Friday, July 22, 2016

The Student Debt Crisis: What Role Should Employers and Professional Associations Play?

Generations of Americans have been raised to think that money spent on education is always a good investment. If you study hard and get decent grades, the rest is supposed to work itself out. You'll get job, pay off your loans and live the American dream. Unfortunately, many students are lent more than they can pay back in the years after graduation. The rule of thumb I've read is that you shouldn't borrow more than what you expect to earn annually when you graduate. Years after earning their degrees, today's graduates can't buy a home or start a family because they can't dig out from under their student loan debt. The statistics are startling:  
  • Almost 71% of 2015 bachelor's degree recipients had student loan debt. 
  • The average loan amount for those graduates was $35,000. 
  • 45% of people with student loan debt say college was not worth the cost. 
  • One in four borrowers are behind on their loan payments. 
  • The government is getting one heck of a return on the money it lends--20 percent on the loans that were made in 2013. 
  • In 1975, state schools received 58% of their funding from the states. Today the funding has fallen to 37%. 
A quick poll of ASHA staff showed that 25% are paying off a student loan for themselves and another 15% are paying on a loan for a spouse or child. I was contemplating this when I sat down next to Mike Muller from Common Bond at the Health and Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas a few months ago. Mike started telling me about student loan refinancing. He expanded my thinking from a benefit we might put together for our staff to something that might make a great membership benefit for associations. 

When I got back to the office, I learned that our membership team was out ahead of me and already exploring options. We looped Common Bond into our discussions and just met again last week. In our last meeting, Mike described two new services that they're offering that really differentiate Common Bond from their competitors. First, they just added a clean and simple student loan assessment tool. It clearly presents people with their options for student loan forgiveness programs, loan consolidation and loan refinancing. We certainly wouldn't want someone steered toward refinancing without being aware that they were eligible for a student loan forgiveness program. Right now you can find this educational tool on the Gradible site, but it will all be integrated soon. If you have a loan, check it out.

Employers are starting to take note of this crisis and a few progressively thinking workplaces are offering student loan benefits. A Towers Watson survey indicated 4% of employers offered student loan repayment programs in 2015. That number is expected to rise to 26% by 2018. Carol Harnett shares what the Consumer Technology Association is doing to help their staff in her latest column. Common Bonds other new offering provides a tool to employers to administer such a program.

I'm really impressed with what Common Bond is offering. I had the opportunity to meet with them in their offices in New York City and I was also impressed with the culture of the company. Most of their employees have student loans and understand their clients/members needs. With every loan they fund, they also fund the education of a child in need. I had a friend refinance through Common Bond and she had a good experience. 

This is how Common Bond describes their programs. 
Our approach is to address the student loan debt challenge with 3 distinct solutions, that are integrated into one seamless, easy-to-use online platform. 
Student Loan Assessment tool - We know that awareness and education are absolutely critical elements to a successful student loan benefits program.   Most individuals want help to understand their options based on their specific debt situation.  Our assessment tool was developed to do just that, to make recommendations about the best approach to manage their loan debt – either through consolidation or income-based repayment, loan forgiveness programs if applicable, and refinancing. 
Student Loan Refinancing Benefits - Most students graduate with student loan rates that are at 7% or higher, with typically more than $75K in debt.  CommonBond’s web-based loan refinancing platform offers a simplified refinancing process to borrowers that yields an average of $14,000 in savings over the life of their loans, with zero fees.  There is no cost for associations to implement this benefit offering.
Loan Contribution Management – Increasingly, U.S. employers are considering the ,implementation of company-paid contribution benefits to accelerate the payoff of their employees’ student debt.   Our platform simplifies the management of this benefit, creating a cost-effective recruiting & retention tool in a very competitive labor market.  This offering is primarily geared towards the corporate market but available to member organizations as well. 
Organizations can choose to offer all 3 benefits, or pick and choose what works best for their workforce.   Some solutions are offered cost-free, and are designed for easy implementation with little time and effort on the part of the member association.
If you're interested in this topic, be sure and take a look at the August issue of Consumer Reports, The Student Debt Crisis -- Lives on HoldYou may also be interested in:
The statistics I quoted came from these sources unless otherwise noted. 

I enjoyed a fictional take on the issue in The Assistants by Camille Perri. It's a little less predictable than the typical summer beach read, but still light. 



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ten Takeaways from Health & Benefits Conferences [#BenefitsConf & #WHCC]


I recently attended the HRE Health and Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas and the World Heath Care Congress in DC. I sat down after the two events and made some notes about what stood out for me. Here are ten takeaways.

Bob Merberg, Fran Melmed and I at the HRE Conference.
One: We Need to Agree on What Matters

There was lots of agreement that we need one set of measures about what creates value and indicates quality. And, agreement that we need good functional level measures for patients too. This is the discussion that kicked off the Health Care Congress and Rajiv Leventhal captured it well in this post, so I won’t try to recap it again here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

10 Behaviors of An Engaged Healthcare Consumer Infographic

Just in time for my presentation at the HRE Conference in Las Vegas, I'm introducing my first infographic -- Ten Behaviors of An Engaged Healthcare Consumer. Practicing these ten behaviors will assure you receive the best and safest medical care. 

