Risk Insider: Mike Mascolo

ACA Reform: Time to Get Comfortable With Uncomfortable

By: | June 22, 2017

Mike Mascolo is the Employee Benefits National Practice Resource Leader at Wells Fargo Insurance, with expertise in funding arrangements, provider network evaluation, clinical health/wellness strategies, benefits administration technology and consumer engagement designs. He can be reached at [email protected]

When it comes to health care reform, I hear one constant question from employers these days: What’s going to happen and when?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.

It’s normal to prefer getting answers, even if that answer is painful. For example, according to research, people who were given the choice between receiving an immediate, definite shock would choose to be zinged, rather than have only a small possibility of a shock to come later without warning.

I can relate. Earlier this year, I was recruiting a high-potential new employee who had offers from other firms. I did all I could to make our offer as attractive as possible, and was waiting for the candidate’s final decision. I came to the point of needing an answer, even if it was to accept another offer over ours, just to get on with Plan B to move forward. The delay and inaction was bad for my business.

Uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act reform is similar. It’s ambiguous and confusing. Many of my clients are stuck in this grey space—somewhere between complying with existing laws and anticipating the unknown.

Instead of focusing on the unknown, however, companies should stay focused on what’s within their control. It’s easier said than done, but making a mindful effort to focus on the ‘now’ truly helps.

When it comes to health care reform, I recommend employers do the same. Stay in the ‘now’ by focusing on a three key strategies.

Engage millennials. Seventy five percent of employers are concerned about retention rates with millennials, yet only 28 percent of companies plan to make benefit-offering changes this year to accommodate them.  According to the American Psychological Association, millennials are more prone to experience anxiety and financial stress than any other generation. Potential solutions for millennials include tuition-forgiveness incentives, financial planning programs (such as tailored apps) and mentoring programs.

Instead of focusing on the unknown, however, companies should stay focused on what’s within their control.

Review prescription drug costs. Costs for pharmaceuticals have risen for the past few years, and that trend is anticipated to continue through the remainder of the decade. Employers should review current benefit design/pharmacy data and revisit current pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) contracts to ensure that the most aggressive unit cost and appropriate-use strategies are in place. Businesses can also ask their current PBM about what measures are in place to review providers that may have opioid prescribing issues.

Explore adding voluntary benefits. While the pressures and uncertainty of healthcare legislation can make it challenging to add new employee benefits, voluntary benefits allow companies to add value without adding direct costs. Businesses choose which benefits to offer based in part on the company’s demographic profile; employees simply pay for the products they want.

Voluntary benefits can help improve employee retention, reduce employees stress and increase productivity. They help companies become employers of choice, prepare for uncertainty, address the challenges of the new health care environment, and manage costs. These benefits allow organizations to add flexibility, employee choice, and even portability to their benefits menu while addressing the needs of a diverse workforce.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding ACA legislation, employers have the opportunity to positively engage their workforce and evolve benefit programs to meet needs of their employees. Most importantly, employers should consult with an employee benefits professional to help navigate the changing landscape of health care.When all else fails, there’s always therapy. Maybe even shock therapy!

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