At the VCIA 2022 Annual Conference, our Managing Partner participated in a panel that highlighted the scary long-term care landscape, but that ended on a high note in exploring the possibility of captives as a next generation solution for long-term care insurance.

With innovation embedded in the DNA of both Spring and captive insurance, we are interested in helping reshaping the long-term care market of the future. Check out the other discussions our team members had on VCIA session panels, or get in touch to talk in more detail about long-term care captive strategies. 

A (Brief) VCIA Session Recap

I had the pleasure of speaking at Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA) Annual Conference last week, joined by two colleagues with impressive backgrounds. Jeff Caudill, Director of Risk Management at Haskell and a client of Spring’s, and Mary Ellen Moriarty, Vice President, Property & Casualty at College Insurance Company (EIIA) joined me to discuss different ways that captives can be used to tackle the hard market hurdles we’re currently facing in the insurance industry.

With myself as the moderator and consulting actuary, Jeff representing a brand new single parent captive, and Mary Ellen representing a veteran captive, it was a well-rounded panel that pulled in multiple perspectives.

The Clouds Behind the Hard Market

 

This visual does a great job at illustrating the many challenging atmospheric effects in the insurance air right now, particularly on the property & casualty (P&C) side of the fence (no pun intended). With Mary Ellen representing the higher education space, we felt it important to highlight unique risks that colleges and universities are grappling with, in addition to the other complicating factors (or clouds) we see here.

In my work I’ve seen that this climate has resulted in increased carrier profitability for certain lines over the last couple of years, such as auto liability, but decreased carrier profitability in others (such as cyber and commercial property).

In higher education, Mary Ellen explained there have been hard market consequences due to underwriter inability to achieve profitability, and as noted in the visual, they are dealing with risks many organizations don’t need to think about, like traumatic brain injuries, the general public accessing the property, and a different kind of medical malpractice. As a result, there are a limited number of carriers willing to provide coverage in this space. As a nod to captive advantages, EIIA was able to grow surplus from their captive prior to the hard market, from 2002 to 2022, which has been extremely helpful in this “stormy environment.”

This success story led us to a discussion around the business case for captives, a snapshot of which you can see here in this video.

Jeff then gave a bit of a play-by-play regarding the process, implementation, timelines and driving forces behind Haskell’s decision to switch from a group captive to a single parent captive (a synopsis of which you can find in this case study).

Looking Ahead

Both Jeff and Mary Ellen described some next steps for their captives, which may include writing in:

Food For Thought

Like most good things in life, you kind of had to be there to get the full experience and maximize your take-aways. So I don’t want to give it all away, but I will leave you with some food for thought that came out of the Q&A for the session. If you want to know the answers, please get in touch!

And last but perhaps most importantly:

As you can see, we can have some fun in the captive world, and much of it was had at VCIA! Before you leave, check out our captive business case video here, inspired by this presentation.

With healthcare costs skyrocketing and employee needs shifting, many employers are examining how they can save money while still providing strong benefits packages. Last week I spoke at the Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA)’s 2022 Annual Conference on current medical stop-loss market trends and how captives can help cut costs. My fellow panelist, Tracy Hassett, President of edHEALTH, a collection of educational institutes and client of Spring’s spotlighted their captive which has seen significant savings.

Cost of Healthcare

Healthcare costs keep climbing for both employers and employees and our actuaries predict an increase in medical trends for 2022 between 4%-7%. Looking back further, within the past decade healthcare costs have risen roughly 80% for employees and 60% for employers while economic growth has been consistent at 2.5% annually. This increase in costs is coming from a range of factors including administrative expenses, prescription drug prices, increased utilization/deferred care, and risk-based capital of insurers.

We are also seeing a transition in what employees want out of their benefits packages. Our working population is changing; boomers are retiring and transitioning from employer health insurance to Medicare. Millennials have different needs and are looking for straightforward and convenient benefits without high costs. These shifts in healthcare priorities along with high costs have slowly made self-insurance the norm, with a Spring survey reporting 64% of all employers are now self-insured.

