Category Archives: health

Wait … Work Is Good for Your Health?

A compre200400993-001hensive survey of American workers this week offered some predictable findings about health and employment. But there are some happy surprises as well.

Perhaps most interesting was a finding that 28 percent of workers said their job was good for their overall health. That’s considerably more than the 16 percent who said it was bad.  (The rest, a slight majority, said their job had no effect on their overall health.)

Why the upbeat view? Researchers didn’t ask, and declined to share any thoughts about what respondents meant. But we can find some clues on our own by looking at this poll and other research. And those clues offer some encouragement for HR professionals.

How does your job affect your _____?
Good impact Bad impact No impact
Overall health 28% 16% 54%
Eating habits 15% 28% 56%
Stress level 16% 43% 39%
Sleeping habits 17% 27% 55%
Weight 19% 22% 57%
Social life 27% 17% 56%
Family life 32% 17% 50%
Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Make no mistake, there are plenty of concerns raised by this survey, which was performed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in conjunction with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers polled 1,601 working Americans across a range of ages, ethnicities, income levels and industries. The margin of error for the full sample was 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

NPR stories about the survey this week have highlighted how workers with disabilities often struggle at work, how lack of sick leave can drive some families into financial crisis and why so many employees go to work while sick.

Among other troubling — if unsurprising — findings was that 43 percent of respondents said work added stress to their lives. A news release from the university quoted poll director Robert J. Blendon concluding that “The takeaway here is that job number one for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace.”

But what might workers be thinking when they say their job is good for their health?

One obvious point is that having a job means having an income and (often) having insurance. That’s definitely good for your health. But I wonder if many respondents were really thinking at that level of abstraction.

There’s also research suggesting that, in fact, work is good for your health. One frequently-cited research overview conducted in the United Kingdom concluded that meaningful, safe work generally offers physical and mental-health benefits. Being active and having a purpose is good for us.

But were many respondents thinking about arcane findings in the field of occupational health?

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is in the new poll itself — findings that suggest wellness programs really matter. More than half of respondents said their company had a formal wellness program.

Even more significant: Of those workers, a whopping 45 percent said that program was “very important” to their health. Nearly as many said it was “somewhat important.”

Wellness programs don’t offer any clues about some other surprising findings in this poll, alas. Respondents also apparently think work is good for their social life and (even more mysteriously) their family life. Let’s hope researchers some day will drill deeper to find out what’s really going on here.

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A Wake-Up Call for the Sleep Deprived

Several familiar themes emerged at Virgin Pulses’ 2016 Thrive Summit in Boston this week, including some we heard at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference earlier this spring.

Arianna Huffington’s humorous and engaging keynote Tuesday afternoon on the topic of sleep deprivation was one that personally resonated with me. Maybe it had something do with the fact I was still struggling with jet lag, having just returned from a trip from Japan the weekend before?

Of course, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to grasp the detrimental impact sleep deprivation can have on effectiveness and productivity. Studies have repeatedly shown the huge toll it can take on businesses, including one titled “Insomnia and the Performance of U.S. Workers: Results from the American Insomnia Survey” that put lost workplace productivity at around 11 days per employee—or the equivalent of $2,280 per employee. If you’re a business leader, figures like these, you would think, could lead to a few sleepless nights of your own.

Huffington, founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, touched on the problem of sleep deprivation in Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Most likely in the hopes of drawing more attention to this ever-important issue, she also came out with a new book last month dedicated to the subject titled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. (As an attendee at the Thrive Summit, I received a complimentary copy, which I’m looking forward to giving a more thorough read.)

In her Thrive Summit talk, Huffington shared her own personal awakening, which involved pushing herself so hard nine years earlier that she collapsed and, in the process, broke her cheekbone. She noted that “you’re not successful when you find yourself in a pool of blood.”

After a series of doctor visits and testing, she said it was determined the cause of the fall wasn’t a brain tumor or heart condition, but was due to her not getting enough sleep.

“Sleep deprivation is the new smoking,” she said.

