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.

2 Obstacles to Managing Drug Costs (Video)

To Manage Employer Prescription Costs, Get the Right Drug for the Right Condition

Employer Prescription Costs

CLICK IMAGE TO WATCH VIDEO

Zafeira Sarrimanolis, MedCost Pharmacist and Clinical Consultant,knows the value of reviewing pharmacy usage patterns for clients, to identify opportunities to contain costs.

“From a more clinical perspective, the key to managing drug costs is making sure that the right people are using the right drug for the right medical condition,” she said.

Obstacle #1: Not Adhering to the Formulary

“What is a formulary?” asked Michael Cornwell, Director of Sales and Underwriting. “A formulary is a guide that the Pharmacy Benefit Manager puts out that says these brand drugs are the preferred versus the non-preferred versus generics.

“For example, the average cost of a generic today is about $28-$29. The average cost of a brand drug is probably in the $167 range.

employer prescription costs“Members do not always know what drugs are on the formulary,” said Ms. Sarrimanolis. “Certainly their providers don’t always know what drugs are on the formulary, so that’s where some of the confusion and disruption comes from.

“We try to fill a lot of these gaps through member education. Pharmacy Benefit Managers do a great job of outreaching to members through the mail, emails and on their websites. Unfortunately, members might not always understand that information.

“What we need to do is to encourage members to become smarter consumers and to make the best, most cost-effective choice for their own medication.”

The Pharmacy Benefit Manager’s Role

employer prescription costs

“A Pharmacy Benefit Manager, or PBM, serves multiple purposes,” Mr. Cornwell said. “One purpose is to process all the pharmacy claims. By doing that, benefits administrators like MedCost are able to collect the data and analyze it.

“Zafeira, as our pharmacist on staff, and our Care Management teams know what usage patterns are. We know what kinds of drugs people are taking.

“The PBMs certainly are negotiating discounts at the drugstore and contract rates for us to get the best prices that we can for the drugs that we take. PBMs can also provide data on clinical reasons to manage those drugs and make sure that they’re the most appropriate and cost-effective.

Obstacle #2: Not Educating Members

“One of the largest reasons that people are readmitted to the hospital is because they don’t adhere to directions to take their medication.

“Programs like step therapies ask: ‘Have you tried this drug before you try that one?’

“Prior authorizations ask: ‘Why do you need this drug?’ For example, you must have the proper genotype to be able to take certain treatments for Hepatitis C.

employer prescription costsPrior authorizations cause a lot of disruption to the member. You go to the doctor for a prescription.  You go to the drugstore and they say why do you need to take this drug? And you go back to your physician but they’re busy. It takes time, so it’s all disruptive at a time when you want your medication. It’s hard to understand.

Member education is extremely important. It would be nice if we could fill that gap to where physicians knew exactly what your formulary was at the point that physicians are prescribing that medication. Right now that doesn’t exist.

“Every 1% increase in generic utilization results in about 1.5% savings,” said Michael Cornwell.

“In drug costs, it becomes pretty significant. As Zafeira said, as the drug manufacturers continue to make more drugs (which is a good thing), it puts more challenges on us to make sure that the drugs are appropriate and cost-effective.

Using PBM Websites to Shop Employer Prescription Costs

employer prescription costs“We’re going to go through more disruption as a result of that. We’re going to have to get used to it. But there are a lot of new tools coming on the marketplace to try to help people shop for drugs,” Mr. Cornwell observed.

“The PBMs have websites where you can log in under your personal account with your PBM that is administering your drugs. You can put in the name of the drug and the details; and it will show you the best places the most price-competitive places, to buy that drug. It will also match up what your formulary is and if there are alternatives that are cheaper than the drug you have.

“The bigger issue is helping people to understand to be shoppers.”MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “2 Obstacles to Managing Drug Costs.”)

employer prescription costs

CLICK IMAGE TO WATCH VIDEO

 

How Employer Plans Cover Prescription Drugs (Infographic)

An estimated 150 million Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance.[i] What is the complex system under which employer health plans cover the rocketing costs of prescription drugs?

employer prescription drugs

Members

Individuals covered by employer’s health plan. May pay premiums or copays for drug coverage.

Employer or Insurer

Employer or insurer pays PBM to develop preferred drug pricing & process prescription claims. PBM returns some or all rebates to employer or insurer.

Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM)

Negotiates discounts and rebates from manufacturer. Contracts with pharmacy.

Manufacturer

Negotiates rebates with PBM.
Sells discounted drugs to wholesaler from core price.

Wholesaler

Negotiates price with pharmacy.

Pharmacy

Pharmacy dispenses to members & collects copays.

For more resources, view: ”10 Pharmacy Terms Employers Need to Know” and “5 Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs” from Pharmacist Zafeira Sarrimanolis.MedCost

____________________________________________________________________________________

[i Robert Galvin and Troyen Brennan, “Can Employers Take a Bigger Role in Controlling Drug Costs?” Health Affairs blog, February 17, 2017, http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/02/17/can-employers-take-a-bigger-role-in-controlling-drug-costs/ (accessed April 6, 2017).

 

Prescription Insurance: Why Are Costs Rising?

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Prescription insurance has become an increasingly major cost for employers. New drug approvals by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are expected to escalate this year with multiple innovative drugs already being approved for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

As researchers discover more treatments, costs will continue to climb. For this reason, smart management of pharmacy plans will be even more vital for employer health plans.

2017 Drug Pipeline

2016 saw a below average number of drug approvals. 2017 is expected to bounce back with 30+ new specialty drugs.

Specialty medications are high-cost prescription drugs used to treat complex conditions. The blue bar (below) shows specialty medication drug approvals. The green bar represents traditional brand and generic drugs. Technology, innovation and new scientific discoveries have caused specialty medication drug approvals to rapidly increase over the last few years.

prescription insurance

Growth of Novel Drugs in Prescription Insurance

In 2016, 22 novel drugs were approved, which was the lowest number since 2010. A novel drug is an innovative product with a unique chemical structure that has never been approved by the FDA before.  Typically novel drugs meet an unmet medical need.

prescription insurance As of May 5th, 20 novel drugs have already been approved this year. It’s an exciting time for healthcare as we treat more complex conditions and improve member health and quality of life.

But it comes at a cost – literally.

 

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional. Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.

prescription insurance

I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.

It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost


Sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Pharmacy Terms Employers Need to Know

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Pharmacy terms in health plans can be confusing. Employers must understand their pharmacy plans, especially in this era of rising drug costs.

As a pharmacist, I help MedCost clients navigate their Pharmacy Benefit Manager and identify opportunities for cost-saving in their company health plans. Here are some terms employers need to know when determining prescription drug benefits for their health plan.

1. Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM)

An organization that develops and maintains preferred drug lists, contracts with pharmacies, and negotiates discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers. PBMs also process and pay prescription drug claims in addition to implementing strategies that save pharmacy plan dollars, while improving member health.

2. Formulary 

A prescription drug list that is preferred by a health insurance plan. Identifies medications available to treat certain medical conditions and organizes into tiers.

3. Tiers

Different cost levels a member pays for a medication. A tier 1 medication is generally generic and lower-cost, while higher-cost brand name medications fall in Tier 2 or 3.

pharmacy terms4. Brand-name drug

Developed, patented and sold exclusively by a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

5. Generic drug

Manufactured and sold after the brand-name patent has expired. For example, Tylenol® is a brand-name medication and acetaminophen is its generic equivalent. Generics promote competition and drive down drug costs. Almost 80% of prescription drugs sold in the US are generics.

6. Specialty drug

A high-cost, prescription drug that treats complex conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or multiple sclerosis. These drugs typically have special storage requirements, administration techniques and require specific monitoring. Specialty drugs may account for up to 45% of a plan’s total drug costs.

7. Exclusion

A drug or service not paid for by a health plan.

8. Rebates

Money paid by manufacturers after drug purchases, as part of negotiations with payers (insurance companies, PBMs, benefits administrators, Medicare). Rebates cut about $40 billion from drug sales annually (see examples).

pharmacy terms9. Prior authorization

Requires a doctor to provide additional clinical information to determine coverage of the prescription drug under the plan.

10. Step therapy

Trying a lower-cost, clinically-similar drug before a higher-cost drug for the same medical condition is allowed under the plan.

Summary

Step therapies and prior authorizations feel disruptive to employees. For that reason, employers are faced with the challenge of balancing employee satisfaction with cost containment.

Our clients are seeing significant results using preferred formularies and these cost-saving strategies. One group avoided expenses of over $250,000 in the first months after adopting a managed approach with one of our PBM vendors.

