Towers Watson: Health Care Reform Heightens Employers’ Strategic Plans for Health Care Benefits

Over the short term, employers plan to retain active medical plans amid projected cost increase and excise tax concerns; greater change expected to retiree medical plans.

The breadth of health care reform is prompting changes and ushering in emerging opportunities for employers, according to a survey of 420 midsize and large companies by global professional services company Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW). While employers remain concerned about a predicted 5.2% increase in 2014 health care costs and the risk of triggering the excise tax* in 2018, most (82%) continue to view subsidized health care benefits as an important part of their employee value proposition in 2014.

However, the 2013 Health Care Changes Ahead Survey found that a majority of employers do anticipate making moderate to significant changes in their health benefit programs for all employees and retirees by the beginning of 2016. It also revealed a clear disparity in how employers view public and private exchanges. Nearly 30% of employers have confidence in public health insurance exchanges as a viable alternative to employer-sponsored coverage in 2015. In contrast, private exchanges are more appealing, with 58% having confidence in them as a viable alternative. In short, employers are intrigued by the potential of private exchanges to control cost increases, reduce administrative burdens and provide greater value.

Read the full story here: TowersWatson.com

 

 

Wellmark Launches New Microsite and Campaign to Help Consumers Understand Health Insurance

Consumers in Iowa and South Dakota have a new tool to help them understand “What Matters” in health care reform and insurance.  Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently launched a new interactive microsite, What Matters, to serve as a go-to resource to help consumers understand the basics of health insurance and how the new health care reform requirements will impact them. The new site breaks health care reform into easy-to-understand articles, infographics, videos and frequently asked questions and answers.

“We designed What Matters content based on feedback from our members so it includes information that they want and feel is most important,” said Mike Gerrish, vice president, Corporate Marketing and Communications. “What Matters cuts through the clutter and takes a back-to-basics approach to explaining the changes and what they will mean for consumers. For those new to insurance all together, the site will direct consumers to the tools and resources they will need to make informed decisions for their coverage in 2014.”

Gerrish added that the responsive design of the site allows users to access the information from any desktop, tablet or smart phone. Share icons on the site also encourage visitors to email or share information on their individual social media networks.

The content on What Matters is currently focused on health care reform and links to additional resources where consumers can compare and shop for Wellmark insurance plans. Additional content about how insurance works will be added to the site in September, and information focused on better understanding pharmacy benefits is planned for this fall.

Consumers who wish to access more in-depth information about health care reform rules, regulations and specifics, can link direct from What Matters to the Wellmark’s website, WeKnowReform.com said Gerrish.

To learn more, visit the What Matters microsite at: Wellmark.com/WhatMatters.

 

 

Highmark Direct health insurance store to open in Erie, PA

PITTSBURGH (June 21, 2012) — Highmark Inc. announced today that it will open a Highmark Direct retail health insurance store in Erie, Pa. The store will be the ninth location in Pennsylvania.

“Across other parts of the state, the Highmark Direct stores have helped customers better understand health insurance and make more informed decisions about their health,” said Matt Fidler, Highmark vice president of consumerism and retail marketing. “With the addition of the Erie store, we’ll be able to reach even more Pennsylvanians who need health insurance support.”

Highmark opened its first two Highmark Direct stores in March 2009, added four stores in 2010 and two additional stores in 2011. Since inception, the stores have seen more than 144,000 visitors and provided health insurance to thousands of individuals and their families.

The Highmark Direct Erie store is scheduled to open in August and will be located at 5753 Peach Street in Kingswood Plaza. Eight additional employees will be hired as staff for the new store location.

Highmark Direct offers consumers in Highmark’s service area the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a health insurance specialist to discuss their health insurance options and their benefits as a Highmark member. The stores sell health insurance plans to individuals, seniors and small businesses, as well as ancillary products such as dental insurance, critical illness and accident insurance as well as a personalized genetic health program.