When looking at the healthcare market the vast majority of pharmacy spending is through pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Employers estimate outpatient pharmacy to be about 18% of health spending, with an additional estimated 10% within medical claims. Also in 2020, overall drug spending rose by almost 5%, with utilization and new drugs driving most of this increase.

Self-Insurance

We are seeing a fundamental change in the healthcare market, and all parties within the healthcare continuum are being asked to handle risk and chase healthcare dollars. This has pushed many employers to move towards self-funding plans which allow for greater customization, more control over risk, and potential cost savings. Many of these self-insured programs are looking at putting medical stop-loss into a captive, with a Spring survey reporting that although less than 50% of self-insured programs have stop-loss coverage, 42% of those that do have it within a captive.

Within the COVID era we have also seen many changes in the industry and numerous employers are reevaluating their healthcare packages. There has been a giant spike in mental health and COVID-19 resources like telehealth, and a decline in elective surgery. These trends have left hospitals and providers with the short end of the stick, leaving self-insured employers and health plans as the parties saving the most in the insurance landscape.

Case in Point: edHEALTH

Tracy Hassett led the case study portion of the presentation, with edHEALTH being a prime example to of a captive successfully yielding savings in healthcare costs as well as flexibility of options. edHEALTH is a consortium of 25 higher education institutions who came together (originally as a group of six schools) to bend the trend in rising healthcare costs. Today, edHEALTH covers  almost 15,000 employees (~30,900 lives) and aim to better understand and control their healthcare costs and risk. Tracy explained edHEALTH’s captive structure and how the captive retained savings of $6.7M since inception through 2020, in addition to paying out $3.2M in dividends.

These universities all have similar risks when it comes to healthcare, so investing in a group captive was the ideal solution. Each member chooses their own level of risk and pays for their own claims (below the established self insured retention level [SIR]), but still has control of their program. Tracy continued to explain how prescription drug costs are one of their largest challenges when trying to save money in creating/reevaluating healthcare plans. However, with their captive in the past four years edHEALTH members have saved an estimated $50M on Rx costs.

All in all, I was honored to join in the thought-provoking discussions that took place at VCIA. Since medical stop-loss is one of the biggest areas of focus for our clients right now, it was a pertinent conversation and I was glad to have the opportunity to share my perspective, as well as the success of edHEALTH. Burlington remains as perfectly quaint as ever, and I look forward to next year’s event.

Whether or not we have seen the worst of The Great Resignation, savvy employers are not new to adjusting their benefits and “perks” programs to better align with workforce desires. At the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) Annual Conference last week in Denver, I spoke specifically on whether Flexible Time Off (FTO) has taken over as the frontrunner, versus the more traditional Paid Time Off (PTO) approach. I thought you might be curious to know the answer, at least in my opinion, so I’m jotting down the key points from my presentation here.

Background

As with so many things in business and in life, in order to clearly understand the current state of PTO, it’s critical to look back at the history of the concept. In 1910, President Taft proposed 2-3 months of required vacation, “in order to continue his work next year with the energy and effectiveness which it ought to have.” Countries like Germany, Sweden, and others were no strangers to this idea, and set forth on setting global standards regarding minimum levels of vacation. Today, the U.S. is one of only six countries in the world – and the only industrialized nation – without a national paid leave policy. So, what gives?

At least on paper, Americans seem to prefer work over vacation. You may be laughing or rolling your eyes, but it is a fact that significant time off goes unused at the end of the year (people choose to lose it rather than use it). In some cases, this may be the result of a corporate culture that, while they may document PTO programs, do not actually encourage the use of that time. If you’re expected to work while on vacation, you may not feel it worthwhile to take said vacation.

PTO

Over the years additional policies popped up to fill some of these gaps, such as leave related to COVID-19, sick leave, disability, parental leave, and family leave. Many organizations arrived at a PTO program in which an allocated number of days account for different types of leave which vary by employer, but might include vacation, bereavement, sick and personal leave. While this creates efficiency and reduces unscheduled absences, this design (perhaps inadvertently) encourages working while sick, as employees do not want to use days within their bucket when they have a cold, since those same days could be used on a tropical vacation or, on a less happy note, in the case of a personal or family emergency. This flaw went from acceptable to unacceptable in light of the pandemic, and turned some organizations off of PTO and on to FTO.