Despite noting that her talk would be apolitical, Huffington, a political commentary who regularly takes aim at the Republican Party, couldn’t refrain from taking a jab at the Republican Party’s “presumptive” nominee, who has, on occasion, boasted about the limited sleep he needs to get. That candidate, she said, seems to display all of the symptoms of a person who is sleep deprived: mood swings, bad judgement, etc.

Huffington said the science shows that people need seven to nine hours of sleep, not the three, four or five many are settling on—and employers and HR leaders need to do more to enable that to happen.

For starters, she said, business leaders need to end the practice of praising and rewarding those who never disconnect from their jobs. “When you congratulate people who work 24/7, it’s like congratulating them for coming to work drunk,” she said.

Huffington specifically praised the efforts of business leaders such as Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who have been ahead of the curve in talking about the value of getting eight hours of sleep a night. Other so-called “sleep evangelists” mentioned in The Sleep Revolution include Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

There are a number of steps people can take to get “rekindle our romance with sleep,” Huffington said. She specifically emphasized the value of creating a ritual before going to bed. For her, that ritual includes disconnecting from all electronic devices roughly 30 minutes ahead of time and taking a hot bath in Epsom salts.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or something less, she said, “we need to wind down and put the day behind us.”

Of course, for those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep, changing our behavior is often easier said than done. So it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the program kicked off the following morning with a workshop titled “Behavior Change is a Skill,” conducted by BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

The premise of his workshop was that people can learn to change their behaviors—that people can acquire skills for changing just as they can learn how to play a musical instrument or swim.

Or, I suppose for that matter, learn how to get a better night’s sleep.

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Opioids Continue to Be a Workplace Scourge

158362155We’ve all heard a lot during this presidential election season about the heroin epidemic that has seemingly left no corner of the United States untouched. Experts say an important factor that led to today’s skyrocketing rates of addiction has been the widespread abuse of opioid prescriptions for painkillers, including those prescribed by doctors for employees covered by workers comp claims. A new report from Castlight Health reveals that this prescription abuse continues today, accounting for a significant chunk of healthcare spending.

Castlight’s report, The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce, finds that nearly one third (32 percent) of opioid prescriptions subsidized by U.S. employers are being abused by a small number of employees — just 4.5 percent of the population, accounting for 40 percent of opioid prescription spending. Baby boomers are four times as likely to abuse opioids as millennials, the report finds, and workers with a mental health diagnosis are three times more likely to abuse opioids as those without.

The report is based on aggregated reporting from medical and pharmacy-based claims, including de-identified and anonymous health-data reporting covering nearly 1 million Americans who use Castlight’s health-benefits platform. The report defines “opioid abuse” as receiving more than a cumulative 90-day supply of opioids and receiving an opioid prescription from four or more providers over the five-year period between 2011 and 2015.

In addition to the cost (opioid abusers typically cost employers twice as much as non-abusers in medical expenses annually), opioid abuse lowers productivity and potentially puts other employees at risk, says Kristin Torres Mowat, Castlight’s senior vice president of health plan and strategic data operations. Opioid prescription abuse results in more than 16,000 deaths in the United States each year, the report notes.

The report finds that patients living in low-income areas are twice as likely as patients living in high-income areas to abuse prescription painkillers. The South is home to a significant chunk of opioid abusers, with 22 of the top 25 U.S. cities for opioid abuse located in Southern states.

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What Winning at Wellness Looks Like

Curious to see what makes for a top-notch wellness program?

I’ll assume you said yes, which means you might want to take a peek at the new U.S. Chamber of Commerce Winning with Wellness report.

Released earlier this month, the new publication is designed to “demystify” health promotion initiatives, looking at some of the “fundamentals of workplace wellness programs,” including evidence-based critical components such as developing a plan and applying behavior change methodologies, for example.

The report also lays out “10 Essential Steps in Designing a Workplace Wellness Program,” urging employers to “rely on evidence-based best practice strategies and tailor interventions to their populations” when plotting out wellness initiatives.