About Highmark
Highmark Inc., based in Pittsburgh, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Highmark serves 4.9 million members in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware through the company’s health care benefits business and is one of the largest Blue plans in the nation. Highmark has 20,000 employees across the country and provides a broad range of health and wellness related services through subsidiary and affiliate companies. For more information, visit www.highmark.com.

 

Blue Shield of California Members Share Personal Health Stories Online

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (June 30, 2011) — Building on an ongoing effort to engage its members about health, Blue Shield of California announced the launch of Member Stories, an online forum that lets members share personal stories that will hopefully inspire others to take control of their own health challenges.
Blue Shield members can submit text, photos and video to show how they are managing their health. Members can also read others’ stories, post comments, tag stories as “inspiring,” and share stories via Facebook. From now until July 31, Blue Shield will donate $5 for every story that’s shared on Member Stories. When members share their stories, they can choose to benefit one of three charities: California Partnership to End Domestic ViolenceThe Children’s Partnership, and California Primary Care Association.
“Tackling personal health issues can often be a solitary experience. Through Member Stories, our members are publicly sharing stories in a rich, deeply moving way that empowers other members who face similar challenges,” said Sue DeLeeuw, director for brand marketing, Blue Shield of California. “This is our way of harnessing the wisdom and bravery of our member community for better health.”
Member Stories is Blue Shield’s latest online initiative aimed at empowering members to share knowledge and experiences around health.
  • Ratings and Reviews, a first-of-its-kind feature in the healthcare industry, lets members give candid, public feedback about their experiences with Blue Shield health plans. It has collected nearly 2,000 member reviews averaging 4.0 out of 5 stars.
  • Ask & Answer, which enables members to ask questions and share knowledge about health topics, has generated more than 1,500 questions and answers from members and Blue Shield customer representatives and healthcare professionals.
Examples of inspiring member stories
Dozens of Blue Shield members have already shared stories about their challenges and triumphs with health issues ranging from stress and sleeplessness to cancer and high cholesterol. Dorothy Judy and Jo D’Anna are two examples.
  • Dorothy and Scott Judy of Newhall, Calif. had been fighting the battle of the bulge for years, but the couple recently took control of their weight and has lost a combined 77 pounds since last January. Initially hesitant to be “out there” with their experience, Dorothy, 56, and Scott, 60, shared their weight loss success online for the first time with Blue Shield’s Member Stories, and they’re proud they did it. Their story shows the power that a support system – in this case, a spouse – can have in overcoming health challenges.Writes Dorothy:”Having his support made a huge difference in my success. Eating right, exercising 4 or more days a week has changed my outlook on life and the way I look and feel. Taking control of this aspect of my life has made a big contribution to my health and well being.”

    Dorothy thinks that seeing other people willing to talk about their health struggles and/or successes through Member Stories can make the journey to better health less lonely.

  • Jo D’Anna of Forest Knolls, Calif. had heard horror stories from friends about colonoscopies and put off getting her own for more than 10 years. The lack of reliable transportation from friends and family only made it easier for the singer-songwriter to continue postponing it, but her family history of colon disease finally compelled her to get it done. Last May, just after turning 61, Jo got her first colonoscopy, calling it “a piece of cake, and actually fun.” She has provided a detailed account of it on Facebook and Blue Shield’s Member Stories. Her story shows that colonoscopies are not as embarrassing, uncomfortable or invasive as most people think.Writes Jo:”The procedure itself was a piece of cake, and actually fun. The nurses were delightful and funny, and made you feel completely at ease, like it was no big deal. They keep you comfy and warm. They talk about funny things. Then, suddenly you’re wheeled into the procedure room and before you know it, you’re totally unconscious. I woke up in the sunlit recovery room, having felt no time pass, and absolutely no pain.”

    Jo hopes the story of her colonoscopy will encourage those considering it not to procrastinate.

The full version of these and other stories are available at www.blueshieldca.com/memberstories.

