DMEC 2016

Reaping the Rewards of Benefits Integration

Participants in the 2016 DMEC Annual Conference shared ideas on benefits integration and effective wellness strategies.
By: | July 21, 2016 • 4 min read

Discussions at this week’s Disability Management Employer Coalition conference held in New Orleans included measures for keeping employees healthy, injury free, and on the job.

Conference participants also reviewed risk reduction, ease of administration, and cost saving advantages obtained by integrating absence management and disability benefit programs such as workers’ compensation, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and short-term disability offerings.

Karen English, partner, Spring Consulting Group

Karen English, partner, Spring Consulting Group

Proponents say integration makes sense because of overlaps among the range of programs under which workers can be absent and the cost to organizations regardless of the reasons for missed work days.

They also point to potential compliance risks when the administration of programs is segregated and improperly aligned.

“There is hardly any situation where there is just one perfect claim going on,” said Karen English, a partner at Spring Consulting Group. “If someone is [out] on workers’ comp, they are probably on FMLA [and] STD. Then we have all our concurrent leaves going on. So keeping workers’ comp to the side can actually be viewed as a risk to your organization.”

Failing to integrate can lead to lost opportunities, such as the ability to appropriately minimize the amount of time employees spend away from the job by concurrently running FMLA leave with a workers’ compensation absence.

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“Just as an example, if you have a workers’ comp claim and that person is out eight weeks for a surgery, if you don’t run it concurrently, you are allowing that employee to come back from that workers’ comp claim and then go out for 12 additional weeks of FMLA time,” said Trina Mouton, manager of disability management and wellness at CenterPoint Energy.

“So it is really advisable to run those concurrently,” Mouton continued. CenterPoint experiences a 2-to-1 return on investment from its efforts, she added.

Employers speaking at the conference cited their gains from integrating programs, although their results are also influenced by several efforts including implementing return-to-work programs.

“We compare ourselves to the hospital industry in terms of [employee restricted-duty days] and lost time,” said Jane Ryan, return to work recovery and claims services at Mayo Clinic. “Our lost time rates are actually lower than the national industry [average] and I think that speaks to the ability we have to keep people at work or return to work early.”

“There is not one silver bullet or only one way to integrate benefits delivery. Every company is so different.” — Karen English, partner, Spring Consulting Group

The paths that employers take to integration and the programs they integrate vary considerably depending on each company’s needs, speakers said.

“There is not one silver bullet or only one way” to integrate benefits delivery, English said. “Every company is so different.”

English will join DMEC’s CEO, Terri Rhodes, in a discussion on how to integrate workers’ comp, disability, and leave programs on Dec. 1, at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo that will also take place in New Orleans.

Targeted Wellness

At the DMEC conference held this week, meanwhile, other discussion topics focused on specific illnesses and corresponding wellness efforts for keeping employees healthy and productive.

Diabetes, for example, impacts employers’ profitability by driving medical costs that are 2.3 times greater than for people without the illness as well as by increasing employee absences and work disruptions.

“There is no question that diabetes affects the bottom line,” said Matthew Ceurvels, director of disability products at Sun Life Financial. “Productivity can be impacted by presenteeism, when an employee is working sub-optimally, by ad-hoc absences, and by long-term absences when employees go out on a disability claim.”

More employer disease management programs focus on diabetes than on other common illnesses like asthma or heart disease, Ceurvels said.

Diabetes care, for example, is a key component of a wellness program CNIC Health Solutions Inc. offers its workers, said Linda Benedict, human resources manager for the third party administrator of employee benefit plans.

CNIC Health Solutions’ employee wellness program’s overall offerings include a recreation center, free access to a CrossFit trainer, encouragement to engage in desk exercises, and online health assessments tied to biometric screenings that provide employees with  private information about their individual risk factors.

As part of its health plan, the company also provides free monitoring and testing supplies for diabetes sufferers along with a third-party tracking service for the diabetes testing results.

“We also offer a discount on what the employee pays for their portion of health insurance premiums,” Benedict said. “That is one of the biggest components of our wellness program.”

The discount works as an incentive, providing employees with a 25 percent health care premium reduction, first for participating in the biometric screening, and then as they maintain a certain screening result level.

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That led to a 23 percent improvement in employee health risk over one year, as measured by the biometric screenings.

The wellness efforts have improved employee engagement and morale, lowered workers’ comp losses and reduced absenteeism, she said.

“One key metric for us is that in the last year and a half, we have not had one FMLA leave,” Benedict said. “It has really limited FMLA leave for our employees because they are more engaged. They are taking care and looking at their metrics, and sharing them with their physicians. It is really starting to pay off.”

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]