/ 

American Pet Products. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Pet Products: http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp 

PR Newswire. (2011, April 26). Retrieved from PR Newswire: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pet-health-insurance-experiences-record-growth-as-employee-benefit-in-2010-120692879.html