Tag Archives: Wellness

Look to Pokémon Go for your next wellness campaign

Gonchar-JessicaBy now, you’ve probably heard of Pokémon Go, the augmented reality craze that is sweeping the nation, one Pokémaster at a time. For those who have managed to avoid the app that has been downloaded more than 100 million times, Pokémon Go is a free mobile game that uses location-based technology, enabling players to capture, train, and battle Pokémon creatures overlaid on what you see in front of you. It’s fun, addicting, and everyone is playing it.

It’s also no secret that Pokémon Go encourages physical activity. You can’t expect to catch a rare Blastoise by staying inside all day. Players easily get swept up in the hunt for Pokémon, and before they even realize it, they have walked miles. But there are other ways Pokémon Go can help benefits professionals to effectively communicate aspects of health and wellness. Here are five elements of Pokémon Go that make it successful and ways benefits professionals can incorporate them into their wellness programs.

1. Community
The Pokémon Go community is so enormous because anyone with a mobile phone can play free. Often, players will gather in groups to scour a city for Pokémon or hang out together at Pokéstops, engaging in conversation with people they wouldn’t normally talk to.

Team wellness challenges create a sense of community and foster increased productivity and teamwork. Emphasizing a shared goal, such as walking a collective number of steps in a summer, can lead to a more connected and healthy workforce.

2. Customization
Pokémon Go allows users to fully customize the appearance of their avatars, from hair and eye color down to backpack style. This customization allows players to express themselves and encourages a personalized connection between themselves and their virtual reality selves.

Customization is critical for active participation in any employee wellness program. Employees are much more receptive to a program that is tailored to their needs and interests than to a generic wellness package.

3. Technology
Part of the appeal of Pokémon Go is its use of relatively new technology. By integrating both the smartphone and augmented reality, Pokémon Go has attracted a lot of media attention and keeps people interested.

Keeping up with technology trends can make your wellness communications relevant and powerful. Try highlighting the cool tools available through healthcare and wellness apps.

4. Nostalgia
Many of the people playing Pokémon Go are Millennials who remember the original Pokémon cards and cartoons. Incorporating the old game into a new platform allows players to indulge in their childhoods while staying relevant in modern culture.

Incorporating targeted messages for different generations can resonate deeply with employees. For example, a campaign to encourage more daily movement could rely on memories of hula hoops for Baby Boomers and Wii Fits for Millennials.

5. Fun
Let’s face it: Pokémon Go is so popular because it’s fun. Players never know what Pokémon they’ll stumble upon, they get to watch their collection of Pokémon grow, and it makes otherwise boring activities fun.

The key to getting employees interested in a wellness program is making healthy activities fun. For example, you could host a lunch break cooking class where employees learn how to cook a healthy meal and then enjoy it together afterwards.

Pokémon Go can be a great model for health and wellness campaigns, so next time you need some inspiration, try one or two of these out… or maybe even catch ‘em all.

The growing importance of COBRA rate methodologies

Schmidt-Robert-LThe Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) required employers to make health insurance available to employees who lose their coverage because of a variety of events such as termination, reduction in hours, or family status changes. The maximum time periods range from 18 to 36 months, and the cost of COBRA coverage is limited to 102% (or 150% in some circumstances) of the “applicable premium.”i Before the advent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), COBRA served the purpose of providing continuity of coverage at critical times when people may not otherwise have been able to obtain coverage. However, the need for COBRA may be reduced once the ACA health insurance exchanges are operational in 2014, because the individual market will offer guaranteed health plan coverage, with premium subsidies available through the exchanges that may reduce out-of-pocket and premium expenses for many low- and middle-income households. For this reason, there may be less of a need for COBRA health insurance after January 1, 2014. Whether or not COBRA remains relevant, the methodology used to determine COBRA premium rates is becoming more important for the following reasons:

1. Form W-2 reporting rules under ACA. Beginning with the 2012 W-2 forms issued in early 2013, employers are required to report the “aggregate cost” of “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” each year on Form W-2.ii The “applicable premium” under COBRA is one of the methods that are often used for this purpose.
2. ACA expansion of wellness incentives. For plan years beginning in 2014, the premium incentives that may be used to encourage participation in wellness programs are being expanded from 20% to 30% of the “cost of individual coverage” (up to 50% for tobacco-related programs). There has not been much explicit guidance on how to calculate the “cost of individual coverage” for self-funded plans. For this reason, it is likely that many will consider using the “applicable premium” method under COBRA.
3. “Cadillac Tax.” For taxable years beginning after 2017, an excise tax of 40% will be payable on the cost of coverage in excess of certain thresholds.iii For this purpose, the cost of coverage is defined with reference to the “applicable premium” used for COBRA purposes.

