When Nurse Support Makes All the Difference: One Family’s Story

nurse support

The Vincent White Family

Facing a Difficult Surgery

Vincent White tried everything to get rid of his back pain. Neck clamps. Surgery. Spinal decompression. This lab supervisor at Carolinas Healthcare had persistent pain from a narrowed bone channel housing the spinal cord and nerves.

The calcification worsened. Finally, doctors recommended another back surgery. “He was stumbling around the house,” said wife Lisa. “He could barely move.”

When Lisa walked into her husband’s hospital room after the operation, a doctor from the critical ICU team delivered bad news. Vincent was paralyzed.

“He was in ICU for 21 days,” said Lisa. “Doctors said he probably would not walk again.” Vincent had another surgery while in ICU to repair a spinal cord leak. After six weeks in rehab, he came home to his wife and 11-year-old daughter Olivia.

Experienced Nurse Support
Stepped In

Long before Vincent’s release, Lindsay Spainhour, RN, BSN, the Whites’ MedCost Case Manager*, was working with the medical providers, planners and discharge team. Lindsay followed his progress closely to ensure that he received all the care needed in this crucial time of their lives.

“Lindsay got to know me and took time to care about what my husband and I were going through,” Lisa said. “She got the special kind of air mattress we needed, and told us not to worry about authorization.” nurse supportLindsay called the supplier for Vincent’s wheelchair until it finally arrived. And when Vincent was diagnosed with a wound two weeks after arriving home, she provided education, supplies and questions for Lisa to ask medical staff when Vincent was readmitted to the hospital.

Vincent and Lisa continue to make lifestyle adjustments. He wears a catheter. He can’t take a normal vacation with his family. But Lisa says that their MedCost Case Manager made a big difference.

More Than Just a Job

“She did things she didn’t have to do, to make sure my husband’s needs were met over and beyond. I could tell in Lindsay’s voice that it was more than just a job.

“We sometimes complain about what we pay for premiums, but the benefits of having a case manager like Lindsay far outweighed the cost. Get a case worker. It can save you energy to focus on your family.MedCost


*The Whites gave MedCost permission to share their story to help others realize the benefits of the Complex Case Management program. MedCost Complex Case Management is a program where registered nurses who are also certified case managers work with individuals who have experienced a life-changing illness or injury. The goal of the program is to ensure the best use of available health plan resources while enhancing quality of life.

 

HSA 2018 Contribution Limits Adjusted by IRS

Michael Berwanger

By Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

On March 5, 2018, as a result of the tax reform law (P.L. 115-97), the IRS released Bulletin No. 2018-10, adjusting dollar limitations for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2018.

The only change impacting HSAs was to adjust the contribution limits for family coverage from $6,900 to $6,850.

HSA 2018 Contribution Limits

HSA 2018 Contribution Limits: FAQs

For guidance on HSAs, please review the IRS frequently asked questions pageMedCost

This blog post should not be considered as legal advice.

 

Helping Employers Achieve the Benefits Balance

Employers Benefits Balance

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Balance.

An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

The definitions make it sound easy—spreading the load around so no one person or group is under duress.

But balance is quite elusive.

We strive for it in all aspects of our lives.

Employers are no exception.

Employers Benefits BalanceThey struggle with it in the workplace, especially as it pertains to benefits.

CEOs, CFOs and HR directors are caught in the tugs of emotion and cost spreadsheets.

MedCost helps employers in their pursuit of balance.

Balancing medical care and cost management. Balancing the ideal with the reality.

Other benefits administrators can’t match our integrated clinical programs that combine member care with effective claims management.

And big name insurance companies, well, they use a scale. Scales are not negotiable. They don’t allow employers to make choices.

Achieving Employers Benefits Balance

MedCost helps self-funded companies balance self-care, the health of their company, with the care of others, their employees.

We enable companies to achieve the benefits balance™ that’s right for them.

MedCost. That balance is built right into our name.MedCost

(This is a transcript of the video, “Helping Employers Achieve the Benefits Balance.”)

