2018 IBI Annual Forum: An Overview

The Spring team has been involved with the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) and its events for quite a few years now. The organization provides valuable resources for employee benefits and absence management professionals, and their annual forum is a great opportunity for industry experts to come together and share their experiences and strategies.

For these reasons and more (such as escaping winter in Boston), I was excited to head back to San Francisco earlier this month for the 2018 IBI Annual Forum. Over the course of the three days, I joined over 500 employers and service providers in helping each other advance our professional knowledge and capabilities. Acquaintances were made, colleagues were reunited, lessons were learned and cocktails were had. I even had the chance to join some clients on a panel to speak about, “Evolving Your Absence Management Strategy: Let’s Talk Best Practices.” In the spirit of shared learning, I like to relay what I found to be the most significant topics at a given conference.

So if you missed the IBI forum this year or lost your notes, here’s a brief overview:

1. Data
This was probably the biggest buzz word at IBI this year. Big data, small data, data of all kinds. In 2018, this is not surprising.Specifically, Dr. Bruce Sherman from Case Western Reserve University emphasized the importance of HR professionals incorporating health-related statistics into their strategy, and treating well-being as a means to improve business performance. Then on Monday afternoon, folks from UPMC discussed the power of Big Data, demonstrating their use of an integrated platform that ties in all sorts of metrics and allows employers to view customized reports from which they can act upon. Along the same lines, representatives from Aon and PSEG explained how PSEG was able to tap into data to increase employee safety and risk, productivity and well-being while decreasing absence. Lastly, another session entitled “Unlocking Data to Analyze, Benchmark and Diagnose Absence Drivers, Culture and Impacts on Outcomes” demonstrated how to use qualitative and quantitative data to better inform absence programs. The panel discussed the ability to use this data to modify plan design, improve administration, optimize plan expense, minimize plan liability and more.

2. Change
By this I mean that words like “innovation”, “new” and “revolutionary” were commonly heard at IBI 2018. This is to be expected, since many attend the event to hear the freshest ideas and trends, and they weren’t let down this year.Gary Earl presented on the rise in chronic diseases over the past several decades. He urged the audience to sway from the status quo by modifying systems, behaviors and environments to make positive changes in health. Then, a team from Morneau Shepell explained their innovative approach to a “total health strategy”, which looks at employee health at the individual level and demands dual-accountability from both employer and employee for better outcomes in the areas of physical and mental health as well as productivity.In “Work is Changing and Reshaping Return to Work”, Dr. Glenn Pransky of Liberty Mutual outlined the changes we are seeing in the American workforce: more automation, more remote workers, the incorporation of artificial intelligence, the emergence of the gig economy, the trend toward later retirement and so on. These changes, Pransky argued, warrant an aligned shift in return-to-work tactics through the use of more digitally-friendly systems in particular. This was a nice segue into a later presentation on virtual healthcare, which emphasized the efficiency and effectiveness of telehealth through actual case study results. A representative from Walgreens then spoke on a panel about the importance of employee engagement in their whole health program, which aims to make services more convenient.Lastly, as mentioned above, I spoke with colleagues from Robert Half, Guardian Life Insurance, Adventist Health System and Chevron about the need for organizations to evolve their absence management programs. Our focus was on offering results and experiences that exhibit how to identify trends within your company and within the market, how to choose and work with different vendors, the importance of gathering feedback post-implementation from all stakeholders, and the ways in which metrics can help inform all of these integrations.

3. Paid Leave
As more and more states are passing paid leave laws and regulations, and more employers are implementing their own policies whether or not they are mandated to, I was glad to see that this was one of the hot topics at IBI this year.One session included a case study from Norwell Health, a New York based organization with 60,000 employees who recently developed a new paid parental leave program. The presentation provided guidance on how Norwell Health considered things like benchmarks, predictive cost and productivity analysis, competitive advantage and measurement. On the second day of the conference, Michelle Jackson of Unum and Kristi Stormer of American Family Insurance provided an overview of several organizations who have implemented a paid family leave policy. They presented  on the business case for such programs as well as the time and funds needed to establish a PFL benefit.

