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Listen With Your Eyes
Small Employers Beware!

Listen to your EyesPercentages can matter. But when depicted in bar graphs, they seem to matter more – or at least become more digestible to understand.

Do smaller employers receive larger premium increases to their health plans when compared to their larger counterparts? The short answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Being community-rated with other like-size employers certainly has a great impact, as does paying state-required premium tax for being fully-insured. Small employers have fewer options to alter their benefit plans and lack critical scale to explore various funding arrangements that are available only to larger employers.

Using results from our last six Iowa Employer Benefits Studies© (2010 – 2015), we found the three smallest employer size categories (2-to-9 employees, 10-to-19 employees and 20-to-49 employees) were more likely to receive annual double-digit increases from their insurance vendors when compared to the other three-size categories (see below).

Average Increases 2010-2015 Iowa Employer Benefits Study

From 2010 – 2015, the average annual increase for each size category demonstrates the divide between the largest and smaller employers. Employers with fewer than 20 employees averaged premium increases each year of 11.5 percent, while employers with 250-to-999 averaged premium increases of 6.3 percent. Employers with over 1,000 employees were most ‘fortunate’ by experiencing average increases of 5.6 percent.

Average Premium Increase 2010 - 2015

Over this period – and prior to making health plan adjustments – the smallest employers received premium hikes of 69 percent. The largest of employers received a cumulative increase of 33 percent, more than half of what the small employers received.

Overall Premium Increases 2010 - 2015

The implications of rising health premiums are unsettling for all employers, but especially for the majority of employers in Iowa with 2-to-19 employees, which represent 94 percent of all Iowa organizations.

Seeing is believing, so listen with your eyes.

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Making ‘Mentorship’ a New Employee Benefit!

Mentorship - An Employer Benefit StrategyMost of us can name at least one person in our lives that served as a ‘mentor,’ whether it was to help guide our career(s), aid in specific work projects or provided general life advice.

Oftentimes, this mentorship process is informal. It’s derived from the trust we have in the person due to his/her relationship, experience, knowledge, integrity and sense of altruism selflessly demonstrated to guide our own personal or professional development. The mentor simply wishes to share their knowledge or expertise with the mentee with the noble intent of “paying it forward.”

Mentorship is a commitment that requires valuable time and attention to assure the mentee’s goals are progressing as desired.

I have been extremely fortunate and consider both my parents cherished mentors, for many obvious reasons. They each held a ‘positional power’ on an adolescent boy who was very impressionable by their actions, not just by their words. They consistently demonstrated the value of serving others without seeking recognition. What I learned from them goes well beyond this blog.

Another immeasurable mentor was my father-in-law, a gentle and unassuming man who had incalculable wisdom for all who knew him. At times, the world can seem cold, dark and threatening, but his ultra-positive approach would magically lift my spirit with his infectious smile, humor and his approach that one must not take himself/herself too seriously – regardless of the circumstances. He shared applicable (and comedic) stories, using advice, wisdom and know-how, uniquely drawn from his vast business knowledge, both as an inventor and business owner. Invariably, he would end our discussion by saying, “This too will quickly become yesterday’s news – have patience and move forward!”

Finding a trusted mentor outside of personal relationships can be tricky. However, many successful organizations cultivate formal mentor programs internally to serve a variety of specific objectives that include grooming new potential leaders, acclimating new employees, developing skills, enhancing diversity and retaining employees.

The benefits of having a formal mentorship program can include:

  • Career Development – Aligning organizational goals to personal career goals. Feeling engaged and respected, the employee is given the ability to advance professionally within the organization, leading to higher retention rates.
  • High-Potential Mentoring – Retaining top-talent employees who have leadership potential and stay engaged within the organization.
  • Knowledge-Transfer Mentoring – Transferring specific skill-set knowledge to younger employees.
  • Diversity Mentoring – Bringing in new ideas by empowering diverse employees to share ideas, knowledge and experience to expand and innovate cultural awareness within the workplace.
  • Reverse Mentoring – Younger employees mentor older generations about new trends, allowing senior employees to see things from a fresh and different point of view.

Offering a workplace mentorship program is akin to offering another key benefit to employees. This benefit is definitely a win-win for both the organization and its employees.