Employers Benefits Balance

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*More Information for VA Employers
*More Information for NC Employers
*More Information for SC Employers

 

How to Help Employees Become HEALTHY & WHOLE (Video)

Ready to Balance the Care of Your Employees
with the Financial Health of Your Company?
HEALTHY & WHOLE

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  • Annual health care costs in America are $3.2 trillion.
  • Employees average 5.3 unplanned sick days per year.
  • That productivity lost is more than 1 and 1/2 hours of an 8-hour day.

When disease management and wellness programs combine, employers average $30 per member per month in decreased health care costs.

HEALTHY & WHOLE

That’s why we’ve developed a comprehensive program called HEALTHY & WHOLE.

HEALTHY & WHOLE encompasses physical, emotional, financial and social health – and
greater job satisfaction for employees.

The goal is to help employers balance the care of employees with the financial health of your
company.

HEALTHY & WHOLE Includes Disease Management

Our nurse health coaches provide hands-on support, helping members reduce blood
pressure, glucose levels and lose weight.

And for complex conditions, case managers provide expert help for families in very difficult
situations.

Over 73% of businesses offer corporate wellness to attract and retain talent, and strengthen
company culture. Another advantage is to encourage enrollment in consumer-directed health
plans, a growing trend.

HEALTHY & WHOLE Supports Lifestyle Changes

HEALTHY & WHOLE addresses not only members with chronic diseases, but the 75% who
need support with lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes – even small ones – create measurable outcomes of better health, productivity and bottom line.

The Results of Corporate Wellness Programs

HEALTHY & WHOLE

http://www.nahueducationfoundation.org/materials/WellnessBrochure.pdf

Implementing corporate wellness programs dropped claims costs -28%, doctor visits -17% and hospital admissions -63%.

This same study showed disability costs down -34% and injury incidence down -25%.

An employer we worked with said that he is passionate about having happy employees. If they
are happy, they will be productive and engaged.

A Program That Benefits Employees and Companies

Lifestyle coaching. Financial education. Fitness. Nurse health coaching. Long-term medical
conditions. HEALTHY & WHOLE serves everyone’s needs, including your company’s.

We want to see everyone HEALTHY & WHOLE. That’s why it’s important to us to balance the care of your employees with the financial health of your company.MedCost

HEALTHY & WHOLE

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(This post is a transcript from the video, “MedCost HEALTHY & WHOLE.”)

For more information on wellness consultations for employers, email Kati Davis.

 

Telemedicine: Yes, There’s a Doctor in the House

telehealth A sick child might have a fever at 3:00 am. Or the family might be visiting grandparents a long way from home. But if an employer-sponsored health plan includes telemedicine services, a board-certified doctor’s consultation is only a phone call away.

Employers Are Choosing Telemedicine

An overwhelming 96% of US employers plan to offer telemedicine services in applicable states* in 2018, the National Business Group on Health reports. The reasons for this rapidly growing health benefit are obvious:

  1. Quick ResponseTeladoc, the nation’s largest provider of telemedicine consultations, averages 22 minutes for a call-back from a licensed, board-certified doctor who practices in the caller’s state.
  2. Convenience. This consultation can be held by phone or online. Teladoc requests some medical information before having the doctor return the call.
  3. Appropriate Care for Less. Almost 80% of adult Emergency Room visits are due to lack of access to other providers.** Access to telemedicine visits can limit hours spent away from work, as well as more expensive care at any hour, day or night.

Telemedicine Offers Treatment Alternatives

Telemedicine consultations are not meant to replace primary care providers. But if an employee has one of the minor ailments listed below, 24/7 access is convenient, and reduces spiraling costs for the employer and the employee.

Treatment Alternatives to the Emergency Room

Telemedicine

Common conditions treated through a telemedicine phone call or online visit are:

  • Infections
  • Allergies
  • Pain
  • Minor joint trauma
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Telemedicine Services Are Expanding

Teladoc has expanded optional services for employer health plans to include behavioral health. If an employer chooses to add this option, experienced psychiatrists, therapists and counselors would be available at a flat, per-encounter fee. Members can choose to see the same provider throughout the course of care.

Behavioral health conditions*** range from:

  • Stress/anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Domestic abuse
  • Grief counseling

Just a Phone Call Away

Need a better prescription for your health care expenses? Expert care from area doctors may be available with a phone call, whether on vacation at Disney World or in pajamas at 3:00 a.m.