4. Mental & Behavioral Health
Eliminating the stigma and getting to the core of mental health problems has been a core focus over the last couple of years, both within and outside of the workplace. The 2018 IBI Annual Forum helped continue and advance the conversation.One panel highlighted the importance of creating an understanding workplace environment where anxiety and depression are treated as normal issues and are allowed to be discussed and recognized. The speakers explained how creating such a culture will help an organization’s morale as well as its bottom line. During “Mental Health in the Workplace. Challenges. Strategies. Opportunities!” further addressed the problematic stigma of mental illness, citing that while 20% of the US workforce suffers from it, only 1/3 will seek help or treatment, for fear of prejudice. This presentation, led by on mental health specialist, one employer and one ADA attorney, focused on ways to increase access to education and support for mental health at work, including EAP programs and other accommodations. On the last day of the conference, a mental-health related session drew from the experiences of The Home Depot and Comcast in their efforts to destigmatize the issue. Specifically, speakers illustrated the role that sleep can play in mental illness and therapeutic solutions. Sleep is so often the answer, isn’t it?

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the 2018 Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) Annual Forum. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions about employee benefits, disability and absence management, or anything else related. Lastly, keep an eye out for a similar write-up regarding the 2018 Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) 2018 Annual Compliance Conference at the end of April.

 

 

 

DMEC Recap: 5 Employer Policies to Consider

After every conference I attend, I try to take time to reflect on the core themes that popped up. In fact, this is one of the primary ways that I can stay on top of industry trends and employer needs. As an advisory board member for the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), I am wholly familiar with the organization and have been attending their events for many years. To this day, each conference leaves me with new knowledge gained and something(s) unexpected.Employee Absence Management

DMEC celebrated its 25th anniversary and welcomed over 700 professionals in the absence and disability management fields to its summit in Anaheim from July 31st to August 3rd.  With summer having winded down I’ve finally had time to put my thoughts together on the event. So if you didn’t have a chance to make it to the conference, or could merely use a refresher, here are the highlights from my perspective, organized into policies for employers to consider.

 

  1. Parental & Family Medical Leave

With states such as New York and Washington having recently passed paid family leave laws, it’s no wonder this topic was prevalent throughout the conference. Each year, there is something new to discuss on this topic – if not several.

Paid Family LeaveThis year, speakers from MetLife discussed the challenges of striking a balance between productivity, compliance and retention when it comes to leave management. A panel including Mary Chavez of Levi Strauss & Co. and Dianne Arpin of T-Mobile spoke about how and why employers in the US, the only developed nation without a standardized leave policy, are still going above and beyond what is legally required. Robyn Marino from Cigna led a session on where the current White House administration stands on paid leave and how it relates to employer mandates and decision making. On Wednesday afternoon, speakers from Aetna discussed the relationship with Family Medical Leave and Short-Term Disability – how the former often leads to the latter, and what to do about it.

Ultimately, many employers are determining how to best to structure their policies with regard to paid leave, whether or not it’s legally required of them.

 

  1. Drugs in the Workplace

While the topic only played a key role in two of DMEC’s education sessions, they were both strong in emphasizing the crisis. With an uptick in awareness and new laws being passed in states like Massachusetts around the legality of marijuana, it is definitely a topic worth noting.

One session did a deep dive on how to navigate marijuana in the workplace – how does legislation affect workplace policies? Does this change employer drug testing? If marijuana is legal, does that mean it should be allowed in the workplace?

Further, Michael Coupland of IMCS Group got serious when presenting on opioids in the workplace. As the opioid crisis continues to sweep the nation, the session provided employers with guidance on how to stay ahead of the issue and steps to intervene and mitigate problems should they arise.

 

  1. Getting Ahead of Mental and Behavioral Health Issues

Having long been a “taboo” issue, it’s great to see mental health continuing to get more attention and being spoken about openly. In fact, the pre-conference was incredible and gave so many real-time examples Employee Behavioral Healththat many of us in the audience were beside ourselves, and wanting to do more. The question “Are you okay?” has taken on a new meaning for so many of us as a result, and will no doubt prompt us to work on increasing awareness and making tools and resources available for those struggling. This also includes offering benefits or EAP programs that align with tackling mental and behavioral health problems.

