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Mercer

Mercer’s Washington Resource Group recently released our top 10 compliance priorities for 2017 health benefit planning. There aren’t any surprises on this list. In fact, we’ve recently blogged about many of them. Employee Benefit News created a slide show on our Top 10 and here is a list of related posts and podcasts if you want to take a deeper dive into a topic. 

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The thinking on financial wellness has evolved a lot in the last few years. It’s no longer just about planning for retirement—it’s about how to make progress towards goals and reach financial independence. In a diverse employee population, people are in different life stages and have different mindsets, which affect their financial concerns. Here are five tangible ideas to start a conversation about financial health in your workplace to bring about positive change.

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In an unprecedented move, JAMA published President Obama’s status report on the ACA. In it, the President details the impact of the ACA using charts and data from various sources and offers up some suggestions for what should happen next.

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There’s a lot of buzz about the health care cost report from the Obama administration just published in Health Affairs. Robert Pear in The New York Times provides a balanced take, but the news is being spun in many different directions. The report estimates that national health spending increased 5.5 percent in 2015, to a total of $3.2 trillion, and will easily surpass $10,000 per person this year. That’s faster than the historically low increases we’ve seen in the recession and years of slow recovery (bad), but still slower than during the two decades prior to the recession (good). One reason for the faster growth is a stronger economy, allowing more people to afford the care they need (good); another is soaring prescription drug costs (bad). The report predicts that health spending will grow an average of 5.7 percent a year from 2017 to 2019 and then 6 percent a year from 2020 to 2025. Our National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans finds that employers, with a lot of hard work, have been holding average annual increases in health benefit cost per employee to about 4% and expect to do so this year as well. That’s also both good and bad – it’s slower than national spending growth overall, but still faster than inflation and in the long run unsustainable. The most sobering number in the government report? The prediction that by 2025 health care spending will account for 20% of the GDP, a far higher percentage than any other developed country in the world (ugly). Of course, back in 1993, it was predicted we would hit that milestone in 2003 and we didn’t – that’s the good news, if you want to call it that.

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The move from fee for service to payment for value is real. This blog post on the Health Affairs site provides a glimpse into the progress being made with this new approach to contracting with providers. I was struck by one sentence in particular – Patients are the most underutilized resource to help reach positive medical outcomes. Since 155 million Americans are covered by employer-sponsored health plans, employers are in a unique position to be able to influence patient behavior. With the advent of consumer-directed health plans, health advocacy and other well-being programs, we have made strides in promoting consumerism and empowering patients. While we have a long way to go to get plan members more comfortable and confident in this role, there’s a big potential upside.

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We got a question in response to our post Checklist: Want to Increase Your CDHP Enrollment? Try This.

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DOL overtime rules are not just a compensation issue. Check out this slide show with advice on how to approach compliance with the new rules, compliments of Employee Benefit News and our Mercer colleagues. But when evaluating changes in your compensation strategy, don’t forget to consider the benefits implications as well. Be sure to quantify the impact of the new salary threshold ($47,476/year) on benefit costs – for defined benefit plans, 401k match, life insurance, LTD, etc. Compliance with these new DOL rules could be an opportunity to reconsider affordable contributions under the ACA, since increases to salary base may allow for higher employee contributions for employers using rate-of-pay or W-2 safe harbors. Separately, evaluate whether reclassified employees will be subject to a different tracking method under the ACA 30-hour rule – it can get complicated! From a documentation perspective, check eligibility definitions for benefits to be sure they are consistent across plans and align with your compensation strategy. 

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Key provisions of IRS proposed rules released last week cover many issues related to ACA premium tax credits including the affordability impact of opt-out payments to employees who decline employer coverage. The affordability of employer-provided coverage affects whether employees and their family members can receive premium tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies from public exchanges, which in turn can trigger employer shared-responsibility assessments. The proposed rules on opt-out arrangements would, if finalized, apply to plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017.

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The latest and top iPhone App – Pokémon Go – has some unexpected health benefits. The new app from Nintendo (that’s right, the makers of Wii and Wii Fit) requires users to walk around outside and capture the Pokémon around them. The app has users walking, running, and jumping through their neighborhoods to capture the Pokémon. Check out the description in this Mobi Health News article. Perhaps this app will inspire your next workplace wellness challenge.

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I was interested to read about a Harris poll on millennials’ savings priorities. The good news is that they are saving – in fact, they are saving more than their Gen X counterparts. The not-so-good news is that they have a lot of priorities that come before saving for retirement – and they’re hoping to retire, on average, at a youthful age 62! Just another nudge for employers to step up communications encouraging optimal use of all the employer-sponsored benefits and provide tools to support effective financial planning. We’re not talking about adding new benefits – just better packaging and communications for higher employee engagement and appreciation.

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I don’t know about you, but I was having a hard time understanding the merits of selling insurance across state lines. My main questions were, how does it work, who benefits, and what the impact would be on employers. I found my answers in the new video series, “Sounds Like a Good Idea,” created by Kaiser Health News to debunk concepts being discussed by the presidential candidates. (Not that we really needed to be told to watch out for campaign promises!)  The video on selling insurance across state lines explains the origin of the idea, which, interestingly, goes back more than ten years. While states can do this now under the ACA, only three are actually doing it. The biggest complicating factors are network access in the affiliated state and lack of oversight (and recourse) in the affiliated state if there are problems. Unfortunately, things that sound too good to be true, often are.

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Last week, an employer I was speaking with on my favorite subject, value-based care, made the comment, “None of my carriers are charging me any ACO fees.” I didn’t want to be a wet blanket, but I had to point out that unfortunately this was most likely not the case. So how does it happen that an employer might not know about fees for value-based care? And what should they do about it?

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