With telemedicine services, there is a doctor in the house.MedCost

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*Teladoc operates subject to state regulation and may not be available in certain states.

**“Emergency Room Use Among Adults Aged 18-64: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-June 2011.” National Center for Health Statistics. May 2012. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/releases.htm (accessed October 31, 2017).

***Consult your employer’s summary plan description for complete coverage details.

2017 Employer-based Premiums Contrast with ACA Increases

By Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

2017 employer-based premiums

Family health insurance premiums rose an average 3% this year for people getting coverage through the workplace, the sixth consecutive year of small increases, according to a study released Tuesday.

Average 2017 Family Premiums: $18,764

The average total cost of family premiums was $18,764 for 2017, according to a survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. That cost is generally divided between the employer and workers. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

2017 employer-based premiumsWhile overall premium increases remain modest, workers are picking up a greater portion of the tab — this year $5,714 for family coverage, about a third of total cost.

Employer-provided coverage for a single person rose on average 4%, to $6,690. Those individuals pay $1,213 on average.

Still, the employer market looks remarkably stable compared to the price increases seen in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces for people who buy their own coverage. Premiums on those plans spiked on average about 20% this year, and many insurers dropped out because of financial concerns.

Average ACA Premiums Up 20% in 2017

For all the media attention and political wrangling over the Obamacare exchanges, their share of the market is relatively small. They provide coverage to 10 million Americans while 151 million Americans get health insurance through their employer.

The continued slow rise of employer health premiums identified in the Kaiser survey surprised some analysts who have expected the trend to end as the economy picked up steam, leading to a jump in use of health services and health costs.

Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it’s “health care’s greatest mystery” why health insurance costs have continued their slow pace even as the economy has picked up the past few years. “We can’t explain it.”

2017 employer-based premiums

Employee Deductibles Have Nearly Doubled Since 2010

Another unexpected result was that workers’ deductibles — the health bills that workers must pay before their insurance coverage kicks in — remained stable this year at $1,221. Since 2010, as companies sought to keep premiums in check, deductibles have nearly doubled. Higher deductibles can limit premium increases because costs are shifted to workers and it gives them greater incentive to cut spending.

“Increasing deductibles has been a main strategy of employers to keep premiums down and we will have to watch if this plateauing is a one time thing … or if this portends a sharper increase in premiums in future years,” said Altman. “It could be deductibles are reaching their natural limit or could be the tighter l2017 employer-based premiumsabor market” that’s causing employers to back off, he added.

Meanwhile, a second employer survey released Monday by Mercer, a benefits consulting firm, suggests a modest increase in health costs coming next year, too. Employers said they expect their health costs to increase by an average 4.3% in 2018, according to the survey.

To deal with higher medical costs — notably big increases in the prices of prescription drugs — employers are using multiple strategies, including continuing to shift more costs to workers and paying doctors and hospitals based on the value of the services rather than just quantity of services.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, a health policy expert with benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson, said there is a limit on how much employers can shift costs to their workers, particularly in a tight labor market. “Single-digit increases doesn’t mean health care costs are no longer a concern for employers,” he said.

Trend: Employer-Based Coverage Has Dropped

The 19th annual Kaiser survey also found that the proportion of employers offering health coverage remained stable last year at 53%. But the numbers have fallen over the past t2017 employer-based premiumswo decades.

The survey highlights that the amount workers pay can vary dramatically by employer size. Workers in small firms — those with fewer than 200 employees — pay on average $1,550 more annually for family premiums than those at large firms. The gap occurs because small firms are much more likely than large ones to contribute the same dollar amount toward a worker’s health benefits whether they’re enrolled in individual or family coverage.

More than one-third of workers at small employers pay at least half the total premium, compared with 8% at large employers.

That’s the case at Gale Nurseries in Gwynedd Valley, Pa., where health insurance costs rose 7.5% this year. Its 25 workers are paying nearly half the cost of the premium — at least $45 a week for those who choose the base coverage plan. Employees also have deductibles ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.

A decade ago, the nursery paid the full cost of the premium.

“It’s crazy — we keep paying more and getting less,” said comptroller Candy Koons.