On the second day of the conference, a presentation led by Broadspire highlighted ways to identify different types of mental health issues – what are the red flags? How can they be addressed early on? They also discussed how and when it’s appropriate for an employer to intervene, and encouraged the audience to help de-stigmatize mental health. As one in five of your employees is suffering from a behavioral health problem, it’s important to learn how to motivate them and help them get better.

 

  1. ADA and Compliance Challenges

Keeping up with regulations and compliance requirements is very difficult in this industry; new regulations are sprouting up across different regions of the country every day. Luckily, several presentations at DMEC helped attendees come to grips with these challenges.

A panel including Adrienne Paler from Sutter Health discussed the importance of integrating and accounting for Workers’ Compensation as it relates to federal laws like the ADA and the FMLA. A later session addressed obscure or difficult-to-manage FMLA requests and how to best handle such claims. Representatives from Aetna talked about how oftentimes a family medical leave will turn into a disability leave, and let employers know what to watch out for, providing research-based stay-at-work strategies for at-risk employees. A different presentation went over ERISA regulations and, lastly, a Thursday morning session covered how to use mobile apps and platforms to improve FMLA and overall leave compliance, providing employers with more efficient and modernized solutions to respond to an evolving workforce.

 

  1. Returning to Work

It’s not uncommon for employees to realize that coming back to work after some sort of leave is a great hurdle. It’s important for employers to recognize that the transition isn’t easy, and provide ways to mitigate anxiety and make the shift run as smoothly as possible for employees.

Return to Work ProgramReturning to work has been a hot topic for years, but with each passing year there are new challenges to overcome and new strategies to help do so. A group of representatives from Guardian discussed the positive impact of vocational rehabilitation, while another panel explained how to proactively get in front of leaves and how to retain employees, happily and healthfully, upon returning to work.

Spring partner and my close colleague, Teri Weber, led a Thursday morning session with Memorial Sloan Kettering that looked at return to work from a broader perspective, that is accommodations overall. She emphasized the difference between merely doing what’s legal vs. doing what is best for your employees. The group recommended expanding the stakeholders involved in return to work strategies to include those who work in areas like health and safety, recruiting and diversity. They presented the client’s methodology and showcased how it’s helped in communication, compliance and record-keeping in a timely manner.

Overall, the 25th annual DMEC conference exceeded my expectations. I always enjoy going and seeing familiar faces, as well as meeting new ones. The topics covered at the event were informative, grounded in research, relevant and diverse. Beyond that, DMEC always does a great job organizing activities and networking opportunities throughout the course of the conference, and I caught my first Angels game!

If you have questions about any of the topics above, feel free to reach out. I’d love to chat about your disability and leave management goals and challenges – any time!

Natural Disasters & Employee Benefits: Legal & Moral Considerations

Making Natural Disasters Less Disastrous for Your Employees

With the recent hits of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José as well as the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico and the ongoing wildfire problems in the Western United States, many are left wondering what they’re supposed to do in the face of such tragic, unprecedented damage caused by natural disasters.

This goes for everyone – if you’re a victim, how do you cope, and get back on your feet? If you’re lucky enough to be far away from destruction, how can you help? If you work in politics, what is the plan for disaster relief? However, working in the space that we do, we’d like to weigh in on the employer perspective: what benefits and leave allowances your employees are legally entitled to in the midst of a natural disaster and what employers might want to consider, while not required, in order to alleviate the burden for their employees.

natural disasters employee benefits

FMLA & ADA and Natural Disasters

What’s Required

When it comes to FMLA and/or ADA related leaves of absence, there’s essentially no real change in process in the face of a natural disaster, at least in terms of the law. There are, however, a few factors to consider, even if you’ve no plans to make a policy change:

