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Mercer

When employers are asked how they plan to control health benefit cost over the long term, they talk about improving employee health. This focus on employee health is one factor fueling growth in worksite clinics. Last year, Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans found that 29% of employers with 5,000 or more employees provided an onsite or near-site clinic offering primary care services, up from 24% in the prior year. Mercer followed up with these employers in a new, targeted survey on worksite clinics. Of the 134 respondents, 72% of those whose clinics provide general medical services said that managing employee health risk and chronic conditions is an important objective for the clinic.

 

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A growing number of employers are moving Medicare-eligible retirees to special retiree medical exchange platforms. Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans found that 27% of retiree plan sponsors are using an exchange to provide coverage to Medicare-eligible retirees in 2016, up sharply from just 15% two years ago. The programs are attractive because they offer a wider range of choices for retirees and also take on benefit administration.

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Today nearly one in five Americans over the age of 65 are still working, according to recent data from the BLS, and that’s a new record. As the Baby Boomers hit retirement age, an unprecedented number are deciding to stay on the employment path. In addition, according to this article in Bloomberg (citing a Federal Reserve study), 27% of working Americans say they plan to keep working for as long as they can.

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New regulations issued by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provide much needed clarification for employers offering wellness programs. Our research shows that 60% of large employers (those with 500 or more employees) have financial incentives in place for their programs. In a recent article on CNBC.com, Mercer’s Leslie Anderson explains that the new rules now “…recognize the value of incentives,” and that "wellness programs that ask employees or their spouses to complete health risk assessments or undergo biometric screening will need to comply with the notice and other rules required by the EEOC, including the 30 percent incentive limit." The rules state that the incentive for an employee may not exceed 30% of the total cost of self-only coverage. The maximum incentive attributable to a spouse's participation may also not exceed 30% of the total cost of self-only coverage, the same incentive allowed for the employee.

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Final disability and genetic nondiscrimination rules issued May 16 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarify how employer-sponsored wellness programs can condition incentives on an employee's or a spouse's undergoing a medical exam or disclosing details about current or past health status in response to disability-related inquiries. The rules, effective as of the first day of the plan year beginning in 2017, retain largely the same requirements as the original proposals, but the EEOC has clarified that the new rules apply to all employer-sponsored wellness programs — whether tied to or independent of any group health plan — that include medical exams or disability-related inquiries. EEOC continues to assert that employer wellness programs must satisfy these rules and cannot rely on the Americans with Disability Act’s statutory safe harbor for insurance underwriting and risk practices of benefit plans.

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Having made it through the first year under Employer Shared Responsibility requirements, you may be ready for a break from the subject of ACA compliance. As we discussed in an earlier post, in a recent survey of 644 employers, very few believed they would be liable for penalties for 2015. That’s the good news. But while it’s one thing to achieve compliance, it’s another to consider how best to get there.

 

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A group of employers urged White House officials at a recent meeting to alter HHS's proposed insurance nondiscrimination rules under ACA Section 1557 as it undergoes final review. Section 1557 prohibits age, race, sex, disability, and national origin discrimination in any health program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. However, the proposed rules suggest that all operations -- not just ones receiving federal funds -- of any covered organization must comply with these nondiscrimination standards. This could subject some employer health plans and their third-party administrators to the rules.

 

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Workplace stress is an issue that virtually every organization faces. Whether it stems from personal or financial matters, or is generated by the work environment itself, stress can have a substantial negative effect on an organization’s performance. A recent report by United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) examined several studies to quantify the impact of stress in workplaces around the world. Work-related depression in the European Union alone is estimated to cost a whopping €617 billion. In the face of such staggering costs, what can employers do? The ILO identifies several measures employers can implement to mitigate these costs, ranging from social support systems where workers feel comfortable discussing conflicting demands between work and home, to training and education that provides information on psychosocial risks. It also provides a comprehensive list of tools for the assessment, management and prevention of risks and work-related stress for various countries and in multiple languages that employers can readily utilize. And while it’s important to be aware of what tools are available to help manage workplace stress, recognizing potential barriers for implementation is also key: taking a regional perspective, the study found that while limited understanding of psychosocial factors and work-related stress is one of the most prevalent barriers to implementation in the Americas, it’s less of a factor in Europe and Central Asia. The strategies described in the report, which are summarized in a recent Huffington Post article, provide a valuable checklist for international employers in particular to evaluate their efforts to create a positive and healthy work environment. 

Hand in hand with stress management practices, health management policies are vital to the overall well-being of an organization’s workforce. The HERO Health and Well-Being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer© - International Version (an online assessment tool designed by the Health Enhancement Research Organization and Mercer) provides an up-to-date inventory of best practices that can help employers identify gaps and opportunities, assess their programs against industry norms, and assist in strategic health management planning for companies based outside of the U.S.  With the US and International versions of the HERO Scorecard available, organizations now have a consistent tool to assess their health and well-being efforts in worksites around the world.

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Employee Benefit News recently recognized 50 visionaries who are “driving technology innovation, overcoming organizational and technology barriers, deploying leading-edge technology, and shaping benefit technology regulation and policy” – including our own Dr. David Kaplan, leader of Mercer’s Innovation LABS team. More than ever before, employers are keenly interested in the latest innovations as they realize the value of creativity and forward-thinking solutions to stay competitive in this tight labor market. Mercer’s LABS team has worked with quite a few innovative companies this past year – Rethink Benefits, Kurbo Health, and ConsejoSano, to name a few – to facilitate the process of bringing their solutions to market. Innovation is more than just a buzzword, and the latest benefits and perks aren’t just for Silicon Valley start-ups. Innovation is absolutely key for any organization when it comes to talent attraction and retention; your organization’s value proposition needs to reflect the expectations and dynamics of today’s workforce and their families.

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A new report from the Conference Board signals tough days ahead for employers. In the next 10-15 years, they project the demand for labor in the US will exceed supply. A labor shortage puts added pressure on organizations to retain existing employees – something that is already a top concern of human resources leaders. In a recent Human Resources Executive surveyWhat’s Keeping HR Up at Night? – respondents reported eroding levels of employee engagement as their #1 concern. Of the 12 strategies to boost employee engagement and retention that the survey asked about, only three showed an increase in usage: enhancing employee benefits, offering/enhancing wellness programs and increasing/improving leadership training.  As the war for talent escalates, it will be increasingly important for benefits professionals to understand their organizations’ staffing projections and plans. This will allow them to respond with benefit and wellness offerings that aid in the recruitment and retention of employees in a tight labor market.

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The deadline for ACA reporting to the IRS about coverage in 2015 was extended from March to June, and at this point most employers have a handle on their results. As reported in our recent survey – Living with Health Reform – virtually none of the nearly 650 survey respondents believe they will be liable for the “a” assessment – meaning they all offered coverage to substantially all employees working 30 or more hours per week. And just 8% thought they might be at risk for the “b” assessment – meaning that some of their employees might qualify for and obtain subsidized coverage on the exchange because their employer’s plan did not offer affordable contributions or meet minimum plan value requirements.

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The latest set of ACA implementation FAQs tackle a variety of coverage, cost-sharing, and disclosure issues and give new details on parity testing under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

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Did you know that, on average, the sickest 4% of the population represents 41% of the total allowed medical and pharmacy spend? It’s hard to believe -- and even harder to manage. That’s why we created Mercer Health AdvantageSM (MHA), a proprietary, high-intensity care management program designed to manage care for employees with serious/chronic conditions -- and we’ve seen some great results. In fact, according to a study released this week, employers who offered MHA realized a combined average return on investment* of $2.70 in health care savings for every $1 spent.

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