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Mercer

Opioid abuse. You’ve probably read lots of stories about it recently, but have you seen the stats? They’re alarming, to say the least: There has been a fourfold increase in opioid prescriptions from 1999 to 2010 and a fourfold surge in deaths due to overdose.

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Confronting issues around healthcare costs is a significant challenge facing today’s small- and medium-sized businesses. While you might think your size limits your options, that’s not necessarily the case.

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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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As college graduates face ever-mounting piles of student loan debt, innovative employers are looking at loan repayment programs as a way to attract and retain top young talent, according to this New York Times article. The average class of 2015 graduate with debt owes a little more than $35,000. We’re seeing millennials put off major life milestones, such as buying houses, getting married, and having kids, in order to pay back their loans. There are a number of employers considering student loan programs because they are looking at creating more attractive benefit offerings for millennials. We checked in with Mercer's Betsy Dill, who's quoted in the article. She reminded us that debt is not just a problem for young employees: “Employers need to consider the implications of offering support only for people with student debt, when close to half their baby boomers are struggling with debt as well,  We think forward-looking employers will be looking for ways to offer financial wellness support across all of their demographics – not just millennials.”

 

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We’ve written before about the role of onsite clinics in improving access to quality care, providing hard-to-beat convenience and increasing worker productivity.  According to this Fortune article, it seems that quite a few of the magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” would agree. More than 40 of the companies on this list have onsite clinics at their headquarters, and nine of them offer clinics at multiple locations. We’ve seen steady growth in offerings of primary care clinics over the past few years among employers with 5,000 or more employees – from 24% in 2013 to 31% in 2015, according to our National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans. An additional 14% of very large employers say they’re considering adding one in the next two years. While clinics have many benefits, employers need to remember that the cost of care received through onsite clinics is currently included in excise tax calculation. Additionally, employers that offer a high deductible plan will need to charge employees for visiting their clinic. While this is an important factor to weigh when considering a clinic, it isn’t an insurmountable problem by any means, and should not discourage employers from exploring whether an onsite clinic would enhance your program, be appreciated by your workforce, and further your business objectives.

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Congratulations to Mercer’s Jacques Goulet, President of Retirement, Health, and Benefits, on receiving this year’s Maple Leaf Award of Distinction from the Canadian Association of New York (CANY)! A native of Shawinigan, Quebec, Jacques was recognized as a prominent business leader with strong ties to Canada and New York City, where he is currently based. Over the course of his 28-year career with Mercer, Jacques has shared with us his innovative ideas, his leadership, and his profound commitment to Mercer’s purpose as an organization: to make a positive difference in people’s lives. We are so proud that he has been recognized for his outstanding work – it is well-deserved!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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Yesterday may have been International Women’s Day, but employers should view every day as an opportunity to attract, retain, and promote women in the workplace. Mercer has an extensive body of research in this area, highlighted in our 2016 Global When Women Thrive report – the most comprehensive and predictive of its kind. “It has been a momentous year for the global women’s agenda with key voices – legislators, economists, businesses and academics – all calling for more action and more resolve around gender parity,” says Pat Milligan, Global Leader of Mercer’s When Women Thrive initiative, in this HR Dive article. “We continue to elevate our voices and the conversation, yet our research shows the pace at which we’re moving means that gender parity remains a long way off.” Employers need to look closely at what they’re doing to promote gender diversity, particularly in terms of involving men in the conversation and implementing robust pay equity analysis processes. An easy way for benefits professionals to support the cause is to offer retirement and financial education focused on women. Less than 10% of organizations offer this type of education despite proof that such practices drive future representation.

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Onsite health clinics may not be a new strategy for providing convenient health care for employees, but a couple of recent articles spotlight employers that are using clinics to work towards medical cost management and productivity goals. St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, CA, has been operating a clinic for only about a year, but they estimate that it has already saved around 2,300 hours of productivity. SAS, a large software analytics company, has had an onsite clinic in place since 1984 and has the historical data needed to quantify the clinic’s impact. They found that over a three-year period health plan claims up to $600 less for SAS clinic users. Key factors in determining whether an onsite clinic might be right for you include the number of employees at a given worksite and physical space and resources available for a clinic build-out. And the treatment of clinic operating costs for the purposes of the excise tax calculation remains unclear.

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In a new survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, less than 20% of employers said they believe their employees have a high-level of understanding about their benefits. This is a disheartening statistic for HR professionals who work hard to communicate with employees about their benefits. But it indicates that traditional communication methods are no longer working. It’s time for employers to understand the generational differences of their workforce and meet employees where they are – in life and on communication platforms. If employers can unlock the key to increasing employee understanding, the value of their benefits should rise even higher.

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Much of the pressure driving up pharmacy benefit cost comes from specialty drugs. While some new drugs represent important breakthroughs in the treatment of complex diseases, the spike in the specialty drug cost trend rightfully has employers looking for creative strategies to manage cost growth.

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We often hear about the gender pay gap, but it’s not every day that organizations devote as much attention to their gender benefits gap. According to Mercer’s provocative 2016 When Women Thrive global report, organizations can, and should, be doing more to offer benefits education programs that specifically cater to women. Currently, only 9% of corporations are monitoring savings behavior by gender, but as Mercer’s Brian Levine points out in this Employee Benefits News article, “Women live longer, are more likely to have breaks in service, save less and make less risky portfolio decisions, so providing guidance to that population on investment decisions” is key. Organizations that focus on educational activities geared toward women’s health and wealth management can boost their female representation at the professional level and above – and with current talent flows in North America bringing us virtually no closer to gender parity by 2025, taking a proactive approach like this is critical.

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Now that W-2's are out, individual tax preparation is under way. 2015 was the first year Americans were required to have health insurance or pay a fine. With the delay of the ACA reporting requirements, many will not have the 1095 form – proof that they were insured – at the time they file their taxes. The IRS says everyone should go ahead and file, even if you do not have a form. Depending on your timing to provide the 1095 forms to your employees, now would be a good time to communicate with them about what to expect when they file their taxes – it could cut down on calls and e-mails.

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