The goal is to ensure the right people get the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time.  With our PBM partners, we work to ensure that our members are utilizing safe, clinically-appropriate, cost-effective treatments. Employers can partner with their employees to become better healthcare consumers so everyone benefits in the use of prescription drugs.

7 Ways to Manage Medical Cost for Employers (Infographic)

medical cost

*Discover more resources about MedCost Care Management programs hereOr browse through seven ways to manage medical cost:

  1. Complex Case Management 
  2. Inpatient Management
  3. Outpatient Management
  4. Telehealth Services
  5. Nurse Health Coaching
  6. Maternity Management
  7. Behavioral Health

To print this infographic, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom.MedCost

House Republicans Introduce Health Care Reform Legislation

health reformBy Brad Roehrenbeck, General Counsel & VP, Legal Services, Compliance

On Monday, House Republicans unveiled the long-awaited legislation intended to overhaul former President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill, titled the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would make major changes to the ACA that impact individuals, employers, insurers, and providers in significant ways, as summarized below.

Provisions Impacting Employer-Sponsored Coverage

The most significant development impacting employers under the proposed law is removal of the employer mandate.

  • Large employers would no longer face penalties for failing to offer coverage that meets the minimum value and minimum essential coverage requirements of the ACA. 
  • Additionally, the proposed bill would repeal the widely unpopular excise tax on high-cost coverage (the so-called Cadillac Tax) and offer tax credits to small businesses for providing coverage to employees. 
  • The law would also require employers to indicate on Form W2 the months of coverage each employee was eligible for coverage. (Note: It appears the legislation is intended also to eliminate the ACA’s annual employer 1094/1095 reporting under Section 6056 of the Code. That would be a natural by-product of the employer mandate repeal, but the bill does not appear to eliminate this obligation expressly. This may be addressed in a future amendment to the bill.) 

Changes to Account-Based Plans

health reformThe AHCA would make some significant changes to the rules governing HSA accounts for the first time since 2004.

  • The bill would increase the annual HSA contribution limit to equal the out-of-pocket maximum amount established for that year under the HSA rules (currently $6,550 for self-only coverage and $13,100 for family coverage).
  • The rules would also be modified to allow both spouses (if over 55) to make “catch-up” contributions to the same HSA account.
  • Also, a new special rule would allow HSA account holders to use HSA funds to pay for health care services performed up to 60 days prior to the account being established.
  • The bill would also reduce the excise tax on distributions not used for medical expenses from 20% to 10%.
  • Finally, the AHCA would remove the ACA’s cap on contributions to health FSA plans.

Changes to the Individual Market

While leaving in place popular provisions of the ACA such as the requirements that insurers cover dependents up to the age of 26 and pre-existing conditions, the AHCA would otherwise significantly redesign the ACA’s changes to the individual market.

  • First, the bill does away with the individual mandate and repeals the cost-sharing subsidies and premium tax credits made available under the ACA to individuals who enroll in coverage on the exchanges.
  • In turn, the AHCA puts in place refundable tax credits that individuals could use to defray the cost of coverage, including coverage outside the exchanges.
  • Like under the ACA, these tax credits are eligible for advance payment. The amount of the credits will vary based on age and income, and excess payments can be deposited directly into an HSA account.
  • Tax credits are not available for any coverage that includes abortion services.

health reformIn place of the individual mandate, to incentivize individuals to maintain coverage, the bill provides for increased premiums (30% for 12 months) for individuals who have had a gap in coverage of at least 63 days.

  • The bill also creates the “Patient and State Stability Fund,” which provides significant payments to states ($10 to $15 billion per year through 2026) to help stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets and to assist high-risk patients.
  • Also, beginning in 2020, the ACA’s requirements around essential health benefits will sunset.
  • Finally, the bill allows carriers greater flexibility to vary premiums based on age by up to a 5:1 ratio, up from 3:1 under the ACA.

Changes in the Medicaid Program

Unsurprisingly, the AHCA would repeal the ACA’s expansion of the Medicaid program.