Background on Blue Shield of California

Blue Shield of California, an independent member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health plan with 3.5 million members, 4,800 employees, and one of the largest provider networks in California. Founded in 1939 and headquartered in San Francisco, Blue Shield of California offers a wide range of commercial and government products throughout the state.

Highmark Inc. Collaborates with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to Address Childhood Obesity

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 29, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Thirty-nine percent of the children living in Pennsylvania are overweight and are at greater risk of developing such chronic diseases as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than the generation before them. To continue its efforts to address childhood obesity, Highmark Inc. has collaborated with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to expand its obesity benefits for children in 2011.

“Highmark has signed on to collaborate with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Health Care Initiative to support the goal to provide a holistic approach to the prevention, assessment and treatment of childhood obesity through multiple avenues, including health insurance offerings,” said Dr. Donald R. Fischer, Highmark’s chief medical officer. “More than 500,000 children will have access to this important care through Highmark. By decreasing the health risks of children, we decrease the number of children who will most likely develop into unhealthy adults. Highmark’s commitment to this endeavor is an investment in the health of the entire community.”

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit organization founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, works to positively affect the places that can make a difference to a child’s health — homes, schools, doctors’ offices and communities.

“We know that our network physicians are equally concerned about childhood obesity and represent a valuable resource of expertise and caring,” added Dr. Fischer. “Highmark’s participation in this initiative is helping to remove some barriers so that our network physicians can provide the optimal health care and guidance needed to address obesity.”

Starting Jan. 1, 2011, children ages 3 to 18 with a BMI over the 85th percentile for their age are eligible to receive the benefits and will be automatically enrolled. Through a preventive health benefit plan, eligible children will receive a minimum of four follow-up visits with their primary care provider (or other health care professional), along with four visits with a registered dietitian.

“Without proper prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, our current generation could become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents,” said Ginny Ehrlich, Alliance for a Healthier Generation executive director. “We applaud Highmark for making this ongoing commitment to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Highmark has had a deep history in promoting children’s health. The collaboration with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation will serve as a complement to the existing programs, services and funding that Highmark has been providing to address this national issue. The alliance’s goal of providing comprehensive health benefits for the prevention, assessment and treatment of childhood obesity aligns with Highmark’s mission and the Highmark Healthy High 5 initiative to promote lifelong healthy behaviors in children and adolescents.

Highmark values the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s long-term goal that more than 6 million children, or 25 percent of all overweight and obese children in the United States, will have access to this benefit by 2012.

The picture above shows a timeline of Highmark’s history in addressing childhood obesity.

SOURCE: Highmark Inc.

Highmark Launches iPhone Application to Help Members get Health and Wellness Information on the Go

Millions of Highmark members can now access valuable health and wellness information through the free Highmark Health@Hand iPhone® application.

The Health@Hand iPhone app gives members access to health and wellness features at their fingertips. Since the iPhone is equipped to know exactly where someone is, Highmark members can quickly find nearby participating Highmark medical facilities and health care providers such as hospitals, urgent care facilities, retail clinics and pharmacies. The app also provides interactive health information that allows members to look up information about illnesses, symptoms and medical conditions. A health and wellness section of the app offers health coaching tips and information about health and wellness programs available to Highmark members.

“Mobile phone applications open up an entirely new channel for interaction with our members. It makes health care and wellness information more portable and accessible,” said Matthew Childs, Highmark Web Strategy and Development vice president. “We chose to focus our app on health and wellness because Highmark has a long-standing commitment to helping our members ‘have a greater hand in their health.'”

The Highmark Health@Hand iPhone application is available to Highmark members. Members should log in to their specific Highmark member website, visit the “Choose Providers” tab, obtain the registration code and then link to Apple iTunes to download the application. The app will also be available directly in the Apple iTunes library, but will ask that users go to the Highmark website to receive the registration code.

