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Employers Prepare for Increased Health Costs this Winter

Original content from United Benefit Advisors

When it’s cold, people tend to get sick.

With the spectre of a long winter and flu season looming ahead, employers and HR managers are reminded that they must implement solid cost-control strategies if they want to keep their health care plans viable and valuable, experts say.

The challenges for employers are evident. Total premiums for family health coverage jumped 50 percent from 2003 to 2010, according to Commonwealth Fund research reported by The New York Times. While health care headlines often expose the big offenders such as obesity, chronic conditions and smoking, other lesser-known trends are having a significant impact on health care costs.

Health Screenings
Prevention and early detection of medical problems can stave off high costs in the long run, but many Americans aren’t doing enough, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Screening rates for a number of cancers remain below the government’s target levels, especially among some minority groups, according to the CDC analysis reported by WebMD. About 59 percent of men and women had colonoscopies or other colorectal cancer screens in 2010 — well below the CDC’s target of 70 percent. About 75 percent of women received mammograms, while about 80 percent had Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. Targets for those screenings were 81 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

Induced Births
The practice of induced births to fit around a patient’s (or doctor’s) schedule has become a moneymaker for hospitals but a drain for insurers and employers, according to an Employee Benefit News report. Recent studies suggest that these early, scheduled births can lead to avoidable complications for both mother and baby, which can drive up costs.

Leah Binder, CEO of The Leapfrog Group, told EBN last year that plan design can go a long way in discouraging would-be mothers from moving up their delivery date for the sake of convenience. If the plan participant has to put up a larger out-of-pocket contribution for such births, she might be less likely to elect that procedure, Binder said.

Wellness Solutions
Research from the 2013 United Benefit Advisors Health Plan Survey shows a continued interest in wellness initiatives among employers: More than 44 percent of employers paid cash toward employee premiums, 401(k), FSA or other accounts; more than 6 percent of employers also awarded paid time off, gift certificates or paid employees’ health club dues.

In addition to plan design and a push for preventive medical services, employers can control costs by supporting a robust wellness program that gets to the root of many health care problems, a new report by the Principal Financial Group suggests. The study found that 41 percent of employees enrolled in employer-sponsored wellness initiatives said the programs made them happier and more productive, according to a report on the research by Business Insider. About 35 percent of respondents said they took fewer sick days, and 52 percent reported increased energy.