By Karen English, PCU, ARM
Partner, Spring Consulting Group

I recently had the pleasure to attend and speak at the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) Annual Forum in San Francisco. I always enjoy networking with colleagues, meeting new faces, and contributing to the latest industry news and trends, and this event was no disappointment.

Integrated Benefits Institute annual forum
Throughout three days of workshops, seminars, cocktail receptions, and waking up at 5AM to dial into East Coast morning meetings, I was happy to see a number of important topics covered. In case you were not able to attend, I have summarized a few key areas below (many of which are closely related).
1. Prevention/Early Intervention

The ever-increasing importance of being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to health issues including chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, depression (see below), and others was highlighted in several IBI sessions.

Denise Zoe Algire of Albertson’s Companies and Michael Coupland of IMCS Group stressed the importance of getting in front of these issues as many of them are predictive based on psychological factors, and early intervention will reduce claims costs (among other positive outcomes). A panel of professors and folks from Liberty Mutual focused on disability prevention in the realm of the opioid crisis and proposed strategies to reduce sick leave. Further, Andrew Yohe and Michael Parkinson of UPMC, along with Wendy Lynch of Lynch Consulting, talked about how to use big data to get ahead of mental health problems, which leads us to the next important topic…

2. Behavioral/Mental Health

It’s nice to finally see mental health being addressed at a more wide-spread level, especially since it affects 1 in 5 workers. This is something we highlighted in the panel on which I participated – alongside professionals from Cigna and DMEC, I spoke about how mental health is a growing concern when it comes to absenteeism and productivity, and advised on how employers can best address it head-on.

Employee WellbeingWe weren’t the only ones talking about it though! A group from The Standard and Regions Hospital discussed how to accommodate for behavioral health issues while still complying with short-term disability and FMLA guidelines, and Judy Gordon and Jenna Carl emphasized the impact of sleep (or lack thereof) on mental health and productivity. One workshop discussed the national standard for workplace health passed in Canada and how it’s helped to relieve and address issues before they result in excessive absence. Lastly, a panel of professionals from Intermountain Healthcare, Willis Towers Watson, and The Hartford talked about how to approach behavioral health claims – covering different models and explaining how to best leverage multiple facets like health plan design and education.

3. Technology to Increase Access & Utilization

It’s 2017, so no surprise that technology is playing a role in almost every discussion. Specifically, one IBI session highlighted how

Aging Workforce

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

technology can help keep a knowledgeable, aging workforce healthy and engaged. Tele-behavioral health was also a hot topic, with a group of folks from CarMax, AbleTo, and Aetna arguing that technology can increase access to care, mitigate some of the existing stigmas, and ultimately prevent conditions that lead to work impairment and high medical costs.

Yet another session highlighted how Chesapeake Energy uses telehealth systems to improve health and productivity, particularly for those employees in more rural areas with limited access to care.

4. Back-To-Work Strategies

Making sure employees can get back to work safely are reasonably continues to be a challenging priority for many employers. Speakers from Northrup Grumman Corporation and Anthem talked specifically about improving returning to work for those affected by cancer, while another session focused on broader tactics and introduced on-site resources to reduce disability durations, contain costs and boost employee engagement.

5. The Positive Correlation Between Business Outcomes & Workplace Wellbeing

It’s not always easy to measure the success or ROI of different health and wellness programs. However there was a lot of talk at IBI about Value on Investment, or VOI, and how a healthier, more engaged workforce can improve the likelihood of businesses meeting their goals.

Presenters from companies like Nestle, Bank of America and Comcast took the first deep-dive into this relationship. Then Sandra Morris and Bruce Sherman identified three areas where companies should be investing more: prevention and well-being, Centers of Excellence, and the reduction of out-of-pocket costs for prescription medicines. Later on, speakers from Central Michigan University and Virgin Pulse shared helpful tips for measuring wellness outcomes and demonstrating VOI to senior leadership.

6. Managing Global Leaves & Benefits

This a growing topic that came up in two different seminars. It’s hard enough to manage leave and policies for employees within a single country, given that each state and region can have different regulations. Then if you add in a global element, things get all the more complicated.Global Employee Benefits

Rich McDonald from Johnson & Johnson and Tyler Amell of Morneau Shepell gave advice on how to find a harmonious approach to leave policies across different nations and regions and their corresponding legislative factors. Another workshop outlined how the World Bank Group used evidence-based data analytics modeling tools, along with U.S. Preventive Medicine (USPM), to establish preventive health strategies that are culturally-specific. The goal was to provide a more seamless delivery of health services to international locations, and to shift from merely treating illness to actually managing and improving health.

 

It was certainly an enlightening conference and I’m glad I had the chance to participate. I hope you find it helpful to learn what the hot topics of discussion were…doesn’t it almost feel like you were there?

If the above themes are of interest to you, you might also enjoy our white paper, Managing an Absent Workforce: A Guide to the Family Medical Leave Act.

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Karen English

Karen English

Karen Trumbull English, ACI, AU, ARM, CPCU is a Partner and Senior Consultant with Spring Consulting Group. She has over 20 years of experience in the P&C and health & welfare arenas with an emphasis on product development, risk financing, process improvement and project implementation. Karen provides strategic direction, quantitative & qualitative analysis and implementation expertise for workers’ compensation, disability, absence, health and productivity programs that allows her to routinely work with alternative risk financing vehicles such as captives. Karen is committed to researching how disability, absence and health management programs can be integrated and uses that research to develop employee focused solutions that provide a cost savings for the employer. Karen is on the Executive Advisory Board for the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), where she recently served as lead editor for the DMEC’s Tools of the Trade – Guide to Integrated Programs and DMEC’s Return to Work Program Manual. Prior to joining Spring, Karen was a Senior Consultant with Watson Wyatt’s US Insurance & Financial Services division, a risk manager with US Bancorp and a P&C broker for both Marsh and Aon.