Highmark partnered with A.D.A.M., an online information and technology vendor, to create the application. Highmark chose to make its health care feature available on the iPhone because it is one of the fast-growing mobile devices.

Access to a growing number of health and wellness discounts are also available through the Highmark Health@Hand iPhone app as well as on Highmark’s member websites. Last month, Highmark launched additional member discounts for a variety of national travel, nutrition, fitness, vision, hearing and complementary programs and services from companies such as Reebok, Jenny Craig, LasikPlus, Fairmont, Westin and more.

Highmark members can access the member discounts by logging into their specific Highmark member website and visiting the “Choose Providers” tab.

“We recognize that achieving good health isn’t all about health care. It’s about taking care of yourself as well,” said Childs. “These national discount partners give our members discounts of up to 50 percent on products and services that can keep them healthy and well.”

About Highmark
As one of the leading health insurers in Pennsylvania, Highmark Inc.’s mission is to provide access to affordable, quality health care enabling individuals to live longer, healthier lives. Based in Pittsburgh, Highmark serves 4.7 million people through the company’s health care benefits business. Highmark contributes millions of dollars to help keep quality health care programs affordable and to support community-based programs that work to improve people’s health. Highmark exerts an enormous economic impact throughout Pennsylvania. A recent study states that Highmark’s positive impact exceeded $2.5 billion. The company provides the resources to give its members a greater hand in their health.

Engaging Public Health Insurance Consumers Through Social Media

MAXIMUS (NYSE:MMS), a leading provider of government services worldwide, announced today that the Company and the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will co-present a case study on engaging public health insurance program participants using social media at the upcoming Medicaid Managed Care Congress.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has been working with MAXIMUS, the Medicaid managed care enrollment counselor for the South Carolina Healthy Connections Choices program, on a demonstration project to examine the usefulness of social media technologies for outreach to low-income populations. The demonstration project, in partnership with the MAXIMUS Center for Health Literacy, has been successful in providing health and enrollment information to consumers and program stakeholders who are actively engaged in social media networks.

Jeff Stensland, Director of Communications for the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Sunaina Menawat, Manager of Business Development for MAXIMUS Health Services, will present their case study entitled “Utilize Social Media for Greater Member Engagement, Communication and a Broader Reach.” Stensland and Menawat will present the demonstration project from its inception, the methodology and the social media tools used, and preliminary results. They will also discuss social media in the broader context of engagement and communication.

“One of the things I like about the demonstration project is that it tests the notion that lower-income people are somehow disconnected from the changes occurring in mass media. The project’s use of social media allowed us to interact with our members in new ways,” Stensland commented. “Members saw that we established a presence on the social media sites they regularly frequent, offering them a new way to get information, offer instant feedback and even ask questions. We look forward to sharing the insight garnered from the project with the Medicaid Managed Care community.”

“We are continuously looking for new ways to bring added value to our clients by improving outreach and education efforts to program participants,” commented Bruce Caswell, President and General Manager of MAXIMUS Health Services. “Until now, social media was often seen as an unconventional channel for communicating with participants of public health insurance programs, but this demonstration project shows that social media can be effectively used to reach program participants and help them make informed choices for improved long-term health outcomes.”

The Medicaid Managed Care Congress will take place May 17-19, 2010, at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore, Maryland. The Congress brings together State and Federal Medicaid Officials, Medicaid Managed Care Executives and National Policy Experts in a collaborative environment to create efficiencies while improving access to high quality care.

About MAXIMUS

MAXIMUS is a leading provider of government services worldwide and is devoted to providing health and human services program management and consulting services to its clients. The Company has more than 6,500 employees located in more than 220 offices in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Israel. Additionally, MAXIMUS is included in the Russell 2000 Index and the S&P SmallCap 600 Index.

Source
Healthy Connections Choices

HealthPartners to Launch Online Convenience Care Service

HealthPartners, the nation’s largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization, today announced plans to launch a new online convenience care service this fall.