  • A bad storm or earthquake may heighten the severity of any pre-existing conditions your employees might have. A spike in FMLA or ADA leave requests is not uncommon in the aftermath of a natural disaster; someone with an exiFMLA Accommodationssting nervous disorder may be dealing with stress-related conditions, blood pressures may be on the up-tick, people may need time to care for relatives who didn’t fare the storm well, etc.
  • It is possible for a natural disaster to spur a new condition or injury, such as backpain from home repair, stress-induced migraines, or anxiety over destroyed property.
  • Employees who are members of the National Guard and are called for disaster-related duty are not necessarily protected under USERRA, but certain states do protect such absences.
  • Even in face of a natural disaster, the FMLA does not account for absences due to things like tending to flood damage, home repair, or looking for missing relatives after a storm. For these situations, employees would need to take personal or company leave to take care of such matters.
    • Absences that are protected by the FMLA that might arise would include the onslaught of an existing condition or a new one brought about by the natural disaster (as mentioned above), as well as the need to care for a spouse, child, or parent who cannot tend to their own medical needs. For example, perhaps a relative is diabetic and they need help managing their medication, which needs to be refrigerated, as they’re now without power.
  • If your office is impacted by a natural disaster and you need to shut down business operations, or if employees are not expected to work, FMLA entitlement days should not be counted for any employee during that time.
    • If an employee is on FMLA leave at the same time that the office is shut down, you need to treat them (in terms of pay, benefits, etc.) as if they are on non-FMLA leave according to your organizational policies.
  • A natural disaster can very well be considered an “extenuating circumstance”  that might prohibit an employee from completing the requisite claim and eligibility paperwork by the original deadline. See below.

What Some Employers Are Doing, “Just Because”

As a high-category hurricane or powerful earthquake are no doubt devastating both materially and emotionally, many employers are doing their best to show empathy and support for their employees during such difficult times. A few ways they are doing so are:

  • Allow more time for claims.
    • For example, we have clients in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey who are allowing employees an additional 30 days to meet any claims requirement – whether STD, FMLA or any other kind. Keep in mind that if people have been evacuated, relocated, and/or are experiencing a power shortage, they should not be expected to meet the same deadline. They may not receive a certification form in the mail because they haven’t been at their home address, and without power and internet they might be unable to complete any such documentation online.
  • Consider those in FEMA-designated disaster areas.
    • Individuals in these areas may need unique assistance and, depending on the damage, there could be cause for a temporary process change on a case-by-case basis.
  • Expand or discount any available medical services.
    • We have a clients who, as a benefit, offer telehealth services to their employees. Some organizations, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, allow employees to access this service for doctors’ visits and consultations completely free of charge, regardless of their health insurance plan.
  • Remind employees of support services.
    • In times like these, employee assistance plans (EAPs) can be essential. Whether it’s providing updates to community situations, arranging access to local services or offering a counselor to talk to, employers are reminding employees how to contact the EAP and in many cases extending access to be 24/7, rather than restricting it to regular business hours.
  • Take your employees’ word.
    • If an employee requests FMLA leave while you suspect they might be using the time for something like assisting an elderly parent with their flooded home, it might behoove you to simply allow it and take their word for it.

As with all matters relating to employee benefits, there are things that employers legally have to accommodate for, and things that are just nice for them to do. It is important to understand the difference and come to an agreement as to what kind of plan will be put in place, if any. Further, if your organization has not yet been faced with a serious a natural disaster, there’s never a better time than the present to start developing a system should the need ever arise (and we certainly hope it doesn’t).

Technology Opens New Leave Management Program Options

As leave law complexity continues to increase, the interaction of all these laws has also become more involved.

We have federal, state, and local Family and Medical Leave Acts plus other leave laws, and their interaction with disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and even workers’ compensation is constantly evolving.

Gone are the days when experience professionals can work off a spreadsheet and feel confident that they are achieving full compliance with the myriad of laws. Instead, they are finding ways to boost their certainty, either through relationships with external vendors or by using more sophisticated tools.

Whether an employer takes an outsources, co-sourced, or insourced approach to managing its leave program, technology is somewhere in the mix of supporting daily operations. Many technology solutions go beyond providing a common place for documentation to offering confidence in compliance, ease of use for all parties involved, and data that can be used at many levels of the organization.