  • It would also put into place a per-capital allotment of federal Medicaid dollars to the states, which is expected to rein in the future federal financial commitment to the program.
  • Similar to other provisions, the bill would bar Medicaid dollars from being used on abortion providers.
  • It would also require states to disenroll high-dollar lottery winners and incentivize states to assess participant eligibility on a more frequent basis. (Note: The bill will also reverse major cuts to the Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which provides safety net funding to more than 3,000 hospitals that disproportionately treat indigent patients).

Repeal of ACA Taxes

Finally, the AHCA would repeal numerous taxes—in addition to the Cadillac Tax discussed above—that either have gone into effect or are expected to become effective under the ACA.

  • Among those are:
    • The insurer tax (effectively a federal insurance premium tax),
    • The prescription medication tax,
    • The tax on over-the-counter medications,
    • The medical device tax.
    • It would also eliminate taxes on high-income earners that were levied under the ACA to help pay for the law.

health reformRepublicans have signaled an aggressive timeline for deliberations on the law. Committee hearings are expected to take place immediately, and the bill could reach the floor of the House in as little as one week.

President Trump has forecasted that he would like to sign the bill by Easter. We will continue to monitor developments, including any changes in the bill as it moves through the legislative process.MedCost

This blog post should not be considered as legal advice.

Four Corporate Ideas for Employee Wellness Programs

Stories of Success

If you’re one of the 80% of employers who have offered employee wellness programs and information,[i] you may be searching to see what is working at other companies. Developing a culture of wellness can decrease sick leave absenteeism by an average 28%, and workers’ compensation and disability costs by an average 30%.[ii]

employee wellness programs

How can you increase your employees’ job satisfaction and overall health, while saving hard-earned health care dollars? Here are four power ideas for more successful employee wellness programs

1. Offer Choices.

One size does not fit all in employee wellness programs,” said Crystal Spicer, MedCost Human Resources Manager. As a company offering financial and health solutions for employer benefit programs, clients were asking what wellness outreach MedCost was doing for their own employees.

The MedCost HR team realized that what worked for one employee didn’t necessarily fit another. So the company’s wellness committee designed a point-based program with multiple ways to boost health and earn financial incentives.

The annual program, kicked off in 2016, measured points earned for employee wellness activities on a quarterly and a yearly basis. This chart shows multiple ways that MedCost employees could earn points for the financial incentives at year’s end:

employee wellness programs

“We got people’s attention, which is what we were striving for,” said Crystal. One group of women came to work an hour early to walk together – even climbing stairs.

A Weight Watchers group cosponsored by the company attracted 20 people. Sherry lost 56 pounds. Glenn lost 36. Trish, motivated on her own, lost 40. And their new habits of exercising and eating helped them keep it off.

MedCost offered $100 drawings quarterly for those who met point goals. At the end of 2016, those who accrued the 2,400 points will receive a $500 contribution into their personal Health Savings Account.[iii] Employees enrolled in a Preferred Provider Organization plan could earn a gift card for $250.

Fitness classes offered after work onsite were another way to add points. The company shared costs with employees who signed up for the six-week classes. From the beginning, classes were well-attended.

Financial incentives are effective for successful employee wellness programs. Four out of five employers use financial incentives to promote wellness.[iv]

“Getting buy-in is key,” said Crystal. “Earning these financial incentives are obtainable because there are a whole variety of ways to get there.

2. Incorporate Employee Suggestions

employee wellness programs

Figure 1. Several MedCost employees at the 2016 Heart Walk

Our annual support of the Triad American Heart Association’s walk hit new levels this year – and not just financially. Jenny implemented a leadership contest to raise the most employee contributions, with the winner earning the right to wear this Southern Lady hat, red beads and tutu (See Figure 1).

Brad (in the lovely hat and tutu) definitely stood out in the crowd of 7,500 walkers through downtown Winston-Salem.

But even better were the 125 employees, family members and friends who walked between one to four miles on October 29th. Dogs, babies in strollers, music and laughter made this emphasis on healthy hearts a lot of fun.

Another employee suggestion resulted in a weekly “Walk with Me Wednesday” event, beginning in 2015. MedCost is located in a business park with sidewalks, gazebos and ponds. An average six to eight employees walk 15 minutes together at noon, enjoying fresh air, camaraderie and exercise in a beautifully landscaped setting.

employee wellness programs

Figure 2. MedCost on Kimel Park Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

One key benefit of this weekly walk is better connectivity among the employees who walk together. In many businesses, department knowledge is often siloed from other departments because of different functions. And employees don’t get to know each other.

