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Mercer

Moving from an employer-sponsored plan to a Medicare plan does not have to be complicated. Money magazine talked with Mercer’s Kristin Parker and came up with five tips for retirees. A few of them raise interesting considerations for those about to retire that could result in waiting for Medicare coverage to get treatment.

 

  1. There is no family plan in Medicare. So if you and your spouse have different medical and prescription drug needs, you can each enroll in the plan that is best for you.
  2. Cap on out-of-pocket costs isn’t automatic. Original Medicare pays 80% of covered expenses, with no cap on what you might have to pay. Medigap and Medicare Advantage policies have out-of-pocket safeguards. It is important to understand that component of the Medicare supplement policy.
  3. Be strategic in scheduling some procedures. Those about to retire should compare out-of-pocket costs for a needed procedure under employer coverage versus Medicare. You may fare better with Medicare’s hospitalization coverage, for example, than with your current commercial plan.
  4. Wellness features may be different. Medicare’s programs tend to offer more in-person care from health professionals, while commercial programs often depend on telephone advice services. 
  5. Research may help limit drug costs under Medicare. Most people can use a Medicare tool to compare the plans offered where they live to find the best fit for individual needs. Doing your Part D homework might provide better and cheaper coverage than through your employer plan.

 

Changing medical insurance upon retirement is a big deal to retirees. Employers who are looking to ease the transition for retirees can direct retirees to a resource to help them consider their options. Fifteen percent of employers contract with a retiree exchange to provide personalized support to Medicare eligible retirees. In addition, the States have established Senior Health Insurance Information Programs (SHIIP) to help seniors. Educational tips and personalized support can go a long way to helping a new retiree feel confident about their healthcare choices and decisions. 

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This month, the International Federation of Health Plans (iFHP) released its 2015 Comparative Price Report, a look at medical prices per unit in private health plans in seven OEDC countries, including the US. While you can guess that most procedures, tests and scans cost more in the US, you might be surprised at the size of the discrepancies. Let’s take a look at the most common surgical procedure performed in the US – the appendectomy. According to the iFHP, the average cost of an appendectomy in the US is almost double the cost in the UK and quadruple the cost in Australia. While the report doesn’t explain the higher average US cost, it does offer a clue by showing how widely prices for this surgery vary within the US – from about $9,000 at the 25th percentile to about $33,000 at the 95th percentile. This degree of cost variation – when it doesn’t result in better outcomes – is why US employers have turned to transparency tools, reference-based pricing, and value-based care.

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There has been much focus lately on the dramatic differences in the cost of services from hospital to hospital and market to market, and questions about the lack of price transparency abound. But even more concerning is the variation in quality. According to a May 2016 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, CDC mortality statistics don’t tell the whole story. If “preventable medical errors” were on the list of the leading causes of death in the United States, they would rank 3rd, claiming more lives than diabetes, strokes, and respiratory disease each year. To add to this, we know that the patient experience is sub-optimal at best and, in healthcare, we know there is no known relationship between cost and quality. All of this makes a strong case for Centers of Excellences, or COEs.

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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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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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I recently sat down with Lenny Sanicola from WorldatWork to discuss what’s trending in employer-sponsored health plans. We discussed telemedicine, consumer directed health plans, centers of excellence and more. Listen in to learn more about the future trends and drivers identified by Mercer’s national survey.

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Often when discussing health benefit design, cost management strategy, and compliance requirements, one aspect can get lost – the patient experience. Being a patient can be incredibly time-consuming between network provider searches, making appointments, filling prescriptions and making sure your physician(s) have the appropriate referral forms, medical records and insurance information, not to mention time spent on hold or waiting for a call back from the doctor’s office. This recent article by Vox’s Sarah Kliff outlines the frustrations she encountered – and the time she wasted – in trying to access care for an injury.  She calls patients “the health care system’s free labor”.  Electronic medical records and data interoperability should – someday – lighten the administrative load. But right now, in the face of a fragmented health care system, how can an employer help their employees spend less time and effort getting the care they need?  One option to consider is a health advocacy program.  In the best programs, employees have a dedicated health advocate who can advise employees wherever they are on the health spectrum. For serious health issues, the advocate should be trained to help the member navigate the system to get to the right providers and even take on reconciling medical bills to ensure everything has been processed appropriately, which can go a long way in not only reducing frustration for the employee, but also increases the odds that they will continue to take steps to manage their health knowing they have help along the way.

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