The Spectrum of Employer Options

Over the six years that DMEC and Spring Consulting Group have collaborated on the annual DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey, some trends have become apparent:

  • more employers are outsourcing leave management to third-party administrators (TPAs) or carriers;
  • the concept of co-sourcing is maturing and now feasible for more employers; and
  • employers that still insource acknowledge their need to increase their use of external tools.

Technology is undergirding all of these options; it has probably had more impact that any other factor in providing this broad range of options for employers to choose from.

In an outsourced environment, technology is enabling TPAs and carriers to improve the employee experience by obtaining real-time information about the employee, automating their eligibility decisions, and communicating status and other useful information back to employees, managers, and corporate representatives.

In a co-sourced setting in which the employer conducts some of the administrative activities and the TPA or carrier conducts others, technology is critical to sharing timely and accurate information about each claim and in the aggregate across both parties.

In an insourced capacity, the most current technology solutions not only offer employers a place to document activities and record pertinent case management information but also guide their leave decisions in a compliant way.

All may offer self-service portals or mobile applications for initial leave reporting, status updates, and reports with access level determined by security levels within employer groups.

Leave Management Technology

Technology solutions providers range from new companies to older companies, smaller firms to larger firms, and those that focus exclusively on leave or offer a broader range of insurance or other human resource administration services. A handful of technology companies are organized to upgrade capabilities for the 20 or more insurance carriers and TPAs that help employers outsource their leave management programs today.

These technology companies are primarily focused on leave and have purposely built their software to embed the numerous regulations employers need to follow as business rules and update them constantly to keep all users current. They are very much like the “Intel inside” that makes the leave management process faster, stronger, and more effective for all parties involved.

To support this intelligence, most TPAs and carriers retain in-house legal experts who regularly monitor the laws and ensure products and systems are updated accordingly. The majority of carriers and TPAs also customize their leave management technology, so their programs are unique, even if they are built on widely used platforms.

Employers that co-source or insource can get a dedicated leave management technology package, or can turn to modules included in payroll, timekeeping, or human capital management systems. In either case, employers can pay an annual or monthly fee for sophisticated cloud-based technology (i.e. programs accessed over the Internet) to ensure their compliance needs will be met.

They can use the system to initiate a leave, calculate eligibility, create and push communications to employees and their supervisors, document “accept” or “deny” decisions, then continue their workflow through return to work, accommodations, and ultimately claim closure. They can rely on the system to produce day-to-day management reports as well as aggregate reports that provide trend information about their company’s experience.

Fine-Tuning Your Delivery Model

With technology constantly adapting to today’s increasingly complex leave environment, the pieces are in place for compliance – but also for employers to miss important policy or process mandates if they aren’t working with external experts to prompt them.

If you outsource your leave management administration to a TPA or carrier, you should ask:

  • Are we getting the most from our leave management partner?
  • Is the process customized enough to our unique population?
  • Are there new features on our partner’s technology roadmap that we could use?

If you are in a co-sourced arrangement, you should ask:

  • Are there aspects of our carrier or TPA partner systems that we can better leverage?
  • Can we access their system to enable our documentation?
  • Do we need to pursue an additional tool for our in-house use?

If you insource, you need to assess your program in the light of these questions:

  • Are our current tools doing enough to ensure compliance?
  • Does the functionality exist to help us achieve our desired process?
  • Is it time for a technology upgrade?

Employee Experience

Compliance is a core reason for upgrading your organization’s leave management program, but it doesn’t stand alone.

Reduced costs, easier administration, a better experience for employees, and enhanced tracking and reporting are additional advantages employers cite in fine-tuning their leave management programs.Overall, your organization needs to know if employees feel supported or penalized by the leave management process. Because the ultimate goal of leave management is for the employee to return to work and stay at work, employee confusion or dissatisfaction with the leave process may translate into longer time away, declining employee morale, or mounting litigation. To help avoid this, many organizations make a satisfaction survey part of the closing process for leaves and track employee engagement on a broader level that ties back to leave.

Leave Management Technology

Conclusion

Leave management program functionality includes compliance but also looks beyond it to address employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the overall employee experience. The better the program delivery in the eyes of the employee, the better the chances for a positive experience and improved return to work. Therefore, the functionality that is afforded to your program through the latest and greatest technology warrants your time and consideration. If after a comprehensive review you determine that gapes need to be filled, it is time to cast a broader net and take a look at what the sophisticated technology firms have to offer.