To begin planning, for instance, the report suggests that employers assess the organization’s readiness to adopt a workplace wellness strategy, asking “crucial questions” such as: Are there business plans in place that support or impede behavior change? Is there a history of workplace wellness programs? If so, what are some lessons learned? Can the organization specify how health changes can improve the work environment?

In addition, the report cites case studies demonstrating “employee satisfaction and social or financial ROI” from wellness programs at companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.

An evaluation of PepsiCo’s Healthy Living wellness program, for example, studied the initiative over the course of seven years in an effort to determine the cost impact of its lifestyle and disease management programs.

As the Chamber report notes, the study revealed that Pepsi saw an average reduction of $30 in healthcare costs per member per month, after seven years of continuous participation in either the lifestyle or disease management program.

A 2011 evaluation of Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, compared a matched cohort sample of its 31,823 employees to similar organizations with a comparable number of employees. According to the U.S. Chamber, the findings demonstrated that, from the years 2002 to 2008, “Johnson & Johnson experienced a 3.7 percent lower average annual growth in medical costs compared to the comparison group,” and J & J wellness programs produced an ROI of $3.92 for every dollar spent.

Finally, the Chamber points to a 2013 RAND Inc. report that determined “there is solid evidence to be optimistic” that healthier employee behavior will correlate directly to lower healthcare costs. More than 60 percent of respondents in that survey indicated that workplace wellness programs reduced their organizations’ healthcare costs, while also reporting an overall decrease in healthcare service utilization, which, in turn, reduced the healthcare cost burden.

While pointing out that each of these studies had limitations, “the majority show that well-designed wellness programs lead to an ROI ranging from $1.50 [for each dollar spent] to more than $3 invested over a timeframe of two to nine years,” the report notes.

Cost savings aside, the report’s authors tout the non-financial advantages of developing a winning wellness program.

“Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that any limitation of each particular study leads to an ROI of less than $1.50 to $3,” they write, “there are other benefits to these programs, such as increased job performance, overall well-being, and happy and thriving employees who contribute to business and community success.”

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Using Data to Drive Health Outcomes

Given the hour (8 a.m.) and the setting (the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas), Ronald Leopold, M.D., wasn’t so sure that the time was ideal this morning for a talk centered on getting the most out of employee-healthcare data.

Nevertheless, Leopold—the national practice leader of health outcomes at Willis Towers Watson—soldiered on in the opening session of Human Resource Executive’s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference’s second day, delivering a lively presentation that focused on harnessing healthcare-claims data to better control coverage costs.

In “Doing the Math: Data-Driven Health Outcome Strategies for Employers,” Leopold first asked attendees to rate, by a show of hands, their comfort with data analytics on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

While a scattering of audience members indicated the highest level of comfort with data analytics, and a few ranked themselves as “4s,” the clear majority considered themselves to be “3”s—“not bad, but leaving some room to improve,” noted Leopold.

His goal at that moment, he said, was to help attendees better understand available data “to make the best [benefits] decisions on behalf of their employees.”

In 2016, “we are poised for a new era,” said Leopold, “where we see healthcare costs starting to trend slightly upward.”

For employers, being ready for this uptick entails making efforts to lower employee health risks—implementing effective wellness programs and making plan-design changes that encourage employees to become more responsible for their healthcare, for example—and, in turn, lower healthcare costs.

Leopold urged attendees to “demand the story” beyond typical metrics such as average employee hospital stays and number of employees with a given disease or condition, for instance.

This type of descriptive data “doesn’t always give us a lot,” said Leopold.

“Go deeper, and get diagnostic data to find out why” these numbers are what they are, “and do predictive analysis as well.

“Look at data and use algorithms—which you in HR may not have, but carriers will have, and some consultants will have, and data aggregators will have—to determine [your population’s] health risks,” he continued.

“This,” said Leopold, “is practicing predictive analytics. Then we can see what’s likely to happen in the future … and we’ll get better results.”

