U.S. employers are continuing to struggle with rising health care costs. To limit spending, many are shifting costs to employees while others are emphasizing wellness initiatives or controlling costs through health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.

“The biggest area of concern we are hearing from employers today is they can’t manage or predict the cost of health care benefits,” says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care. “Having predictable, manageable cost increases is a real value to employers.”

Smart Business spoke with Narowitz about what to ask when choosing a plan.

What factors should companies consider when analyzing their employee benefits?

Typically, you start with the plan design that you offer today then decide if the company can maintain, improve or cut back on the benefits.

It’s important to evaluate alternatives in terms of cost and products offered. There are a variety of ways to differentiate carriers: size and strength of the provider network, plan design flexibility and premiums.

What questions should an employer ask a carrier when choosing a plan?

If you are using the benefits as a tool to attract or retain employees, then you want to evaluate the quality of the benefits and compare them to what else is out there in the marketplace. Features such as co-pays and deductibles are factors in the decision-making process and can be tweaked to be competitive. Also, access to care and a strong provider network are important components to consider.

If you are cost sensitive, then you want to ask about how to optimize the benefits at the lowest possible premiums and analyze the trade-off between the premium costs and the benefits.

What can a company expect from its relationship with its carrier?

Most employers use the services of a consultant or broker to assist them in the decision-making process, and their roles vary.

At one extreme, the consultant is your exclusive liaison to the carrier and can represent several health care plan options, helping the employer understand which products are best for its business. The consultant may also take the lead on administrative tasks including open enrollment, employee education, compliance and communications with the carrier.

At the other extreme, a consultant’s role is limited to the selection process. You can expect your representative to be able to differentiate the plans and the products depending on how you prioritize your decision-making criteria.

As an employer, you should expect your representative to be able to navigate through the decision-making process on your behalf.

Your plan representative, carrier and consultant also need to be able to educate you about the latest changes associated with health care reform.

How can companies save money when they are looking for a carrier?

Shifting the financial burden to employees by raising co-pays and deductibles, and having them pay a portion of the premium are ways to reduce and control your health care costs.

Savings associated with prescription drug costs can be achieved by raising co-pays or by restricting access to branded drugs when generics are available. Employees are very sensitive about changing medications, but there is a real opportunity to save money when you make these adjustments. Contracting with a restricted network, such as an HMO, and introducing wellness initiatives can also reduce costs.

What do employees need to know?

If you change a plan design in any way, it is important that the changes be communicated clearly.

Employees are very resistant to a change in their health care benefits. If you are planning to reduce benefits or shift costs to the employees, make a significant commitment up front to educate your employees.

Simplify the message and commit the time and resources to help them understand the changes before the new contract year begins.

Randy Narowitz is the CEO of Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-2000.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Chicago

Health care costs are increasing at an alarming pace and many businesses are struggling to maintain the level of health care benefits provided in the past.

While executives are keenly aware that comprehensive benefit programs play a significant role in attracting top-notch talent, many companies have neglected to analyze the effectiveness of their benefit strategy.

Reviewing your employee benefit program regularly offers the opportunity to revisit your carrier’s rates and ensure they are still competitive, says Steve Slaga, chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Further, it presents an opportunity for employers to ensure their program continues to measure up against others in their industry.

“Health care benefits are important and serve as a very useful tool for employee retention and attracting new recruits,” Slaga says.

Smart Business spoke with Slaga about assessing the needs of your employees, how to determine an appropriate benefit plan and the importance of employee education.

How can a company assess the needs of its employees?

First, examine your health care plan to ensure you’re providing affordable, quality coverage with good service, flexibility and access to care. Make sure your plan isn’t prohibitively priced, so employees can afford to participate, and gauge employees’ satisfaction levels by utilizing surveys to determine which areas of the plan they consider strong and which can be improved upon. Bear in mind all employers are different and operate within circumstances unique to them, so not every health care plan fits every group.

The level of flexibility a health care plan facilitates is also an important consideration. Some plans work through Health Maintenance Organizations, which have a specific provider network, while others offer Preferred Provider Organizations or Point-of-Service plans with which employees have the option to go in or out of a predetermined physician and hospital network of preferred health care providers without fulfilling certain conditions, such as obtaining a referral. When choosing a health care plan, make sure the services fit the needs of your employees and that employees have access to a selection of physicians and specialists in their area.