 

References
1. Spring Consulting Group. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Employer Survey, 2016

Why Voluntary Benefits Are No Longer Voluntary for Employers

Are You Missing an Opportunity?

By Karen English, CPCU, ARM and Lai-Sahn Hackett, CPDM

Introduction to Voluntary Benefits

Gone are the days of “voluntary” being frowned upon in the workplace.  We are past the stage of employer unease with the concept and the resulting worry about “selling” to employees.  Instead, voluntary benefits have become a welcome addition – some would even say critical – yielding increasingly competitive employee benefits packages that couldn’t be offered without them.

we are at a point where employers welcome voluntary benefits, yielding increasingly competitive employee benefits packages that couldn’t have been reached without them.Voluntary Benefits Dental Insurance

Voluntary benefits are insurance products or services made available by employers, but paid for by employees.   They are typically offered at lower rates than employees can find on their own, and provide a degree of choice beyond an employer’s core benefit offering.  There are a number of insurance carriers that underwrite them with products ranging from traditional life, disability, dental and vision to emerging concepts such as critical illness, identity theft protection and student loan repayment.

Employers like voluntary benefits because they make their packages stronger and tailored to the wants and needs of their specific workforce. Employees like them because they are easily accessible, pre-vetted, discounted and more diverse than traditional benefits. Carriers, brokers and consultants like them because they are a needed extension of employer core offerings.

Employer Need

Voluntary Employee BenefitsIn today’s competitive environment, employers are striving to maintain relevant benefit offerings despite increasing costs and the continuing uncertainty of healthcare reform.  The constant need to attract and retain talent and increase productivity is even further challenged by evolving workforce demographics and degree of consumerism being applied to every interaction. Further, a recent survey found that sixty percent of employees are likely to take a job with lower pay but better benefits, emphasizing the importance of a robust benefits program made possible, in part, through voluntary products1.

However, it should not be looked at with a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers can no longer look across their employee populations and make a short list of benefits that will fulfill their collective needs.  With millennials now equaling the baby boomers in number, and generation X’ers on their way to surpassing both, employers need to think about not only age and gender, but also personas within these segments, such as what is warranted by income and lifestyle2.

Market Response

In recognition of these needs, insurance carriers have expanded their capabilities beyond what are typically core employer-paid benefits to what are often referred to as supplemental employee-paid benefits that can either be stand-alone or structured as buy-ups to core plans.  This expansion has opened up possibilities for employers, as they are no longer subject to a subset of specialty carriers and brokers with limited and often self-serving products. They instead can turn to over twenty3 of the most recognized life and health carriers to fulfill the widespread needs of their employees.Voluntary Benefits Trends

These carriers are partnering with employers, brokers and consultants to design voluntary programs that will resonate with employee populations.  Whether it is employee health, wealth, security and/or personal needs that an employer is looking to address, the products that can respond are broad, appealing and growing.  Considering the category of health, for example – accident, critical illness, dental and hospital indemnity are among the most common voluntary benefits offered4.  Within the category of wealth – optional disability, financial counseling and student loan repayment are highly popular. With respect to security, identity theft protection is projected to be the fastest growing voluntary benefit and within the personal sphere, pet insurance is following suit5.

How to Get Started

If you are grappling with how to find that happy medium for your workforce, taking the following steps will give you a start.

1. First and foremost, assess what your employees are interested in. At this point of conducting employee surveys and/or focus groups, you aren’t making any promises, just trying to listen and understand which voluntary products would be more valued than others.Voluntary Benefits Prices

2. Armed with this information, consider what your population can afford. You may find, for example, that six voluntary products are of most interest to your workforce. This doesn’t mean that employees can afford to buy all six.  In fact, we find that no matter how many are offered, employees purchase no more than three voluntary products at any given time6.

3. From here, think about resources to enroll and administer voluntary benefits. You may already have a technology platform you will want to leverage, or existing relationships with a set of carriers and enrollment firms that can help streamline the process.