FTO

Flexible Time Off (FTO) allows for ultimate flexibility in the volume of “vacation” time taken. With the expectation that employees do their jobs, meet deadlines and achieve their individual and corporate goals, time for rest is scheduled at the discretion of managers. FTO however is not to be confused with unlimited vacation days. While a nice idea, some challenges exist around FTO, including:

Given these factors, however, FTO plans can be a powerful organizational tool. If you’re considering FTO, I recommend first answering the following questions:

The Big Reveal

FTO can bring a lot to the table for an organization: it is unlikely to result in more time off (than before), it is financially savvy, a good recruiting tool, and relatively easy to implement. On the flip side, however, I noted some real challenges. In the end, and if you read this article for the clickbait title, my investigative answer is no: FTO is not the new PTO. It should however be considered as one tool within the absence management toolbox, and assessed according to your individual employer needs and priorities.

After a short hiatus, The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) was able to host their 2022 Annual Conference in-person for the first time since the pandemic started. DMEC is one of the leading organizations in the paid leave industry and their annual conference brings together employers, vendors, government officials, lawyers and more to network and discuss leading trends in the business. This year also marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of DMEC, furthermore solidifying itself as a staple in the world of disability management. It was great seeing so many familiar faces from the industry and learning more about what’s keeping industry professionals up at night. This year’s conference took place in Denver, CO and Spring had the pleasure of both exhibiting and presenting.

Although this year’s conference covered a wide range of topics, I noticed the following three key themes.

1) FMLA & ADA Challenges

Although compliance is often a hot button topic at DMEC, this year there was a specific emphasis on maneuvering around FMLA & ADA challenges. Presenters tackled FMLA & ADA challenges from a range of angles including changes in guidance, a Q&A with federal agency leaders, and a mock trial where the attendees acted as the jury. Some of the of the FMLA & ADA related presentations this year included:

2) Support for Caregivers and Healthcare Workers

Although COVID has settled a bit in severity, caregivers and healthcare workers are still facing high rates of burnout and overworking, without receiving much federal support. Also, in the past 50 years we have seen the highest rates of children and elderly parents in the home, often requiring some type of care, most often unpaid care by a family member. During this year’s conference, presenters tackled the issue of mental health for employees assuming the role of a caregiver and how employers can offer needed support. Below are some of the groundbreaking presentations tackling this issue.

3) The Future of Leave

As we tentatively look beyond the COVID-19 era, there was a huge emphasis this year on what we can expect from the disability and leave management industry moving forward. During the pandemic many employers adjusted to remote/hybrid leave policies, introduced new mental health resources and navigated changing COVID regulations. But as we slowly move into a post-COVID world, many speakers, such as those noted below, looked at new-age alternative leave policies and what we can expect for the future of leave.

a) Utilizing Tech & Data

When looking at the future of leave management, we are seeing a giant increase in leave related tech and software, which allows employers to better understand leave trends and preferences within their workforce. Although tech and data collection software are not new in the industry, we are seeing constant updates and an influx of new software that help measure different facets of absence management policies. Below are a few tech & data related sessions we wanted to spotlight.

b) Moving Past COVID-19

As many organizations slowly move back into the office, employers have been developing and reassessing return-to-work programs and reevaluating leave policies to keep their workforce happy. On a national level, we are seeing changes in COVID-related compliance and a big push to retain talented employees through enhanced benefits packages. Here are some noteworthy sessions related to adjusting to a post-COVID world.

All in all, being back at the DMEC Annual Conference in-person was a powerful experience! This year I saw so many young and enthusiastic faces which is a good sign for the future of the industry. DMEC never fails to provide innovative insights into the absence and disability management landscape while providing a fun and interactive experience, and I am already looking forward to their next event.