The expanded usage of the “applicable premium” under COBRA is increasing the importance of having appropriate and up-to-date calculation methods for health plan coverage costs. Employers and plan sponsors should work with their consultants and advisors to make sure that the methodologies used for COBRA rates, W-2 reporting, wellness incentives, and the “Cadillac Tax” are consistently applied on an annual basis and that they are actuarially sound.

iERISA Section 602(3). The applicable premium is generally the premium charged by the insurance company for insured plans. For self-funded plans, special calculations by a qualified actuary are often used.
iiPPACA, Pub. L. No. 111-148, §9002
iiiThe thresholds for 2018 are $10,200 for self-only coverage and $27,500 for coverage other than self-only. These amounts are adjusted in various situations as described in Code Section 4980I.

Final rules issued on incentives for nondiscriminatory wellness programs

The federal agencies with health reform regulatory oversight continue to publish guidance to implement provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA amended the HIPAA provisions relating to nondiscrimination on the basis of health status and employer-sponsored wellness programs. On November 26, 2012, the agencies jointly issued proposed regulations on this topic; on June 3, 2013, they published a final rule, with an indication that future guidance may be issued.

This Client Action Bulletin discusses the final rule on incentives for nondiscriminatory wellness programs.

How can employers add incentive to a wellness program?

Health reform may create an opportunity for employers contemplating new or expanded wellness programs. In the latest issue of Benefits Perspectives, Sharon Stocker examines keys to creating a valuable program, with an emphasis on effective communications to ensure employee engagement and participation.

Here’s an excerpt:

1. Understand Your Audience
The goal of health promotion is behavior change, and reversing unhealthy habits that may have been built over many years is not easy. An effective change strategy calls for knowing your audience—what motivates them, potential obstacles, and tools they need for support.

Surveys and focus groups are a useful way to uncover what is most relevant for your employees and their families. (Involving family members is critical – dependent healthcare costs are a sizable factor.) Once the top areas of need and interest are clear, as well as potential barriers to participation, you can target strategies to address them.

Asking for opinions and input serves another important purpose – nurturing a sense of pride and ownership in the program. The most engaging communication is interactive, with ideas and information flowing both ways.

Be sure to clearly state survey/focus group objectives from the outset, letting employees know how the research will be used. You don’t want to imply sweeping changes unless that’s your intent. Acknowledge the value of their input and be serious about acting on the results—or risk having disgruntled employees.

2. Create and Promote a Brand That is Uniquely Yours
The best brands inspire recognition, enthusiasm, and loyalty. Once you have a positive, action-oriented campaign, branding it will help the program capture—and keep—people’s attention.

Your wellness program name and graphic look should align with and reflect the organization’s identity and values. You want to infuse the program with a sense of excitement so that people want to be a part of it. Engage employees and invite participation from the start by having a contest, with healthy prizes, to name the program.

A strong brand also conveys commitment, sending a message that the program is here to stay and worth attention as well as involvement.

To read the entire article, click here.

Wellness time machine: 1987

Workforce Management looks back at the roots of the wellness concept.

Also driving enthusiasm for workplace wellness campaigns in the 1980s was the rising cost of health benefits…

In 1987, StayWell, along with actuarial firm Milliman & Robertson (now called Milliman Inc.), released a study showing for the first time that common health-risk factors such as smoking, obesity and not wearing seat belts were strongly linked to higher health care costs. Subsequent studies backed those findings.

“It got employers very interested in costs,” [David] Anderson [of StayWell Health Management] says.

Just for the sake of nostalgia, check out the prices of various household goods in 1987. The car prices in particular caught our eye–especially with healthcare costs for a family of four in 2012 approximating the cost of a midsize sedan.

Alternatives to the individual mandate: Financial penalties

We’ve been discussing the results of our poll on alternatives to the PPACA individual mandate. The second-most popular idea on the poll was “enforce a penalty that escalates the longer people wait to buy health coverage.” In the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on mandate alternatives, a range of possible financial penalties are mentioned in conjunction with limiting enrollment windows (which was itself the most popular idea from the poll):

Late enrollees could enroll during subsequent open enrollment periods, or possibly between open enrollment periods, but incur financial penalties. Such penalties could take the form of requiring retroactive payments of missed premiums from the date of the last open enrollment period, or a flat or gradually escalating premium penalty depending upon the length of time without coverage. To encourage individuals to maintain their coverage once enrolled, the premium penalties could decline after a period of continued coverage, until they are eventually eliminated. Other financial penalties could include higher cost sharing for the individual, such as copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles. Another financial penalty could be to reduce or deny subsidies for otherwise eligible late enrollees. Another variation would be to provide a premium discount to all individuals who enroll when first eligible, but withhold the discount from late enrollees.

Of course, as the report goes on to point out, financial penalties might tend to further discourage younger, healthier, but less-wealthy individuals from purchasing coverage, which runs counter to the goals of broadening coverage and reducing costs.

The notion of of using financial incentives and penalties to change behavior is something that has been discussed quite a bit in recent years. For example, we recently looked at how the PPACA raises the level of financial incentives that employers can use to encourage employees to meet wellness targets.