Employee Benefits Communications4. Lastly and most importantly, contemplate not only how you will communicate their availability, but ultimately why employees should consider them. Employee education is critical to the reception of voluntary benefits, and the value proposition or “need” has to be clear for a benefit to even be considered7. This need should ideally be developed and communicated prior to the enrollment period, not during enrollment when the employee has likely already made up their mind and is not as open to processing new information.

Conclusion

In closing, the world of voluntary benefits looks very different than it did even five years ago. This shift is a result of a variety of factors including the rising costs of healthcare, changing workforce demographics, the increasing customizability of services in general, and the growing challenges presented by recruitment and retention. We are at a moment in time where stakeholders – employers, employees, carriers, brokers/consultants and more – are aligned and where there are great options for all parties.  The opportunities are endless and can be considered as a short-term strategy for now, with a longer-term view established based on the initial roll-out results.

 

Sources:

2016 Aflac WorkForces Report, op.cit
Pew Research Center, Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers as America’s Largest Generation, April 25, 2016
3 Spring Consulting Group Voluntary Pulse Market Update, 2016
4 Spring Consulting Group Voluntary Market Pulse, 2016
5 Willis Towers Watson Voluntary Benefits Survey, 2016
6 Spring Consulting Group Voluntary Employee Pulse, 2015
7 Spring Consulting Group Voluntary Employee Pulse, 2016

6 Trending Topics from the IBI Annual Forum

By Karen English, PCU, ARM
Partner, Spring Consulting Group

I recently had the pleasure to attend and speak at the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) Annual Forum in San Francisco. I always enjoy networking with colleagues, meeting new faces, and contributing to the latest industry news and trends, and this event was no disappointment.

Integrated Benefits Institute annual forum
Throughout three days of workshops, seminars, cocktail receptions, and waking up at 5AM to dial into East Coast morning meetings, I was happy to see a number of important topics covered. In case you were not able to attend, I have summarized a few key areas below (many of which are closely related).
1. Prevention/Early Intervention

The ever-increasing importance of being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to health issues including chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, depression (see below), and others was highlighted in several IBI sessions.

Denise Zoe Algire of Albertson’s Companies and Michael Coupland of IMCS Group stressed the importance of getting in front of these issues as many of them are predictive based on psychological factors, and early intervention will reduce claims costs (among other positive outcomes). A panel of professors and folks from Liberty Mutual focused on disability prevention in the realm of the opioid crisis and proposed strategies to reduce sick leave. Further, Andrew Yohe and Michael Parkinson of UPMC, along with Wendy Lynch of Lynch Consulting, talked about how to use big data to get ahead of mental health problems, which leads us to the next important topic…

2. Behavioral/Mental Health

It’s nice to finally see mental health being addressed at a more wide-spread level, especially since it affects 1 in 5 workers. This is something we highlighted in the panel on which I participated – alongside professionals from Cigna and DMEC, I spoke about how mental health is a growing concern when it comes to absenteeism and productivity, and advised on how employers can best address it head-on.

Employee WellbeingWe weren’t the only ones talking about it though! A group from The Standard and Regions Hospital discussed how to accommodate for behavioral health issues while still complying with short-term disability and FMLA guidelines, and Judy Gordon and Jenna Carl emphasized the impact of sleep (or lack thereof) on mental health and productivity. One workshop discussed the national standard for workplace health passed in Canada and how it’s helped to relieve and address issues before they result in excessive absence. Lastly, a panel of professionals from Intermountain Healthcare, Willis Towers Watson, and The Hartford talked about how to approach behavioral health claims – covering different models and explaining how to best leverage multiple facets like health plan design and education.

3. Technology to Increase Access & Utilization

It’s 2017, so no surprise that technology is playing a role in almost every discussion. Specifically, one IBI session highlighted how

Aging Workforce

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

technology can help keep a knowledgeable, aging workforce healthy and engaged. Tele-behavioral health was also a hot topic, with a group of folks from CarMax, AbleTo, and Aetna arguing that technology can increase access to care, mitigate some of the existing stigmas, and ultimately prevent conditions that lead to work impairment and high medical costs.

