HEALTH

Employer healthcare costs expected to rise in 2011

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK Against a backdrop of continued economic uncertainty, employer healthcare costs for active employees are projected to rise 8.2% after plan changes to an average annual cost of $10,730 in 2011, according to a recent survey of 466 large and midsize employers conducted by Towers Watson.

“Employees today are adjusting to historically lower-than-average merit pay increases, while at the same time facing higher healthcare contributions, co-pays and deductibles. Merit pay increases have gone up 16% while employee contributions have risen 49% over the last five years. This combination could adversely affect many employees and intensify the growing affordability crisis,” stated Ron Fontanetta, senior healthcare consultant with Towers Watson. “With employers also facing the challenge of steadily rising costs, plus the advent of healthcare reform, the need to rethink employer approaches to health care is greater than ever.”

According to survey respondents, 59% of employers planned to implement significant or moderate healthcare plan design changes in 2011, and two-thirds (67%) planned to do so in 2012.

“In light of the complexities around all of the regulatory guidelines and mandates, most employers are taking the time to understand the new legal environment before making too many long-term changes to their health benefit strategy,” said Randall Abbott, a senior healthcare consultant with Towers Watson. “Nonetheless, the earlier employers consider the strategic ramifications of the law and can act, the better they can assess their future role as healthcare benefit sponsors, and understand the implications on their business and employees.”

Many employers today, however, are not staying the course:

• By 2012, 64% of employers are projected to offer an account-based health plan — such as combining a high-deductible health plan with an employee-directed healthcare account, such as a health reimbursement arrangement health savings account — and 39% of employers are projected to have ABHP enrollment of more than 20%;

• As many as 62% of employers are projected to apply outcome-based incentives by 2012, shifting from incentives for employee participation in wellness programs to incentives for improvements in health metrics, for example. “Healthcare reform has reinforced employers’ commitment to wellness [health-management] programs,” Fontanetta said. “Employers today understand that one of the keys to controlling long-term healthcare costs is to provide employees with the tools to personalize and manage their health. They are also offering incentives to encourage employees to maintain their well-being and access to clinical support and advice”; and

 

• According to the survey, 86% of U.S. employers plan to increase efforts to encourage employees to engage in wellness/health promotion programs, with 65% already increasing or planning to increase incentives for these programs, and another 17% considering this action for 2012. Among specific health promotion programs, employers plan to increase efforts to encourage employees to engage in behavioral health programs (78%), biometric screenings (74%), health risk assessments (71%) and disease management programs (67%).

 

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HEALTH

Vicks Starry Night humidifier hits retail shelves

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK Kaz on Tuesday announced the launch of its Vicks Starry Night humidifier, a product that releases cool moisture into the air for temporary relief of congestion and coughs, and features a built-in, independently controlled projector so that parents have the option to turn off the lights once their child has fallen asleep without turning off the humidifier altogether.

 

With the Vicks Starry Night humidifier, parents will be able to create a virtual galaxy on their child’s bedroom ceiling.

 

 

Arecently released scientific white paper suggested humidifiers may play an important role in reducing the survival of the flu virus on both surfaces and in the air. The research suggested that homes kept between 40% and 60% relative humidity are likely to have fewer flu viruses lingering in the air and on such commonly touched surfaces as sink faucets, door handles and countertops.

 

 

Best used in medium-sized rooms, the Vicks Starry Night humidifier operates between 18 hours and 24 hours on a 1-gallon tank. The product’s built-in scent pad heater works with Vicks Soothing Vapors VapoPads.

 

 

The Vicks Starry Night Cool Moisture humidifier (V3700) has a suggested retail price of $54.99, and currently is available through Toys"R"Us, Kmart, Walgreens and on Amazon.com.

 

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Rexam’s Pill Timer seeks to improve medication adherence

BY Alaric DeArment

PERRYSBURG, Ohio Rexam is marketing a programmable pill timer that fits on its prescription vials that was developed under a partnership with Med Time Technology.

 

The two companies announced Tuesday the introduction of the Pill Timer, which uses software that can be programmed with audio and visual alerts to help people properly take their prescription medications. The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System is one of the first healthcare organizations to adopt the product.

 

 

“The use of the Pill Timer will enable Henry Ford to help chronically ill patients manage their medication more effectively,” Henry Ford director of pharmacy Steve Duda said. “It’s an important breakthrough for our patients.”

 

 

Every year, poor medication management is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion and claim 300,000 lives, Rexam said.

 

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