“The walks really do benefit the mind as well as the body,” said Karen, a 16-year employee at MedCost. “Walking with others just motivates me to get out and walk.”

 

3. Take a Long-Term Approach to Your Return on Investment (ROI)

“Looking purely at hard costs, healthcare spending can be one of the largest single expenses for a business, next to payroll,” said Dan Birach, president of HEALTHWORKS division at Carolinas HealthCare System. [v]

“Statistics show that for every dollar an employer invested in areas such as wellness programming and disease management, they enjoyed an ROI of anywhere from $1.50 to $3.80. Healthy employees are more productive and miss fewer days.”

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 80% of employers offered preventive wellness services and info in 2015.[vi]

Employee wellness programs are having an impact on reduced dollars spent on health benefits. When corporate wellness programs were implemented:

  • Claims costs reduced 28%
  • Doctor visits reduced 17%
  • Hospital admissions reduced 63%
  • Disability costs were down 34%
  • Incidence of injury reduced 25%[vii]

“A wellness program can make just a small difference at first,” said Crystal. “It has to build gradually.”

Employers offering wellness programs are looking for the same key ingredient for their employees – motivation.

4. Motivate Your Employees for Better Quality of Life

employee wellness programs

Figure 3. Claudia Johnson before losing weight

Claudia works with providers (hospital systems, medical offices and other professionals) at MedCost. When doctors diagnosed medical issues exacerbated by her obesity, she took a hard look at her lifestyle. And wanted to change.

“I am involved in Christian ministries in my personal life,” Claudia said. “I wanted to be in better health. My family and friends supported me to make some new choices.”

MedCost wellness choices inspired Claudia to do things differently. In January of 2016, she braved the cold temperatures to begin walking every morning at 7:30 a.m. with several other employees. She climbed stairs at lunch. She focused on her health.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds,” Claudia said. “I love the fact that I have gone from a size 22 to a size 18. My grandchildren are ten and six. I have to get rid of some more of this weight to keep up with them.”

employee wellness programs

Figure 4. Claudia Johnson after losing 30 pounds

Summary

Inspire your employees. Fit your wellness program to your unique business style and culture. One size won’t fit all, so try different ideas to see what resonates with your employees.

Above all, pour on the encouragement. Your employees are spending a large chunk of their time working for you. Your support may not only boost your bottom line, but improve your employees’ health in a life-changing way.

Your company will produce not only satisfied customers, but loyal, healthier employees.MedCost

 

 

[i] “Eight Things You Need to Know about Employee Wellness Programs,” Alan Kohll, Forbes, April 21, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2016/04/21/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-employee-wellness-programs/2/#4097a3e13e2d

[ii] “Be Stronger, Live Better,” National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, http://www.nahueducationfoundation.org/materials/WellnessBrochure.pdf

[iii] For those enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan with the company.

[iv] Incentives for Workplace Wellness Programs,” RAND Corporation, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9842.html

[v]  “Five Things to Consider When Planning Your Wellness Program,” Dan Birach, HEALTHWORKS Division, Carolinas HealthCare System,  http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/medical-services/prevention-wellness/employer-solutions/healthworks/info-hub

[vi] Kohll, ibid.

[vii] National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, ibid.

Dementia Declines in US Seniors, Study Finds

dementiaA new study finds that the prevalence of dementia has fallen sharply in recent years, most likely as a result of Americans’ rising educational levels and better heart health, which are both closely related to brain health.

Dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decline of 24 percent, according to a study of more than 21,000 people across the country published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study. “Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study.

Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

dementiaThe new research confirms the results of several other studies that also have found steady declines in dementia rates in the United States and Europe. The new research provides some of the strongest evidence yet for a decline in dementia rates because of its broad scope and diverse ranges of incomes and ethnic groups, Haaga said. The average age of participants in the study, called the Health and Retirement Study, was 75.

The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples.

While advocates for people with dementia welcomed the news, they noted that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss remain a serious burden for the nation and the world.  Up to five million Americans today suffer from dementia, a number that is expected to triple by 2050, as people live longer and the elderly population increases.

The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 84 million, according to the U.S. Census. So even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia is smaller than previously estimated, the total number of Americans suffering from the condition will continue to increase, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates,” Fargo said.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Liz Szabo, November 21, 2016)

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.