At the Westport (Conn.) Weston Family YMCA, health insurance premiums rose about 7% this year, leaving its 50 full-time employees to pay a $156 premium for individual coverage.

“It’s not problematic, but it’s one of our bigger costs associated with payroll,” said Joe Query, the human resources director.

 

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

IRS Reposts Revised Form 720 for PCORI Fee: Deadline 7/30/17

Michael BerwangerBy Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

The IRS recently reposted the April 2017 version of Form 720 (Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return) on its website.* While the form’s primary purpose is to serve as the quarterly return for various federal excise taxes, it also is used to report PCORI fees imposed under health care reform. (For more information on PCORI, see  “PCORI Fee for Self-Funded Employers”.)

Please note, the portion of the form related to the PCORI fees is unaffected. While Form 720 is filed quarterly for other federal excise taxes, the PCORI fee reporting and payment are only required annually, by July 31 of the year following the calendar year in which the applicable policy or plan year ended. The change noted at the beginning of the form is related to the excise taxes.

IRS form 720As background, PCORI fees, used to fund research on patient-centered outcomes, apply to plan and policy years ending before October 1, 2019. They are payable by insurers and sponsors of self-insured health plans, and are calculated by multiplying the applicable dollar amount for the year by the average number of covered lives. As announced in IRS Notice 2016-64, the fees owed in 2017 are as follows:

  • For plan years** ending on or after October 1, 2015, and before October 1, 2016: $2.17 per covered life
  • For plan years** ending on or after October 1, 2016, and before October 1, 2017: $2.26 per covered life

If you have already filed and used the form posted prior to the most recent update, please contact a tax professional on whether refiling is necessary.MedCost

______________________________________________________________________________

*If you downloaded the Form 720 (Rev. April 2017) before July 3, 2017, please note that
on page 2, under IRS No. 33, the rate is corrected to 12% of the sales price, not 12%
of the sales tax.)

*’*Plan year’ is generally the 12-month period stated in the Summary Plan Description, or for plans filing a Form 5500, the plan year stated in that filing. NOTE: The plan year may be different from the benefit year or the renewal period.

______________________________________________________________________________

This blog post should not be considered as legal advice.

3 Compliance Areas for Self-Funded Employers (Video)

self-funded employer compliance

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“There are three primary areas that employers should keep in mind when thinking about compliance for their health plan,” said Brad Roehrenbeck, General Counsel and VP of Legal Services and Compliance at MedCost.

1. Employment Retirement Income Security Act 

“The first of those is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which governs employer-sponsored benefit plans. ERISA was a law created in the early 1970s that has been applied to basically set the rules for how an employer that creates their own health plan should do that.”

Michael Berwanger, Director of Quality Management and Compliance, agreed. “ERISA requires several things of plan sponsors and plan administrators. One of those things is to provide notices of what benefits are available to employees. The types of notices that you might expect with the summary plan document are any tax filing notices you might need to be aware of.

self-funded employer compliance“This is to make employees aware of the rights available to them under ERISA. And with the right service provider, employers can feel confident knowing they’re distributing the right notices in the right formats.

2. HIPAA Compliance

“The second area of compliance for self-funded employers is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA requires that you safeguard patient data. Employers might find themselves subject to certain HIPAA rules; and with the right service provider, it could be relatively easy to navigate those waters.”

Keeping track of privacy obligations with documents that contain patient information is very important, said Brad Roehrenbeck. “Another thing that HIPAA requires is that anyone who handles that information, particularly if it’s electronic, must keep it secure. That basically means that you have to have systems in place that control who has access to that type of information, if you’re keeping it on your systems.

“HR directors want to make sure that they work with their IT departments to look at what kind of controls are in place, who has access to any folders where patient data is maintained, or anything else in relation to running the health plan. The HR department keeps that sensitive member information for the plan.

3. Internal Revenue Service Compliance

“The third primary area of the law that impacts health plans is tax laws. Like other types of benefit plans, health plans come with a tax benefit to both employees and employers. As dollars go in to support the plan, those dollars are provided on a tax-free basis.”

self-funded employer compliance“There are certainly tax advantages when you’re considering self-funding your health plan,” Michael Berwanger said. “To take advantage of those, you need to be aware of your compliance obligations -things like making sure you’re not discriminating unfairly in favor of your highly compensated employees.”