Evolving technology now allows organizations to effortlessly connect employees with mentors. Past challenges, such as employee location, is no longer a barrier. In fact, smart technology serves to disrupt the ‘path of least resistance’ mentality of simply doing nothing.

MentorString™, a cloud-based software platform developed by Urbandale-based Prositions, Inc., is doing some very clever (and intuitive) things within the employment mentorship world. The usability features found within MentorString are straightforward and quite simple to use. Some of the features include visualizing how people are connected with one another by using a revolutionary tool called String Diagrams. In addition to many other carefully-designed accoutrements, users have access to individual action/development plans, discussion groups, media and file sharing. Prositions CEO Frank Russell and his team are constantly finding valuable approaches to mask the complexities organizations face in the ever-evolving employment world.

As the unemployment rate continues to move downward, a greater need develops for organizations to embrace mentorship programs. As I write this, I realize that offering a formal mentorship program should be yet another benefit to monitor in our annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study©.

A powerful benefit, no doubt!

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Healthcare Patients Want ‘Good Value’ for the Money

Cost +Quality = Value

…we are now entering into a new era in healthcare that appears to alter our behaviors toward the care we are receiving…

Similar to national data, Iowa spending on healthcare and insurance premiums has risen at historically lower rates in the last three years. However, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only three percent of Americans said health costs are “going up slower than usual,” and 52 percent said costs are “growing faster than usual.”  The other 35 percent say costs are about the same.

The amount that Iowans with employer-based health insurance pay for premiums has risen 167% in the last 14 years, while Iowa weekly wages have risen about 40%* and general inflation 43 percent. As we know, our incomes are suppressed by increasing health premiums, which certainly impact take-home pay and, ultimately, our capability of making consumption trade-offs for other priorities, such as food, shelter, education and retirement savings.

In addition to the premium cost, Americans are asked to pay increasingly more of the medical care they seek, through higher deductibles, copayments and out-of-pocket maximums. With lower-relative income, finding the financial resources to pay is problematic for many employees, causing them to put off receiving care or incur more medical debt.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote that Americans with health coverage care about:

  • Their premium costs, or the share of premiums they pay if they have employer coverage;
  • Their deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing, especially when deductibles have been rising steadily;
  • Their drug costs;
  • Whether they can go to the doctor or hospital they want without having to pay more;
  • The hassle and red tape in healthcare and health insurance. People care about getting information to be informed about their health and make smarter insurance and healthcare decisions;
  • Seniors care a lot about Medicare and sometimes vote on this issue.

Most people would agree to this list.

However, Mr. Altman then mentioned that “Americans don’t care as much as experts do about improving quality and eliminating unnecessary care. In general, people think that quality is good and they want more care not less.”

Perhaps this was true in the past, but we are now entering into a new era in healthcare that appears to alter our behaviors toward the care we are receiving. One prime example is a recent study that says cost is not the most important determinant of the care we seek – it is quality. From this report, when patients are provided hospital safety score grades and cost information together, they will choose safer hospitals 97 percent of the time, REGARDLESS OF COST.

Of course, this may also depend on WHO pays…the patient or a third party.

Making sure that such report cards reflect the most relevant performance measurements will be extremely important – if not critical – to the patient. Unfortunately, we don’t have this luxury at the present time. A March article on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website reports that national rating systems on the quality and safety of hospitals are too confusing because each will stress different measures from each other – sometimes providing a wide variation of grades on the same hospital (study source: Health Affairs).

In my blog last August, I wrote that the Urology Department at Cleveland Clinic received a top score by the U.S. News & World Report, yet received the lowest possible score by Healthgrades for prostatectomy outcomes. This type of reporting will only serve to confuse the general public before seeking care.

As healthcare delivery and payment initiatives continue to morph, look for quality and safety measurements to emerge with the cost component. The convergence of reliable safety and quality information with ‘real-time’ cost information can eventually catapult the healthcare industry into the 21st century.

Until then, many hurdles must be successfully cleared in order to achieve the desired value we all want.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

*2014 data from the Iowa Workforce Development is not yet available, and therefore, excluded.