A Recap of NEEBC’s Beyond the Basics (Level 2) Event

Last week I had the honor of presenting at the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC)’s Health & Welfare: Beyond the Basics (Level 2) event. The event provided great insights into how employers can adapt their corporate culture and provide strong benefits to attract and retain top-tier talent. Sessions focused on the following four critical areas of health and welfare: healthcare, data analytics, lifestyle accounts, and employee absence.

health and welfare benefits

David Chamberlain from Brown & Brown clarified the difference between health and wellness and steps employers can adopt to promote preventative care. He later dove into the differences and advantages of discount analysis verses repricing and how this all ties into pharmaceutical needs. Finally, he outlined the landscape of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and how new disrupters such as Amazon Pharmacy are able to provide pharmaceutical capabilities for people with and without insurance.

Mary Delaney from Vital Incite explored the need for data when developing benefits strategies. She explained how data such as age, gender, medication patterns, likeliness of hospitalization and other indicators are essential when developing a health/medical insurance plan. Lastly, she explains how this data can be collected through employee needs surveys and analyses of national health data trends.

Firstly, Jennifer Aylwin from Vertex Pharmaceuticals gave a short background on lifestyle accounts (LSAs) and how they can appeal to a range of employee needs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are now working in a hybrid or remote setting, and LSAs are a good practice to keep those employees content and engaged. She ended her presentation with an exercise where the audience was able to develop a business case for leadership consideration of LSAs.

As for absence management, I had the pleasure of presenting on this topic. I started by exploring some of the benefits of adopting integrated absence management policies, such as reducing administrative costs and fostering a positive corporate culture where employees feel valued. I ended by showing how strong absence policies paired with effective communication of those policies have proven to provide a better experience for employees and greater workplace efficiency.

All in all, it has been great finally being able to see so many familiar faces in person again. As we adjust to a post-pandemic life, it is essential that we implement health and welfare strategies that match the need of employees currently. Keep an eye out for Spring at upcoming NEEBC events here.

A recap of the Boston Business Journal Future of Healthcare Event on April 7th

Spring was proud to sponsor the Boston Business Journal’s breakfast event earlier this month. The title, “The Future of Healthcare,” is a critical point of discussion for our team and our clients day in and day out, and carries more weight now since the pandemic highlighted critical system gaps. Our consultants continuously look for innovative solutions that help organizations mitigate the impacts of rising healthcare costs, attract and retain employees, address behavioral health, and ultimately frame insurance and employee benefits in a more strategic way. Our work closely aligns with the market and what is trending with key players, such as insurance carriers, healthcare providers, technology vendors, and more. As such, we were delighted to get the inside scoop directly from industry partners.


The in-person (refreshing!) event provided much food for thought and called upon the sentiments of a range of stakeholders. Michael Dandorph, President and CEO at Tufts Medicine, provided the healthcare provider viewpoint. Andrew Dreyfus, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), an industry veteran, brought the health plan perspective to the table. And Ali Hyatt, General Manager of Provider Commercialization and Marketing at Amwell, a telemedicine company, rounded out the discussion.

While the panelists all brought different points of view, there was a clear consensus as to what areas of healthcare need the most attention, and where the industry should focus in order to shape a more positive “Future of Healthcare.” A common thread was the need to view healthcare through the lens of the consumer (the patient) and find ways to improve that experience. We repeatedly heard the word transformation, meaning we all need to reframe our thinking and our approach to address the following key areas:

Affordability


It’s no surprise that affordability was front and center, as healthcare costs continue to climb. As Dreyfus pointed out, the problem only got worse when COVID-19 necessitated paying higher salaries to staff, and caused premiums to increase. The rise of high-cost specialty drugs, which now represent around 25% of healthcare spending, and the consolidation of healthcare systems add even more fuel to the fire. As a result, employers are increasingly shifting more of the health plan costs to their employees, creating real barriers to care. Dreyfus cited a survey that found that in Massachusetts, half of the public has delayed or avoided necessary care due to costs. And as Hyatt pointed out, access is the most important driver of affordability. It is lack of access that tends to escalate prices for all parties within the healthcare system.
But enough about the problem; we all know it’s grim. When it comes to solutions, the panelists had ideas. Amwell is focused on making things like follow-up treatment, appointment making and care regimens easier to build an infrastructure that yields better outcomes. Tufts Medicine is working to build trust with consumers to help them better manage their health proactively, so that perhaps the patient never has to come to the hospital at all. Dreyfus emphasized the need to move away from the current fee-for-service system, where physicians earn less if they can keep a patient out of the hospital, which is backwards. “We should be paying for health and outcomes,” stated Dreyfus. High costs in a pandemic-stricken environment have pushed people away from engaging with healthcare systems and added to stress, leading to increased issues surrounding…

Mental Health


The speakers came at mental health from multiple angles. There is the obvious problem, which is that COVID-19 took immeasurable tolls on mental health. For as much good that technology has done regarding the flexibility to “work-from-anywhere,” it has also been detrimental. Dandorph pointed out that remote work for many just means logging on earlier and signing off later, with almost no down time. Hyatt added that a recent Microsoft study showed that employees were pulling an additional “third shift” from 9-10PM, feeling the need to log back in at night after tending to family or other obligations. Beyond work pressures, we also have retirees and seniors to consider, who have been isolated, vulnerable and afraid since the onset of the pandemic, and have been exhibiting increasing signs of depression and/or dementia as they struggle with loneliness.
Then there is the more specific problem, which is burnout within the healthcare industry. Dandorph dubbed this the “pandemic before the pandemic,” with suicide rates among physicians more than double that of the general population. COVID-19 amplified things, and staff has been retreating ever since, adding to the labor shortage we are seeing across all sectors. To solve for this crisis, the panelists stressed the need to simplify processes to relieve the burden on healthcare professionals. They are looking at ways to eliminate clinicians spending hours on the phone for pre-authorization processes, or typing up notes, and ultimately remove steps when possible. By integrating automation technologies and digitizing routine tasks, not only will staff get back time, but administrative costs should also go down.


The good news is the stigma around mental health has fallen – maybe not completely, but significantly. For their part, BCBSMA has dramatically expanded their staff in this area, adding around 17,000 social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and others. In some cases, the health plan is paying mental health practitioners more to bring them back into insurance networks, as they are often separate due to administrative burden. BSBCMA has also committed to pay at parity for mental health visits indefinitely.

The panelists agreed that all the touchpoints of healthcare are inter-related; you can’t have a strong system if one cog in the wheel is poor. Specifically, the mental health component can be helped in part by…

Digitization


Telehealth was a hot topic at the Boston Business Journal event. While it was even higher during the height of the pandemic, Tufts Medicine is still seeing about 80% of behavioral health visits and 15%-20% of all healthcare visits in a virtual format.
In summary, there’s no going backwards. Telehealth is here to stay, and Hyatt told a memorable story highlighting its value beyond mere convenience. She described a patient treated by Amwell who, at the time did not have a primary care physician (PCP) and was struggling with bronchitis systems. He was a smoker, mid-50’s, with various health issues such as emphysema and high blood pressure. He remembered he had access to Amwell and through his virtual visit, the clinician was able to discern that his nebulizer tubing was cracked, that he was not taking his blood pressure medication, and that his wife’s cuff he had been using wasn’t the right fit. After the visit these problems were resolved and he was enrolled in a care management program through the insurer from which he receives nutrition tips, reminders about appointments, and more. As Hyatt put it, “This was a consumer who would have gotten lost in the system.” Dreyfus agreed that seeing patients in their home environment can be extremely valuable, as the clinician can do things like look into their fridge to get a gauge of their diet, look into their medicine cabinet to understand drug-to-drug interactions, or flag things like rugs that could cause a fall.
Telehealth does not work for every medical issue, and some still prefer in-person care. Importantly, Dreyfus flagged up that someone seeking mental health services, for example, may not be comfortable doing so in their home, which could be the source of their stress. But as Hyatt pointed out, we shouldn’t be viewing it as telehealth versus in-person care, but how it all works together. The panelists think of telehealth as the beginning of a series of services that are more focused on the patient experience with the goal of increasing…