 

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Back to the Future for Healthcare

Value-based care. ACOs. Narrow networks. Consumerism. These were just a few of topics explored in depth at last week’s National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2016 conference at the J.W. Marriott in Washington. But if there was a single thread running through these sessions and many others during the two-and-a-half-day event, it was the increasingly important role technology is playing these days as a disrupting force.

Consider this: It wasn’t a huge surprise to see the NBGH and Xerox Human Resource Services (the former Buck Consultants) unveil the findings of a study titled Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing, one of three research projects released at the event.

Looking at four key areas—gamification, mobile technologies, wearable sensors and social media—the study of 213 employers found significant growth in all four areas, with mobile, not surprisingly, leading the way. When the survey was last conducted three years ago, just 16 percent of employers were using mobile apps to engage employees. In this latest study, that number jumped to 50 percent.

The study also revealed that wearable technologies climbed from 16 percent to 34 percent over the three-year period.

Social networking, meanwhile, grew by 50 percent. “People are increasingly relying on others to get their information,” said Scott Marcotte, client technology leader for Xerox HR Services.

Also, as might be expected, mobile topped the list of future senior-leader priorities, with 50 percent of the respondents citing it as a prime focal point over the next year. Many also predicted that texting will be an increasingly important part of their strategy going forward.

As for barriers to adoption, the respondents cited competing business priorities, the lack of buy-in and support from senior management, the lack of a guaranteed return-on-investment (and ways to measure technology’s impact), and confidentiality and privacy as significant hurdles.

“Technology is also enabling employers to more successfully reach family members,” Marcotte pointed out. He noted that more and more of the companies he’s been working with are “creating hyper-personalized experiences for the spouse,” distinct of the employee.

Of course, you would think the Internet and mobile technology would represent today’s best ways to get educational resources into the home and involve the family, right? But at a session titled Leveraging Technology to Reach the Home, several speakers suggested the next frontier might actually be the television. (Though one conference session on narrow networks featured Back to the Future in its title, I couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase might have been better suited for this one.)

In an effort being led by Kaiser Permanente and Comcast, just out of beta, employees at a handful of employers (Comcast, IBM and Lowe’s Cos.) are beginning to deliver information directly into the home through TV apps.

“People are consuming video on their phones and other devices, but the fact is that many are still watching a lot of TV,” said Chris Stenzel, vice president of business development and innovation at Kaiser Permanente.

Participating with Stenzel on the panel were Marc Siry, vice president of strategic development at Comcast Corp.; Lydia Boyd Campbell, director of global integrated health services at IBM Americas; and Bob Ihrie, senior vice president of compensation and benefits at Lowe’s Cos. (Ihre, by the way, will be participating at two sessions at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference later this month.)

All the panelists believe TV has the potential to make healthcare engaging and interesting for the entire family.

Maternity was selected as a pilot for the program because it represents a significant percentage of claims and is a time when families are really engaged in the health system. Videos are delivered to the employees’ TVs based on the stage of the pregnancy—so employees and their spouses/partners are delivered content that’s meaningful to them at that moment. The system knows what to deliver based on the due date, which is the only personal information that needs to be offered up to provide the just-in-time information. (Netflix-like binge watching, however, is still an option for those who prefer that approach.)

Television, of course, isn’t the only legacy device that’s attempting a comeback in the world of healthcare. Let’s not forget the 500-year-old watch, which many are predicting, thanks primarily to the Apple Watch, will someday be a major force in wearables.

That promise isn’t lost on vendors such The Vitality Group, which used the conference as a platform for officially announcing a program that enables “Active Rewards” members to fully fund their Apple Watches by meeting monthly targets over a 24-month period. (The founder and CEO of Vitality Group’s parent company, Discovery Group, Adrian Gore, also delivered the opening-keynote address at the NBGH event.)

Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group, told me the results of the program in South Africa have been “phenomenal,” with the early data revealing that Vitality members using Apple Watches are more physically active than those using any other fitness devices.

In the United States, early adopters of the new Vital program include Amgen, Lockton and DaVita HealthCare Partners. (The program is also available to consumers through Vitality’s arrangement with John Hancock.)

