How Wellness Programs Improve the Bottom Line

Posted on August 29th, 2018

Workplace wellness programs reduce medical costs, absenteeism and health-related productivity losses, yet many employers find it difficult to measure the success of their programs.

Simply enrolling in a program or engaging in an arbitrary number of actions is not predictive of improved health outcomes, or disease prevention or reversal,” wrote the authors of a wellness program report from Noom, a company that creates mobile apps that provide intelligent nutrition and exercise coaching. “Therefore, programs should exclusively focus on truly meaningful behaviors and actions that are consistent with driving specific outcomes.”

The meaningful behaviors that wellness programs encourage are those involving specific health outcomes. “Attending educational sessions, adhering to a prescribed calorie budget, logging food, and achieving physical activity goals are all examples of meaningful actions that are highly predictive of improved health outcomes,” the Noom authors wrote. “By taking this approach, employers’ benefit is huge in terms of both driving outcomes and saving money.”

In recent decades, an epidemic of “lifestyle diseases” has developed in the United States. These unhealthy lifestyles — inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption — are driving up the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic pulmonary conditions, leading to decreased quality of life, premature death and disability and increased healthcare costs.

As part of an effort to improve employee health, many employers have adopted health promotion and disease prevention strategies known as workplace wellness programs. These programs are designed either to prevent the onset of diseases or to diagnose and treat diseases at an early stage before complications occur.

Today, about half of U.S. employers offer wellness programs, a recent Rand Employer Survey found. Most employers (72 percent of those offering wellness programs) characterize their wellness programs as a combination of wellness screening activities to identify health risks and interventions to reduce risks and promote healthy lifestyles. These programs include onsite Weight Watchers group meetings, weight loss competitions, personalized phone support from health coaches, and smoking cessation activities through educational programs or telephonic counseling.

The Rand study found that participation in a wellness program over five years is associated with a trend toward lower healthcare costs and decreasing use of healthcare services, saving employers about $157 per employee.

“The programs that deliver the highest (return on investment) are those that allow the consumer to have the best personalized experience,” Laurie Gondek, vice president at Welltok Inc., told Employee Benefit News. This could mean providing rewards to healthy employees for biometric screenings, stress management programs and long-term engagement through team challenges.

“The well-being program can be working in tangible and intangible ways,” Gondek said. “Tangible being a direct dollar amount I can take to my CFO, and intangible meaning that the program can be used as a retention as well as an employee attraction tool as a way to unify employees to give greater job satisfaction.”

Employers have found the best wellness programs focus on changing underlying behaviors that predict health outcomes over time. Research shows reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity, self-monitoring (specifically tracking food, activity, and weight), and utilizing a support system are critical to transformative weight loss and chronic condition prevention.

More employers are also turning to mobile health solutions because they best meet their employees’ needs. Such mobile solutions are effective because they offer the meaningful, real-time feedback that is necessary to drive long-term behavior change and improve health outcomes.

“Mobile technology also offers a unique opportunity to provide a personalized and scalable experience,” the Noom authors wrote. “For example, Noom’s mobile coaching platform offers a variety of structured programs that target pre-chronic and chronic conditions including the CDC’s diabetes prevention program, as well as proprietary diabetes and hypertension management programs.”
Noom’s mobile technology promotes meaningful engagement through an easy-to-use food database with over 3.7 million food-portion pairings. It also allows users to track their calorie intake and adhere to a personalized calorie budget.

“Our technology prescribes weekly step and activity goals to help users increase their activity gradually, and prompts users to weigh themselves weekly,” the Noom authors wrote. “Users are also offered support and guidance from a dedicated health coach and group of peers sharing in the same experience. We’ve combined this mobile technology and human coaching with proprietary, condition-specific programs to prevent and reverse the most costly and preventable chronic conditions.”

For more information on wellness programs and assistance in incorporating them into your company’s employee benefit strategy, please contact us.

Help Your Employees Avoid Identity Theft

Posted on August 28th, 2018

A vendor survey found that 39 percent of employees want to buy identity theft insurance through their employer. Are you providing this valuable benefit?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another person’s personal identifying information without authorization to open charge accounts, order merchandise or borrow money. Victims of identity fraud lose money, their reputation and their credit rating, which can hinder their ability to borrow money or find a job. Identity theft victims spend an average of 50 to 175 hours restoring their name and credit history, according to data from California Public Interest Research. Offering your employees identity theft protection can help reduce the financial and physical toll of dealing with identity theft.

Types of Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft protection takes two forms: identity theft insurance, and non-insurance identity theft protection programs. Insurers often bundle identity theft coverage into other programs, including some homeowners insurance programs. Some offer identity theft insurance as a standalone policy available on a voluntary (employee-paid) basis. And some prepaid legal plans — available on a voluntary basis — also include services to help members deal with identity theft.