The service, to be named Virtuwell, will provide online diagnosis and treatment of common medical conditions. The custom-designed service will combine proven, trusted medical expertise with the convenience of 24/7 online access to care including prescriptions if needed.

“Virtuwell is all about bringing more choices, affordable and easy-to-use options and high-quality health care,” said Mary Brainerd, president and CEO. “As we’ve watched the popularity of our online care options grow in recent years, we’ve continued to develop new ways to help patients get the right care at the right time at the lowest-possible cost. We’re excited about Virtuwell and what users will experience — a convenient, friendly and easy-to-use way to get better.”

With Virtuwell, medical professionals will be available online — on demand and around the clock — to provide personalized diagnoses, treatment recommendations, and prescriptions for routine medical conditions such as cold, cough and allergy, ear pain, yeast and urinary tract infection, and others. Users will receive a rapid diagnosis and treatment plan at a lower cost than visiting a clinic.

HealthPartners expects to begin offering Virtuwell services this fall, at which time further details will be announced.

About HealthPartners
Founded in 1957, the $3 billion HealthPartners family of health care companies serves 1.25 million members and provides care to over 500,000 patients in our HealthPartners care delivery system which includes 70 clinics and three hospitals. It is the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the nation, providing care, coverage, research and education to improve the health of members, patients and the community. HealthPartners is among the top 25 commercial health plans in the nation and is the top-ranked plan in Minnesota according to U.S. News & World Report/NCQA “America’s Best Health Insurance Plans 2009-10.”

Assurant Employee Benefits Introduces Industry-First Smartphone Application

Finding a dentist has never been easier, thanks to Assurant Employee Benefits’ new smartphone application Assurant Benefit Tools. The application, now available for iPhone® and Android™ and launching soon for BlackBerry®, consists of Find-a-Dentist, which uses GoogleMaps technology to connect smartphone users with dentists in proximity to their location. According to the company,  Assurant Employee Benefits is currently the only insurance benefits carrier offering smartphone technology in this way.

The Find-a-Dentist application is an extension of a similar online tool available to Assurant Employee Benefits customers. As programmers began to develop smartphone applications outside of work, Todd Rever, vice president, professional services, saw the opportunity to leverage emerging technology on the job to benefit consumers. A team was put together to think through the best use of smartphone technology, and the new application was born.

“We always look for ways to keep our products and communications relevant to our customers and sales force, and the way they use technology is always changing,” says Rever. “It’s very gratifying to be able to provide an industry-first tool that will help Assurant Employee Benefits connect in a new and meaningful way.”

The new application also provides updates on company news and Twitter feeds. Additional tools and enhancements will continue to be rolled out under Assurant Benefit Tools. The application is a free download available to all smartphone users.

About Assurant Employee Benefits

Assurant Employee Benefits specializes in quality employee benefits and services, including long-term and short-term disability, life insurance, voluntary benefits such as cancer, critical illness and accident, dental coverage, and disability reinsurance management services. Assurant Employee Benefits is the brand name for insurance products underwritten by Union Security Insurance Company and for prepaid dental products provided by an affiliated prepaid dental company. In New York, insurance products are underwritten and prepaid products are provided by Union Security Life Insurance Company of New York, which is licensed in New York and has its principal place of business in Syracuse, New York. Plans contain limitations, exclusions and restrictions. www.assurantemployeebenefits.com

Assurant Employee Benefits is a part of Assurant, a premier provider of specialized insurance products and related services in North America and select worldwide markets. Its four key businesses — Assurant Solutions, Assurant Specialty Property, Assurant Health, and Assurant Employee Benefits — partner with clients who are leaders in their industries and have built leadership positions in a number of specialty insurance market segments worldwide.

Assurant, a Fortune 500 company and a member of the S&P 500, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AIZ. www.assurant.com

SOURCE Assurant Employee Benefits

Consumer Engagement Improves Radiology Outcomes

More consumers than ever before are seeking additional knowledge to make more informed decisions, especially when it comes to their health care.