How can employers determine an appropriate benefits plan for their employees?

Ask your agent or broker to do a comparative analysis among health care plans. That person will review the factors important to your employees, including pricing, access to care and type of benefits. The actual pricing is determined by the health care plan and is dependent on factors including the business, its industry and the average age of employees.

Employers at a minimum should review their benefit plans annually. By comparing your current plan to other plans, you can stay apprised of options in the marketplace, new products and how your premiums compare with other options. By reviewing plans regularly, you can assure employees you have shopped around and are providing them with the best value for their needs.

How can employers best balance the cost of the plan with employee needs?

This is a decision every employer must make on its own, and it hinges on factors including the type of benefit program desired for employees and how much employees will be expected to contribute.

As the cost of providing health care coverage continues to rise, many businesses have scaled back benefits. Among those companies that continue to offer benefits, their employees are more often asked to make higher contributions to offset costs. Other companies pass along a portion of the increased costs through higher deductibles or higher co-insurance; both solutions reflect the challenge of dealing with today’s rising medical costs.

Companies are also coping with escalating health care costs by implementing wellness plans designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health. The idea is that a healthier pool of insured employees makes fewer claims.

How can employers help employees understand the features of their health care plan?

Education is key. Employees need to have a clear, concise understanding of their benefits from day one. There are numerous ways to make information available to employees, including health plan websites, interactive assessment tools, newsletters and other communications.

It is also important to provide employees with forums where they can ask questions about the plan and provide feedback. In addition, many employers are looking beyond employee communication and implementing multipronged education programs that engage employees throughout the year.

Most employees receive benefit information during open enrollment periods and that’s often the last time they examine the details of the plan. Instead, there should be ongoing education with information distributed regularly to employees so they are fully aware of what their benefits cover. This will allow your employees to utilize and access their plans efficiently and effectively.

What value should a benefit provider bring to the table?

Your benefit provider should present clear and concise information about the health care plan in a timely manner. On a group level, a provider should be able to help you with billing, invoice and claims questions. On the member level, the provider should be able to answer benefits questions. Contact your provider to see what other services are available.

Steve Slaga is chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-7810 or SSlaga@thc-online.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Chicago

To attract and retain top talent, it is critical for a company to have a strong benefits plan in place. In today’s uncertain environment, employee benefits represent a significant portion of the financial security employees are seeking, and they are demanding jobs in which those benefits meet their needs.

To ensure that employees are satisfied with your company’s current health care plan, it is important to solicit their feedback. Then, based on your findings, it may be time to consider searching for a plan that is a better fit for your employees.

“Companies should look at a number of benefit plans to determine if the designs and structures could better meet the needs of their work force,” says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.

Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how to identify the right provider for a business’s employee population and how to ensure a smooth transition when changing plans.

How can employers assess whether changing providers would benefit their company?

Typically, employers look at overall satisfaction with their current provider to determine if a change is needed. Cost, quality of coverage, accessibility, flexibility and the impact a change may bring both to the employer and the employees are some of the components that are measured to make this determination.

Seeking employee input is also important. For many employers, the No. 1 objective in offering benefits is to retain employees. However, those benefits must not only meet the needs of employees, they must also meet the monetary constraints of the employer.

Determining which carrier can provide the best care at the most efficient price and matching coverage options to what employees are looking for is critical. When possible, use benchmarking data to compare the offerings of different providers. Employers should also review coverage options and contribution strategies that their direct competitors are deploying.

Because the cost of benefits can have a large impact on employees’ paychecks, strong health care coverage and benefits are an important piece of the overall job package. In many cases, a small percentage difference in salary is secondary to the type of health care coverage available to employees.

What questions should an employer ask when seeking potential providers?

It is important to be thorough and to ask the right questions when searching for a potential provider. How many years has the provider been operating? Is it financially stable? What kind of reputation does it have? Inquire about the provider’s different types of benefit plan offerings and the service area. Also investigate historical rate trends in order to gain a better understanding of what to expect in terms of future premium increases.

Finally, be cognizant of customer service criteria. It could be worth the extra premium for the business owner to have the peace of mind of knowing that he or she is dealing with a reputable company that is looking out for the employees.

What common mistakes do employers make when changing providers?