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Putting Mental Well-being in a Better Place

The figure shared at this week’s IBI Forum in San Francisco is pretty jarring: Mental-health conditions are costing employers more than $80 billion in medical expenses and productivity losses per year. Yes, that’s right: $80 billion!

ThinkstockPhotos-462419617So I guess it’s not surprising that behavioral health was the focus of more than a few sessions at this year’s conference, which attracted around 500 people to the City by the Bay.

At the plenary session titled Behavioral Health and Its Impact on Productivity and the Workplace, Pacific Resources’ Vice President of Global Employer Solutions Patricia Purdy pointed out that employers still have a long way to go in their efforts to get their hands around the issue of mental well-being.

“When it comes to thinking about mental health and well-being, organizations are woefully behind,” Purdy said.

In her presentation, she referred to behavioral health as a “frontier,” adding that her word choice was “purposeful, because we’re still really on the cutting edge of helping organizations think about mental health and mental well-being.”

During a conference titled “The Productivity Summit: Improving Behavioral Health and Well-being in the Workplace,” held last May at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Purdy and others even devoted some time to talking about names, she said. “Do we call it behavioral health? Do we call it mental illness? Mental wellness? Mental well-being? Behavioral well-being?”

One of the challenges businesses face today, Purdy said, is coming up with a common lexicon that can be used to talk about the subject, in a way that’s “not threatening to employees.”

The panelists at the IBI session—which included Johnson & Johnson Chief Medical Officer Fikry Isaac; Georgetown University’s Robert Carr (director of its master’s program in health systems administration); and Sedgwick Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare Kimberly George—also touched on making the business case for mental-health investment.

Purdy noted that people at the Carter Center summit said more data is needed to build the business case. But, she added, the truth is there’s already “scads and scads of data.”

The problem, she explained, isn’t that companies don’t have the data; it’s whether or not they can translate that data into the language of the business—so business leaders “understand what we’re talking about.”

As J&J’s Isaac put it, those in the profession need be able to explain to business leaders what’s in it for them and why health, including behavior health, matters.

Presenters also made the case for integrating mental health into other processes. Georgetown’s Carr pointed out, for example, that mental well-being is integrated into GSK’s annual employee survey. (Carr retired from the pharma company in 2014.)

The company, for instance, wanted to know if employees had the resources they needed, he said.

Also, at GSK, one of the six key leadership expectations is to “release energy in others,” he said, adding that the company helps those leaders lacking in this area to build this competency.

Behavioral health was nowhere to be found in the title of a breakout session later that morning, but it was nevertheless an important part of the discussion. The session, titled A Report from the Front Lines of Mindfulness-Based Programs: Four Years of Data from More than 100 Employers, looked at the benefits of mindfulness through the lens of a pioneering employer in this area: Aetna Inc.

As Aetna Wellness Program Strategy Lead Cheryl Jones explained, “mindfulness is about being in the present moment—paying attention to what’s happening around you in an open way.”

Since Aetna launched its program back in 2009, Jones said, it has seen a number of positive results, including a significant drop in employee stress levels.

Aetna—which uses eMindful as a vendor—also enjoys a remarkable participation rate: 13,000 of its 50,000 workers. (That compares to an average of 17 percent across all eMindful clients, reported co-presenter and eMindful CEO Kelley McGabe Ruff.)

Of course, having a CEO who is very publicly passionate about mindfulness doesn’t hurt. As some of you may be aware, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini credits mindfulness and yoga with helping him manage his pain, following a skiing accident that almost took his life in 2004.

“Recovery is a state of mind,” he told a morning news show last year. “It’s not just a physical practice, and … if you get your mind in the right place, you can do almost anything [while] managing pain.”

Jones told the audience that Bertolini plans to announce Aetna’s next step in its mindfulness journey at next week’s Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. She said it will involve “creating a more mindful culture.” Guess we’ll have to wait until then for the specifics.