To help members lower their out-of-pocket costs and enhance the quality of their care through informed decision-making, HealthAmerica has partnered with National Imaging Associates (NIA) to provide an innovative consumer engagement program for diagnostic imaging services.

“By educating our members on their benefits and providing information on advanced medical imaging procedures, we enable them to take an active role in their health care,” said David P. Crosby, president of HealthAmerica.

This carries added significance in the field of diagnostic imaging, especially given concerns about radiation safety, clinically inappropriate examinations, and rising health care costs. HealthAmerica and NIA representatives pointed to multiple independent studies that found as many as one-third of all advanced imaging services are either clinically inappropriate or do not contribute to a physician’s diagnosis or the ultimate health outcomes for the patient.

“When consumers are engaged in the imaging process, they make more informed decisions about their care, and this improves outcomes, affordability, and consumer satisfaction,” said Tina Blasi, CEO of NIA, a Magellan Health Services company (Nasdaq: MGLN). “Our commitment to transparency, education, patient safety, and patient choice is at the very heart of our company’s philosophy.”

The services from HealthAmerica and NIA include a Facility Selection Support program that assists members with the selection of a quality imaging facility for their examinations, based on such convenience factors as location, proximity to public transportation, and the availability of evening and weekend appointments. NIA also can assist in identifying if there are any cost differences for the individual member and can provide patients with support in scheduling the image exams, as needed.

“Like most businesses, our employees pay an increasing share of their health care costs,” said Greg Drake, senior manager of Facilities and Purchasing for Isaac’s Deli Inc. “It’s important that we provide them with tools they can use to make sure they are using their health care benefits wisely. HealthAmerica’s imaging program provides a greater level of transparency on radiology services for my employees who are eager to get more involved in health care decisions.”

Additional NIA tools to support consumer engagement will be provided to HealthAmerica members later this year. This includes the launch of NIA’s new online consumer portal, which guides members through the imaging decision process, explain radiation safety considerations, and offer expanded information on imaging facility options. These resources, featuring age-specific content for adults and children, are designed to help members better understand their imaging procedures, engage in dialogue and shared decision-making with their physicians, and make knowledgeable decisions about their health care.

“Quality, cost, and convenience are becoming increasingly important to our patients,” said Paul DeLoia Jr., chief executive officer of Tristán Associates. “HealthAmerica’s radiology benefit management program supports our providing high quality imaging services with maximum safety and convenience to our patients. In addition, the program helps provide our patients with greater visibility on their out-of-pocket expenditures when visiting one of our sites.”

As Blasi said, it comes down to supporting the consumers in safeguarding the quality and cost of their health care.

“Consumers who become engaged in the health care process are active participants in ensuring that they receive the right medical scan, in the right place, at the right time,” Blasi said. “This is the right thing to do for those we serve, and it is bringing a new level of empowerment and transparency to the health care experience.”

About HealthAmerica

Listed among the country’s top 20 health plans in the U.S.News/NCQA America’s Best Health Insurance Plans 2009-10 list, HealthAmerica has been offering health benefits in Pennsylvania for over 34 years. The company provides a range of health insurance products, including consumer-directed, self-funded, Medicare, Medicaid, indemnity, nongroup, and pharmacy plans. It currently has “Excellent” accreditation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for its commercial HMO, POS, and Medicare plans. It has corporate offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more information, visit HealthAmerica’s website at www.healthamerica.cvty.com.

About NIA

Headquartered in Avon, Conn., NIA (National Imaging Associates) leads the radiology benefits management industry by delivering innovative solutions to effectively manage the cost and quality of diagnostic imaging. NIA is a subsidiary of Magellan Health Services, Inc. (Nasdaq:MGLN), a leading specialty health care management organization. For more information about NIA, visit www.NIAhealthcare.com.