Employers don’t always ask the right questions and, as a result, they may not fully understand the product they are purchasing. In the rush to implement a change in providers, employers sometimes do things that could result in the disruption of services to their employees.

Another common mistake is that employers assume that lower rates will equal a lower cost, which may not necessarily be true when they factor in the possibility of higher deductibles and coinsurance being passed on to their employees.

 

What steps can employers take to help ensure a smooth transition?

Make sure that adequate time is given to implement all changes when moving to a new provider. Communicate the changes to all employees and allow enough time so that any questions or concerns they have may be addressed. Conduct employee meetings to explain the changes and how they may impact employees. Also explain the overall value that employees are receiving by creating total benefit statements, which includes salary, benefits, workers’ compensation costs, vacation time, etc.

How can a benefits provider assist with the transition?

Transitioning to a new benefit provider requires significant planning. Employees should be told as early as possible about the changes and be provided with written benefit information explaining those changes. The benefits provider should conduct open enrollment meetings to answer any questions that employees may have. Benefit material should also be made available so that employees can review it on their own time.

How should the change be communicated to employees?

Communicating changes to employees requires adequate time and planning. The most common form of communication is done during the open enrollment season. Often, open enrollments are conducted and led by an agent or broker hired by employers to assist in administrating their employee health care benefits.

Benefit meetings should be scheduled around work so that employees are able to attend to ask questions about the new plan. Providing this education to employees is critical, and there are a number of ways to make information available, including health care plan websites, newsletters and direct mail pieces. Through the use of multipronged education programs, employees will have a better understanding of the changes, which results in better customer satisfaction.

Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-7810 or SSlaga@thc-online.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Chicago

Health care costs are increasing at an alarming pace and many businesses are struggling to maintain the level of health care benefits provided in the past.

While executives are keenly aware that comprehensive benefit programs play a significant role in attracting top-notch talent, many companies have neglected to analyze the effectiveness of their benefit strategy.

Reviewing your employee benefit program regularly offers the opportunity to revisit your carrier’s rates and ensure they are still competitive, says Steve Slaga, chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Further, it presents an opportunity for employers to ensure their program continues to measure up against others in their industry.

“Health care benefits are important and serve as a very useful tool for employee retention and attracting new recruits,” says Slaga.

Smart Business spoke with Slaga about assessing the needs of your employees, how to determine an appropriate benefit plan and the importance of employee education.

How can a company assess the needs of its employees?

First, examine your health care plan to ensure you’re providing affordable, quality coverage with good service, flexibility and access to care. Make sure your plan isn’t prohibitively priced, so employees can afford to participate, and gauge employees’ satisfaction levels by utilizing surveys to determine which areas of the plan they consider strong and which can be improved upon. Bear in mind all employers are different and operate within circumstances unique to them, so not every health care plan fits every group.

The level of flexibility a health care plan facilitates is also an important consideration. Some plans work through Health Maintenance Organizations, which have a specific provider network, while others offer Preferred Provider Organizations or Point-of-Service plans with which employees have the option to go in or out of a predetermined physician and hospital network of preferred health care providers without fulfilling certain conditions, such as obtaining a referral. When choosing a health care plan, make sure the services fit the needs of your employees and that employees have access to a selection of physicians and specialists in their area.

How can employers determine an appropriate benefits plan for their employees?

Ask your agent or broker to do a comparative analysis among health care plans. That person will review the factors important to your employees, including pricing, access to care and type of benefits. The actual pricing is determined by the health care plan and is dependent on factors including the business, its industry and the average age of employees.

Employers at a minimum should review their benefit plans annually. By comparing your current plan to other plans, you can stay apprised of options in the marketplace, new products and how your premiums compare with other options. By reviewing plans regularly, you can assure employees you have shopped around and are providing them with the best value for their needs.

How can employers best balance the cost of the plan with employee needs?

This is a decision every employer must make on its own and it hinges on factors including the type of benefit program desired for employees and how much employees will be expected to contribute.

As the cost of providing health care coverage continues to rise, many businesses have scaled back benefits. Among those companies that continue to offer benefits, their employees are more often asked to make higher contributions to offset costs. Other companies pass along a portion of the increased costs through higher deductibles or higher co-insurance; both solutions reflect the challenge of dealing with today’s rising medical costs.