“There’s one other area of the tax laws that actually provides some additional benefit to employers and employees, and that is this concept of a Health Savings Account (HSA). Health savings accounts are a great vehicle under the tax laws where employees can set aside dollars and employers can contribute dollars on a tax-free basis. Those monies can be used toward deductibles and the payment of claims. Employees can keep that money for the rest of their lives or until such time as they need to use that for their medical expenses.

HSAs are a great asset for employees and a great savings vehicle. More importantly, it’s a great avenue for employers to engage with participants in the health plans to be conscious of where their health plan dollars are spent and to use them in a way that not only promotes their own health, but also the financial stability and viability and strength of both their dollars and the health plan dollars,” Mr. Roehrenbeck said.

self-funded employer compliance“As the markets continue to move towards a consumer-driven economy, it’s important for employees to be mindful of their options and how to best take advantage of the benefits available through their employers,” Mr. Berwanger noted.

“We find ourselves in a challenging environment. It’s important to be able to offer great incentives and great packages to employees. A self-funded health plan is a great opportunity to be able to do that.

“The risk can be worth the reward. Managing those compliance obligations isn’t as complicated as you might think, once you have a good trusted advisor to help you navigate that.”MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “3 Compliance Areas for Self-Funded Employers.”)

 

 

Controlling Specialty Drug Costs (Video)

Specialty Drug Costs Can Be Managed with These Strategies
specialty drug costs

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“It’s interesting that a lot of these specialty drugs are designed for a very small percentage of the population that have a certain disease state,” said Michael Cornwell, MedCost Director of Sales and Underwriting.

“There may be less than 200,000-300,000 people in the country that need that particular drug. That’s one of the reasons specialty drugs are so expensive.”

MedCost Pharmacist Zafeira Sarrimanolis agrees. “It’s an exciting time in the drug manufacturing world, because all of these new medications have been coming out over the past ten years or so for medical conditions that really weren’t treatable before.

“For example, hepatitis C medications previously were not very effective and really hard for patients to tolerate. Now we have new medications on the market that are practically a 100% cure rate for patients.

specialty drug costsThese drugs are also a lot easier for them to take and tolerate. Part of the problem with that is the price tag on some of those new medications.”

“One of the largest reasons people are readmitted to the hospital is because they don’t adhere to the medication,” said Michael Cornwell. “Programs like step therapy ask you to try a clinically appropriate drug before you try a similar but more expensive one.

Prior authorizations probe a physician’s reasoning behind prescription choices. A lot of these specialty drugs are really for a pretty small percentage of the population. So when you look at a population as a whole, the people taking those drugs are usually between 1%-1½% of your population. That’s the good news.

“The bad news is they’re very expensive. Probably the biggest growth area in the specialty arenas are the cancer drugs. There’s a whole pipeline of new cancer treatments hitting the marketplace. But in that pipeline, member education and aid in helping and consulting is a good thing too. It allows us to have some personal outreach try to help these people manage their disease state.MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, CONTROLLING SPECIALTY DRUG COSTS.”)

 

Listening to the Voice of the Customer (Video)

Health care is complex. It always has been — even more so today in a continually changing industry and environment. MedCost strives to be the kind of partner that helps our customers navigate, translate and adapt to those changes.

When MedCost started as a small company, we were still using some of the principles we use today. We were sitting down and listening to the unique needs of the customer. We were using data even before there were sophisticated mechanisms to use data. To understand what was driving their costs, what providers they were utilizing, how we can essentially customize some sort of solution, whether it be a product, a program or a service to essentially help them better manage or to achieve what they were trying to achieve with their health plan.

In this time, in this industry, collaboration is more important than ever. We have a legal team, a communications team, a pharmacist, an underwriting team — all designed to essentially help support the employers, and bring some of the best new ideas to the employer to help them engage in new or better health and wellness programs. And also to drive lower costs for their population.

We essentially try to be one single source for an employer to come and partner with them — to not only design but to administer their health plans.

We’re interested in your unique needs. Contact Jason at jclarke@medcost.com or call 336.774.4283.MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “Listening to the Voice of the Customer.” )