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Rising Levels of Anxiety, Stress and Depression

Earlier this morning, I Googled news stories about “holiday stress,” and found page after page of stories with titles such as “Handling Family Stress During the Holidays,” “How to Make the Holidays Less Stressful” and “Tips for Helping Employees Deal with Stress During the Holidays.”

ThinkstockPhotos-485914233The Andy Williams song isn’t too far off when it suggests, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” But for many, it can also be especially stressful.

So I guess you could say the timing of Workplace Options’ latest press release—which arrived in my email inbox yesterday— about the significant jump in stress, anxiety and depression levels in the workplace is quite appropriate.

Workplace Options, a leading provider of employee-assistance programs, recently analyzed three years’ worth of global EAP data involving 100,000 employees (from 2012 through 2014) and found a dramatic increase in the number of those who are reporting serious mental and emotional health concerns.

According to the analysis, the number of cases dealing with personal emotional health issues (general work/life balance sorts of things) remained fairly constant over the past three years. Instances of employee stress, anxiety and depression, however, rose at a particularly alarming rate during that period.

Among the findings …

The number of cases dealing with employee depression increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2014.

  • The number of cases dealing with employee anxiety increased 74 percent.
  • The number of cases dealing with employee stress increased 28 percent.

Combined, employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 82.6 percent of all emotional health cases in 2014, compared to 55.2 percent in 2012.

Looking at geographical regions, the rise in depression-related cases was extremely high in Asia (73 percent), while the increases in anxiety-related cases in EMEA and stress-related cases in Central and South America were substantial, at 84 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

I spoke yesterday with Workplace Options CEO Dean Debnam, who just returned from a five-week trip around the world in which he met with hundreds of clients and HR leaders, and asked him to share his thoughts on the key drivers.

At the top of the list, Debnam said, is the relentless push for greater productivity and performance.

In EMEA, he noted, unemployment is still high, but one reason it’s high is because of the pain and expense employers in that region had to undergo not that long ago to downsize. “When the economy started to rebound, they were much less likely to fill positions … because making a firm commitment [in the region] was way too hard to get out of.” So this, in turn, has led to greater levels of anxiety among workers, he told me.

As to the lessons here for HR leaders, Debnam suggested that “just because workers appear to be OK doesn’t mean they are OK.” In response, he added, “you need to give them outlets such as flexible work schedules, you need to be training managers how to identify stress, and you need to do stress audits of your workforce and see where it’s occurring.”

Advice well worth remembering as we enter the New Year and strive to meet a fresh set of new business objectives.

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Poll: Mindfulness Training Really Works

OK, full disclosure here. A company that provides online mindfulness programs for employers, insurers, wellness companies 166198718 -- meditation2and employee-assistance programs recently announced results of a survey showing mindfulness training improves sleep quality and workplace productivity, and reduces worker stress.

So consider the source, of course. But much like other vendor polls we occasionally report on, this one seems worth sharing. The provider — eMindful, headquartered in Vero Beach, Fla. — analyzed data from 1,200 employees across multiple countries and found a 29-percent reduction in perceived stress among companies offering mindfulness training.

Also, before taking the courses, employees at the responding companies reported losing an estimated 117 minutes of productive time per week. After taking them, that number was reduced to 70 minutes.

Again and mind you, this is one provider’s claim of success, but it does add to the collective wisdom growing rapidly out there that a commitment to workforce-wide mindfulness reaps benefits worth noting, and considering. (This post by me earlier this year features one company’s discoveries along these lines, along with a link to a column by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, underscoring the value of workplace mindfulness and the importance of a commitment to it coming from the top and being ingrained into the culture.)

Ruth Q. Wolever, eMindful’s chief scientific officer and associate professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says scientific studies on mindfulness “have burgeoned recently, with demonstrated benefits ranging from decreased stress and anxiety to increased immune-system functioning and pain tolerance.”

“The costs of stress for employers include not only absenteeism and losses in productivity,” she says, “but also include medical costs related to unhealthy behavior patterns [such as alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, smoking and sedentary lifestyles as well as] stressful lifestyles that create and/or exacerbate chronic illness [including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke].”