Companies are also coping with escalating health care costs by implementing wellness plans designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health. The idea is that a healthier pool of insured employees makes fewer claims.

How can employers help employees understand the features of their health care plan?

Education is key. Employees need to have a clear, concise understanding of their benefits from day one. There are numerous ways to make information available to employees, including health plan websites, interactive assessment tools, newsletters and other communications.

It is also important to provide employees with forums where they can ask questions about the plan and provide feedback. In addition, many employers are looking beyond employee communication and implementing multipronged education programs that engage employees throughout the year.

Most employees receive benefit information during open enrollment periods and that’s often the last time they examine the details of the plan. Instead, there should be ongoing education with information distributed regularly to employees so they are fully aware of what their benefits cover. This will allow your employees to utilize and access their plans efficiently and effectively.

What value should a benefit provider bring to the table?

Your benefit provider should present clear and concise information about the health care plan in a timely manner. On a group level, a provider should be able to help you with billing, invoice and claims questions. On the member level, the provider should be able to answer benefits questions. Contact your provider to see what other services are available.

Steve Slaga is chief marketing officer at Total Health Care. Reach him at (313) 871-7810 or SSlaga@thc-online.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Detroit

As health care costs continue to rise, many businesses have scaled back on the benefits that they offer.

However, there are still ways to provide excellent care for employees without breaking the bank. For example, one way that companies are coping with surging health care costs is by implementing wellness plans, designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health, says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.

“With the escalating costs associated with health care benefits, employers are having to look at plan design to control the costs of benefits,” says Slaga.

Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how employers can get the most out of their health plans and the elements that make benefit plans attractive to employees.

How can employers make sure their employees are using a benefit plan wisely?

One way is to communicate with your health plan provider to request information about preventive care. Seek information that will tell you if your employees are utilizing the wellness programs available to them to get tests done and discover any potential health problems early. Also, it is key to make sure that employees understand their benefits.

How can employers get more out of their health plans?

Employers need to encourage their employees to use any and all wellness programs that are available to them. The simplest types of wellness programs incorporate basic communications, such as regular newsletters distributed to employees touting the benefits of eating healthy and exercising regularly.

Along with information, a simple wellness plan may also include negotiated discounts at a health club or an annual health fair at which employees can learn about taking better care of their health and where simple screenings can be done.

More aggressive wellness plans mandate participation and follow-up as a condition of participation in the health plan. Such programs identify employees with elevated risk and require that they take certain actions, such as having a comprehensive physical with a physician.

Health risk assessments, which are detailed questionnaires designed to establish a baseline risk level for each employee, are typically available through all plans. By having employees fill out questionnaires, the provider can better understand health histories and serve its clientele more effectively. Questions cover such areas as height, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, alcohol consumption and smoking habits.

The results garnered from health risk assessments are used to target specific education and coaching for employees with elevated risk. When the provider is able to better serve your employees, the result is healthier employees who are present at work and fully productive.

What are some elements that constitute a good benefit plan?

The employer and employees measure this a little bit differently. Employers want predictable, manageable costs and benefits that are attractive to employees so that they can attract and retain top-quality employees. Employees want the best possible benefit for the least possible out-of-pocket cost.

There are a multitude of plan design alternatives to achieve both of these goals, from co-pays to premium contributions. Such alternatives affect employees differently depending upon their own particular circumstances. Healthy employees typically will favor a higher co-pay in return for lower premiums. Those with chronic conditions opt for the opposite because they are accessing health care more frequently and the costs associated with each visit are burdensome.

How has the attitude toward employee health plans evolved?

The traditional attitude has been to use benefits to attract and retain employees. Until the last five or 10 years, there hasn’t been as much cost sensitivity as there is today. People are learning that when the benefit is paid for entirely by the employer, the cost is more difficult to control. As a result, there has clearly been a trend in recent years to shift costs to the employees to the point where they give some consideration to a cost-value proposition. We are now seeing employees who understand and consider the costs of the benefits they are receiving on an individual transaction basis.

How can a company measure whether its benefits program meets the needs of its employees?

Employers should seek input from their employees whenever they can to better understand the experiences that the staff is having with regard to benefits. There is some sensitivity to the issue because people want privacy with respect to their health care. You have to respect those privacy issues, but if you can encourage communication, you will improve employee satisfaction.