Unfortunately, few people have the knowledge necessary to successfully navigate the healthcare system and get themselves and their loved ones quality care when they need it. In most organizations, healthcare is the second-largest expense — second only to salaries — yet most employers don’t teach people how to get the most out of their investment. Employers implement consumer-driven health plans to encourage employees to behave as consumers, but until now no one had defined the behaviors an engaged healthcare consumer demonstrates, so employees don’t understand what they’re being asked to do. I've been on a journey to educate people to be more healthcare savvy and I hope to inspire other employers to do the same. 

You can view my presentation on Haiku Deck. I'm still putting the finishing touches on the slide notes, but they'll done before my presentation on Wednesday. I've included links to some useful studies and resources. 

Many thanks to Samantha Allen for developing this infographic with me. And, many thanks to all those who contributed to defining the behaviors. I'm eternally grateful. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Clear View of Our Own Data


The first time I loaded the Moves app onto my iPhone and looked at it, it creeped me out. I promptly deleted it from my phone. Then, I realized the app was just allowing me to see data that already existed and could be accessible to others. I thought, "Why shouldn't I have a clear view of my own data?" I downloaded Moves again. Maybe it's more cool than creepy. 

This seems to be a trend as our society moves toward greater data transparency. Now I can log onto my electronic medical record at my doctor's website and see her notes about my visit. I can log onto UMR and see information about all my health claims. I can create an account on Magellan RX and see every prescription I've filled. My credit union account shows every banking transaction I've made. And, the Fairfax County Government site shows all my tax payments right down to the $10 licenses for our dogs.

This week we rolled out a new human resources information system that integrates payroll. Staff can now see their salary, social security numbers, date of birth etc... ASHA has always had this information that's required to employ us, but now we can see it too. I think this fits with our organizational value of being transparent and I like that each staff has a clear view of their own data. Some folks were concerned about security, but once our IT Director assured us that our information is appropriately protected calmer heads prevailed. 

Our staff will have the same experience when they log into Health Advocate for the first time and see their personal health dashboard. It includes key information about benefits use and specific health indicators. Will they find it cool or creepy?



Related Reading:



Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Dark Art of Prescription Drug Pricing

Have you wondered how prescription drug prices are set? I attended a pharmacy seminar with Mike Zucarelli, a pharmacist and the National Pharmacy Practice Leader for CBIZ, to learn more this morning. Mike shared the chart in this image that illustrates how the money flows between drug manufactures, pharmacy benefit management companies, employers as plan sponsors and us as consumers or beneficiaries. No wonder I'm confused!

The incentives are crazy and unknown to most of us. Drug manufactures pushing off-label drug use -- doctor's prescribing medications for uses that have not been approved or proven to work. Insurance companies providing incentives for doctors to prescribe certain classes of drugs. Pharmacy benefit management companies negotiating rebates (aka kick backs) from drug manufactures not just based of the volume they purchase, but to take a competitors drug off the formulary. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More Commonly Used Medications (PPIs) Linked to Dementia


See PPIs listed by NIH
We're bombarded with news about drug safety issues and it's easy to tune out. The last thing I read could impact a lot of folks I know--and a lot of ASHA staff--so I want to point it out. There was a study published in JAMA on February 15 linking dementia in older adults to the use of proton pump inhibitors like Nexium which is now available over the counter. Last year, it was anticholinergic drugs, including popular non-prescription sleep aids and the antihistamine Benadryl, and increased risk of developing dementia. This is scary stuff. 


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

10 Behaviors of an Engaged Healthcare Consumer


In the health and wellness arena, everyone talks about engaging consumers, but are we clear about what we're asking people to do? As far as I am aware, no one had defined the specific behaviors an engaged healthcare consumer demonstrates, so I crowd sourced a definition. This has been months in the making. Many thanks to everyone who contributed. Now, drum roll please... 


10 Behaviors of an Engaged Healthcare Consumer

An engaged healthcare consumer...

  1. Has a primary care physician who is a partner in managing his or her health—with scheduled visits as recommended, whether for regular follow-ups for existing conditions or according to the age-related recommendations for prevention by sources such as NIH
  2. Asks the 5 questions recommended in the Choosing Wisely campaign before getting any test, treatment (including taking a medication), or procedure and carefully considers all options before deciding among them:
    ► Do I really need this test or procedure?
    ► What are the risks?
    ► Are there simpler, safer options? 
    ► What happens if I don't do anything? 
    ► How much does it cost?
  1. Reviews hospital safety data—from sources such as Hospital Compare - Leapfrog, Hospital Quality Ratings - CareChex, and Surgeon Scorecard—before deciding where to seek care.
  2. Actively monitors and tracks personal health indicators like weight, as well as any indicators related to existing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  3. Maintains a list of medications taken and shows it to medical providers when seeking care, and keeps the list up to date in electronic medical records. 
  4. Makes day-to-day decisions that support good health and takes any medications as prescribed and instructed.
  5. Develops a personal/family budget to manage healthcare expenses.
  6. Uses available tools to make cost-conscious decisions.
  7. Has an income-protection plan (e.g., short-term and long-term disability coverage) to rely on in case of an injury or illness that makes working impossible or limited. 
  8. Has an advanced healthcare directive that has been discussed with family members.