Consumer Engagement


As Dandorph explained, a virtual healthcare visit is one aspect of where the future of healthcare is going, but we need to think about digital more broadly. He pointed out that in the tech industry for example, they have figured out how to engage consumers and be a regular part of their lives without being intrusive. Healthcare isn’t there yet. But if we can engage patients with their health early and often, and make their care needs and system navigation easier to understand, the result will be better outcomes and lower costs across the board. Dandorph introduced the concept of food as medicine and suggested partnerships that could enable all types of populations to eat healthier.


There are myriad ways to achieve such engagement, and one of them pitched by Dreyfus is to make the home the new locus of care. We were able to figure out at-home COVID-19 tests, so why stop there? Are there other tests or treatments that could be out-of-the-box? With the appropriate clinical support, better outcomes may be more likely in a home environment, and could be more comfortable for the patient and convenient for unpaid caretakers. This is especially true for elders, where the panelists agreed that long-term care needs to be a big piece of this puzzle as we move forward.


To bridge the consumer engagement gap, Tufts Medicine is thinking differently regarding hiring and leadership. Dandorph and his team brought in leaders from outside the healthcare realm, more familiar with consumer markets, who could think differently about making those connections and building brand recognition. Hyatt echoed this sentiment. At Amwell, they prioritize having a mix of staff; a balance of those from healthcare who understand the realities and the regulatory environment, and those from outside the industry who can bring fresh ideas and rethink the consumer experience. Hyatt noted that the biggest issue at a health system in New York was around payment and billing, where patients were frustrated with the complexity. We again get back to simplicity.


While all of these innovations are fantastic, we need to remember that they are not all equally accessible, which brings us to…

Inequity


Like mental health, health inequity was another issue unmasked by COVID-19. There is still a digital divide, where technology solutions may not be accessible for some. There are social determinants of health to consider, Dandorph noted, such as food access, safe housing, economics, and education. When we talk about Food as Medicine, as an example, it may not be simple for everyone due to costs or inconvenience. And as Dreyfus pointed out, we are still dealing with underlying racism in care. So, what can we do about it?

Recently collected all their member data – race, ethnicity, and other measures – and published it in a transparent way, highlighting where they stand now and where they need to improve equity efforts. They also developed similar reports for healthcare systems and vendors in the region. Then, they committed to using their value-based care programs to eliminate the inequities they found. The health plan made a $25 million grant to the Institute of Healthcare in Improvement in Boston. And starting in 2023 they will be the first plan in the country to pay hospitals more for achieving equity goals, as they have in the past to improve quality of care. Tufts Medicine is focused on developing more culturally competent services, as a start, but Dandorph stressed that health inequity is a societal problem that will require stronger…

Partnership


Yes, the healthcare system in the U.S. is broken in some ways. But it isn’t just up to hospitals and carriers to fix it. The panelists emphasized that things work better when silos are broken down, admitting even their organizations could work in closer collaboration, as they are aligned on priorities and direction. Dandorph explained the need for more partnership between the private and public sectors. For example, federal regulation is needed in the realm of high cost prescription drugs. Further, the government funds 40% of all healthcare in the U.S. through either Medicare or Medicaid, and many of its members are the ones suffering most from problems related to inequity and mental health. “These are macro societal issues,” said Dandorph, and as a society we need to elevate the economic status of those vulnerable communities and work on building trust between the people and the companies who can help them. This will take more work than any of the panelists’ organizations can do
alone. It will require community leaders. It will require businesses and employers to be more involved. Just like patients need help connecting the dots of their care, we need to connect the dots between each other.
Ultimately, the first 5 focus areas can be solved for only if #6 plays a larger role. Many of the objectives discussed – shifting from a sickcare system to a healthcare system, lowering costs, minimizing complexity, eliminating disparities, driving engagement in healthy behaviors – can only be accomplished through greater and widespread collaboration and connectivity.