How does having a strong benefits package help employers attract and retain key employees?

It can have a very significant impact. Typically, the decision varies by employer, depending upon how aggressively it needs to compete for employees in the marketplace.

Employers should be cautious when shifting costs and responsibility onto their employees. There is a delicate balance between making employees accountable and responsible for the decision making about their health care and shifting so much burden onto them that they become disgruntled with how they are being treated and leave for other employment.

Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Detroit

U.S. employers are continuing to struggle with rising health care costs, and in an effort to limit spending, many are shifting more costs to employees. Others are emphasizing wellness initiatives or controlling costs through health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.

How can your company approach implementing an optimal health care plan for its employees? Start by asking your carrier or consultant what options are available.  This will help guide you through the process so you aren’t blindsided by unpredictable costs in the future, says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care.

“The biggest area of concern we are hearing from the employers today is they can’t manage or predict the cost of the health care benefits,” says Narowitz. “Having predictable, manageable cost increases is a real value to employers.”

Smart Business spoke with Narowitz about the kind of questions employers should ask when choosing a plan, what type of relationship you should expect with your carrier and how to realize cost savings.

What factors should companies consider when analyzing their employee benefits?

Employers are evaluating their health care plans annually. Typically, you start with the plan design that you offer today. Then the decision-maker for the employer decides if the company can maintain, improve or cut back on the benefits.

It’s important to evaluate alternatives in terms of cost and the product offerings. There are a variety of ways to differentiate carriers: size and strength of the provider network, plan design flexibility and premiums.

What questions should an employer ask a carrier when choosing a plan?

If you are using the benefits as a tool to attract or retain employees, then you want to evaluate the quality of the benefits and compare them to what else is out there in the marketplace. Features such as co-pays and deductibles are factors in the decision-making process and can be tweaked to be competitive. Also, access to care  and a strong provider network are important components to consider.

If you are cost sensitive, then you want to ask about how to optimize the benefits at the lowest possible premiums. You want to analyze the tradeoff between the premium costs and the benefits.

What can a company expect from its relationship with its carrier?

The carrier must be well versed on all of the alternatives available, understand your needs and find the best match for you.

Most employers use the services of a consultant or broker to assist them in the decision-making process. A consultant’s role can vary significantly.

At one extreme, the consultant is your exclusive liaison to the carrier. The consultant represents several health care plan options, helping the employer work its way through differentiating which products are best for its business. The consultants may also take the lead on administrative tasks including open enrollment, employee education, compliance and communications with the carrier,

At the other extreme, a consultant’s role is limited to the selection process.You can expect your representative to be able to differentiate the plans and the products depending on how you prioritize your decision-making criteria.

As an employer, you should expect your representative to be able to navigate through the decision-making process on your behalf.

Also, health care reform is upon us and is impacting employers significantly. With recent health care initiatives, it’s very important for the employer to be updated. Your plan representative, carrier and consultant need to be able to educate you about the latest changes associated with health care reform.

How can companies save money when they are looking for a carrier?

The primary decision about cost involves how much of the financial burden you want to shift to the employees. Shifting the financial burden to employees by raising co-pays and deductibles, and having them pay a portion of the premium are ways to reduce and control your health care costs.

Savings associated with prescription drug costs can be achieved by raising co-pays or by restricting access to branded drugs when generics are available. Employees are very sensitive about changing medications, but there is a real opportunity to save money when you make these adjustments. Contracting with a restricted network, such an HMO, and introducing  wellness initiatives can also reduce costs.

What information should employers provide to employees?

If you change a plan design in any way, it is important that the changes be communicated clearly. If the product has complexity in terms of network participation, this needs to be simplified and communicated clearly, as well.

Employees are very resistant to a change in their health care benefits. If you are planning to reduce benefits or shift costs to the employees make a significant commitment up front to educate your employees.

Simplify the message and commit the time and resources to help them understand the changes before the new contract year begins.

Randy Narowitz is Chief Executive Officer of Total Health Care USA, a leading Michigan managed care provider. Narowitz is an influential figure in the health care industry. He has worked  to bring the issues of health care quality and delivery to the forefront of both the local and national health care agendas. Total Health Care USA is NCQA Accredited and serves members in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Genesee counties.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care

Published in Detroit