An identity theft insurance program typically reimburses victims of identity theft for any expenses they incur to correct their credit record. These can include phone, notary and certified mail costs. Some policies also provide some coverage of lost wages resulting from taking time off to deal with identity theft. Many cover attorney fees, subject to policy conditions and limits, and offer professional assistance to help plan members restore their credit. Most will not reimburse insureds for direct monetary losses due to identity theft.

Non-insured identity theft protection plans typically offer services designed to detect identity theft early and minimize any resulting losses. These include credit monitoring and notification services; some plans also provide reimbursement or coverage for costs of repairing credit records.

Many programs offer both types of protection: credit monitoring services for early detection, and insurance to cover the costs of dealing with and correcting identity theft. We can provide information and enroll your employees at no cost to your organization.

Alera Group Expands Southeastern Presence

Posted on August 14th, 2018

New Acquisition Brings More Than 100 Years of Experience to Alera Group

DEERFIELD, IL — Alera Group, a leading national employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management firm, has acquired Barnes Insurance & Financial Services (BIAFS).

BIAFS is a performance-based, proactive, best practice benefit with two locations in northwest Florida. Founded in 2005, this independent firm is one of the largest insurance agencies in the panhandle. BIAFS brings Alera Group more than 100 years of experience and team members with diverse insurance backgrounds. 

The company’s mission is to embody the phrase “dedicated to you,” exhibited through their highly personalized client approach. Their principal lines of business include health, dental, life disability, supplemental policies and financial services.

“We are excited to welcome Barnes Insurance & Financial Services to Alera Group,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group. “Dennis Barnes and his team are a terrific addition to Alera Group both culturally as they share our focus on collaboration, and geographically helping us expand our presence in the southeast.”

Alera Group was formed in early 2017 and is one of the nation’s foremost independent insurance agencies and privately-held employee benefits firms. For more information on partnering with Alera Group, visit Partnership Opportunities at www.jmjwebconsulting.com.

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About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 1,000 employees serve thousands of clients nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management. Alera Group is the 15th largest independent insurance agency and the 7th largest independent employee benefits firm in the country. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS

M&A Contact
Rob Lieblein, Chief Development Officer
Email: rob.lieblein@aleragroup.com
Phone: 717-329-2451

Media Contact
Jessica Tiller, Weiss PR
Email: jtiller@weisspr.com
Phone: 443-621-7690

 

Communicating the Value of Your Health Benefit Plan

Posted on August 10th, 2018

You’ve worked hard to choose and provide the right group health benefit plan for your employees. The premiums are reasonable, the deductibles are low and plan participants have a good choice of health care providers.

That’s a good start, but there’s something else you should do — educate your employees. The more your employees know about their benefit plans, the smarter decisions they’ll make for their well-being, health and pocketbook. 

Here are some reasons you should work with your health plan broker to provide ongoing education to your employees:

Plan Changes

Unfortunately, many employees just re-enroll without really researching what they are buying. They generally are aware of the premiums and deductibles, but may not know that there are other benefits associated with their plans.

When you announce the new plan, email or distribute literature describing the new plan benefits. Emphasize if there are any major changes to the plans you are offering. It’s easy for employees to assume that plans that cost the same offer the same benefits — and that is not necessarily the case.

Encourage your employees to go to the carrier’s website to check to see if their doctor is still in the network. If your new plan is in a limited network, it will cost your employees more money if their doctors are no longer in-network.

Hidden Benefits

Telemedicine is quickly becoming a popular benefit. It lets health plan members call a board-certified physician any time of the day to get medical advice. Many times, the physician will have access to a patient’s health records and can prescribe medications. Telemedicine improves access for patients in rural areas who are not near medical centers. It’s also important for those who have an immediate need for help after offices are closed, and it’s an aid for those who can’t or don’t want to sit in a doctor’s office waiting for their appointment.

Some health plans offer access to a Center of Excellence for surgery. A Center of Excellence is a program offered by a health care facility that specializes in a particular medical treatment and offers exceptional expertise. Some health plans will recommend certain Centers of Excellence for members who need surgery and will even pay transportation costs to the centers.

The Value of the Employee Portal

An employee portal can hold a vast amount of information about an employee’s health plan. They can access their plan information any time day or night. Plan members also can find out the status of their claims.

A self-service site also allows members to update their profile and change their login name, email address and password.

Effective Communication

One of the biggest advantages of frequently communicating with your employees about their benefits is that it shows that you care about them. It also helps them make better decisions.

Many brokers will facilitate one-on-one or group training sessions where employees get more information and can ask questions about their benefits.

You also can identify “value champions” — employees who understand and realize the value of the plan. Value champions spread important information about the plan and explain it to others.

You also can include employee testimonials in your employee newsletter.

Talk to your broker today about available brochures, posters, emails or workshops that can help educate your employees about their health benefit plan. 

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