Harnett, in her column, corroborates Wolever’s benefits and adds a few more:

“When all is said and done, mind-body programs seem to be at least as effective as lifestyle-management programs and bring benefits such as decreased stress and sleep challenges, and improved cardiac responses to stressful situations.

“Researchers such as RAND Corp.’s Soeren Mattke indicate lifestyle-management programs do not decrease healthcare costs to nearly the same levels as disease-management programs. However, Mattke related on the CoHealth radio show I co-host that employees with chronic health conditions achieve even better results when they participate in both disease- and lifestyle-management initiatives.

“Finally, as Mattke said and I agree, there are other reasons to offer lifestyle-management programs, including mind-body therapies, to your worksite. Mind-body curriculums will most likely please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

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The Incredibly Shrinking Carrier Market

It’s official: Anthem announced this morning plans to purchase Cigna for more than $48 billion.

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Coming on the heels of Aetna’s $37 billion proposed deal to acquire Humana, the Anthem-Cigna proposed merger, were it to be given the green light by regulators, would inevitably reshape the health-insurance landscape and provide employers with one less option to consider. But according to experts I spoke to earlier today, deals like the one announced this morning also have the potential of being a boon to employers and employees.

If the Anthem-Cigna transaction goes through, Anthem will have more than $115 billion in pro forma annual revenues, based on the most recent 2015 outlooks publicly reported by both companies. Anthem President and CEO Joseph Swedish would serve as chairman and CEO of the combined company and Cigna’s President and CEO David Cordani would take on the titles of president and COO.

Here’s Swedish’s take on the proposed merger …

“We believe that this transaction will allow us to enhance our competitive position and be better positioned to apply the insights and access of a broad network and dedicated local presence to the health care challenges of the increasingly diverse markets, membership, and communities we serve. The Cigna team has built a set of capabilities that greatly complement our own offerings and the combined company will have a competitive presence across commercial, government, international and specialty segments. These expanded capabilities will enable us to better serve our customers as their health care needs evolve.”

And Cordani’s take …

“The complementary nature of our businesses will allow us to leverage the deep global health care knowledge, local market talent, and expertise of both organizations to ensure that consumers have access to affordable and personalized solutions across diverse life and health stages and position us for sustained success.”

There’s been three national players for a while, with all three of them trying strengthen their portfolios through mergers, explained Tucker Sharp, global chief broking officer at Aon Hewitt in Somerset, N.J. “Someone can put out a headline that says, ‘Five carriers become three.’ But there really have been three national players and what’s happening here is really about building scale … .”

Sharp also noted that lately there’s a bit of merger one-upmanship going on between the carriers and providers. For some time now, he said, the hospitals and physician groups have quietly been merging to get the upper-hand in negotiating with the carriers. Now, much like “an arms race,” you’re seeing the insurer carriers trying to improve their leverage.

At the end of the day, he said, the operational efficiencies and greater scale gained from these mergers could lead to better deals with health providers and benefit employers.

When I asked Sharp if there’s anything HR leaders should be doing differently in light of the Anthem-Cigna news, he said nothing at the moment, noting it’s going to take time for things to work their way through the regulators. If you’re an HR executive, he added, there’s probably nothing you need to worry about for the rest 2015 and 2016.

I also asked Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at National Business Group on Health in Washington, for his assessment of the announcement.

His response: “There are some potential upsides and some potential downsides. In the end, we’re looking for some of the cost savings and pricing to trickle down to the employers and employees. But there also are obviously some concerns, because there are only a few players left standing—so employers that want to put their plan administration out to bid are going to have fewer bidders … .”

Wojcik predicts that the Aetna-Humana deal will probably meet less resistance from regulators than the Anthem-Cigna deal because Humana is a smaller player in the employer market, though a much bigger player in the Medicare market.

In evaluating these deals, he said, regulators need to factor in that the health insurance market is dynamic, not static. They’re going to need to weigh into their thinking, he explained, some of the new entities, such as accountable care organizations, that have emerged in recent years and the impact they’re having on the overall market.

 

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