Yet another session highlighted how Chesapeake Energy uses telehealth systems to improve health and productivity, particularly for those employees in more rural areas with limited access to care.

4. Back-To-Work Strategies

Making sure employees can get back to work safely are reasonably continues to be a challenging priority for many employers. Speakers from Northrup Grumman Corporation and Anthem talked specifically about improving returning to work for those affected by cancer, while another session focused on broader tactics and introduced on-site resources to reduce disability durations, contain costs and boost employee engagement.

5. The Positive Correlation Between Business Outcomes & Workplace Wellbeing

It’s not always easy to measure the success or ROI of different health and wellness programs. However there was a lot of talk at IBI about Value on Investment, or VOI, and how a healthier, more engaged workforce can improve the likelihood of businesses meeting their goals.

Presenters from companies like Nestle, Bank of America and Comcast took the first deep-dive into this relationship. Then Sandra Morris and Bruce Sherman identified three areas where companies should be investing more: prevention and well-being, Centers of Excellence, and the reduction of out-of-pocket costs for prescription medicines. Later on, speakers from Central Michigan University and Virgin Pulse shared helpful tips for measuring wellness outcomes and demonstrating VOI to senior leadership.

6. Managing Global Leaves & Benefits

This a growing topic that came up in two different seminars. It’s hard enough to manage leave and policies for employees within a single country, given that each state and region can have different regulations. Then if you add in a global element, things get all the more complicated.Global Employee Benefits

Rich McDonald from Johnson & Johnson and Tyler Amell of Morneau Shepell gave advice on how to find a harmonious approach to leave policies across different nations and regions and their corresponding legislative factors. Another workshop outlined how the World Bank Group used evidence-based data analytics modeling tools, along with U.S. Preventive Medicine (USPM), to establish preventive health strategies that are culturally-specific. The goal was to provide a more seamless delivery of health services to international locations, and to shift from merely treating illness to actually managing and improving health.

 

It was certainly an enlightening conference and I’m glad I had the chance to participate. I hope you find it helpful to learn what the hot topics of discussion were…doesn’t it almost feel like you were there?

If the above themes are of interest to you, you might also enjoy our white paper, Managing an Absent Workforce: A Guide to the Family Medical Leave Act.

Spring Reports Integrated Disability Trends for 2014

integrated disabilityThe need to improve tracking and reporting, provide a better employee experience and achieve consistent administration continue to drive employers to integrate as indicated through Spring Consulting Group’s 2014 Employer Survey of Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Trends.

Although integration means different things to different people, two distinct but expanding tracks exist. Many employers integrate disability (STD and LTD) with Family Medical Leave (FML), other leave of absence (LOA) and state/municipal leave administration.  Others focus on health management by not only incorporating group health, EAP/behavioral health and disease management programs, but also coordinating wellness, health risk assessments (HRAs), nurse care lines, and more recently health coaching and employee advocacy.

Thirty-nine percent of employers report they have a total absence management program requiring employees to report all absences to a designated source, and workers’ compensation (WC) has remained steady at 40%. Integrated programs include a number of components, with employee communications, email notification to managers for leave, and RTW programs the most common.

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What’s different in 2014 is the importance that employers are placing on ADA. Fifty-four percent integrate ADA Leave as an accommodation, and 68% consider ADA part of their early intervention activities, second only to return to work.

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Employee wellness initiatives have increased with 68% making referrals as part of their early intervention efforts and almost 9 in 10 offering at least five wellness programs, such as flu shots, smoking cessation, weight management, stress reduction education, and nutrition education.

When asked how much savings/improvement employers have been able to achieve, almost half of large employers have increased RTW rates, while other have decreased cost and lost time.

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Survey Methodology: 

The survey was facilitated electronically and coordinated answers from 521 employers consisting of both integrators and non-integrators. Employers represent different industries and where appropriate results were stratified by size. The survey was sponsored by insurance companies and third-party administrators who received detailed survey results.  If your organization is interested in sponsoring or participating in the 2015 survey, or if you are an employer and want to benchmark yourself against the group, please contact Karen English (Karen.English@springgroup.com) at 617-589-0930 x105.

Photo by mrmanc