5 Takeaways from EBS' 4th Annual Gillette Stadium Event

Last month, EBS’ fourth annual Gillette event joined together over 100 HR, people, and talent leaders, all eager to learn from our five speakers about how to improve employee agency by creating a healthier benefits experience. These experts facilitated timely and meaningful discussions which harmonized on a central philosophy that unprecedented change in the HR landscape is here, and employers have an exciting opportunity to continue to elevate their employees’ experiences at work. 

Here are the 5 key themes that stuck with us after the day wrapped up with networking and cocktails:

1. AI is the Future of Human Capital Management (HCM), and our friend.

Our perception of AI has been informed by the classics - movies like The Terminator, where computers were shown as an enigma - sentient and autonomous beings. And while that reality may come sooner than we think, Keith Webb of Ultimate Software reminded us that the real opportunity is in leaning on AI technologies to work with us, not in place of us.

In other words, jobs like grocery store cashiers and airport bartenders will be replaced by touch screens equipped with AI technology, however, essential business functions like HR and People Operations will continue to require “the human touch.”

Likewise, repetitive HR functions like unbiased interviewing, advanced scheduling, talent engagement measurement and prediction, and emotional analysis of survey responses are just a few key areas in HR that AI can and should be responsible for are where we’re seeing implementation in companies.

2. We’re leaving too much money on the table in our medical plans.

Health plan regulations have become so convoluted that navigating the regulatory changes while remaining compliant and within budget has become a near impossible task. Through the fog and debris of the healthcare landscape came AJ Somaini of Confidio, and Steve Tardanico of Reimbursement Specialists, Inc. (RSI), who have offered a few sighs of relief.

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1 to 2 percent of group plan claims are driving over 30% of their total Rx spend. AJ shared with the audience the popular prediction that specialty medications will represent roughly 50% of the total spend by 2021 - the perfect segue into a solution for self-funded groups: the Rx Carve Out. This solution takes the standard self-funded group health plan, carves out or eliminates the pharmacy portion, and then negotiates directly with a PBM (like Express Scripts, for example) to establish drug costs within the plan and take back the thousands of dollars in potential rebates that, in a fully-funded plan, go directly to the carrier. So if your company is self-funded and is seeing a lot of employee spend on specialty drugs, an Rx Carve Out may be a viable solution.

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Or, if your company is fully-insured with no plans to go self-funded, consider a split-funded arrangement that combines a fully-insured plan with self-insured cost-sharing coverage. In other words, find a low premium plan with high out-of-pocket costs, and use the savings from a downgrade in plan coverage to create an employee fund that will offset these complex out-of-pocket costs[B1] . 60 percent of claims utilization comes from 8% of the population, while alternatively only 14% of claims utilization comes from 69% of the population. [B2] These statistics, while not surprising or shocking, are too real for the majority of group health plans.

The Participating Fund Agreement (PFA) pre-dates the HRA by about 8 years, and differs in that the PFA allows a cost-share between your company and the employee, as opposed to an HRA which must be fully-funded by the employer. For fully-insured groups with young, generally healthy populations, the PFA is a viable solution for “trimming the fat” off of your health plan, as Steve puts it.

3. The U.S. is still not on par with other industrialized nations when it comes to Paid Family Leave.

But changes to what’s been called a “dismal” reality are sweeping the nation, state by state. A 25-year-old federal policy, The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), has only guaranteed job protection, but not necessarily guaranteed pay for workers who take leave for personal or familial medical issues. As of 2019, nine, plus the District of Columbia, have established paid leave laws: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Kimberly Mashburn and her team from The Hartford narrowed in on the upcoming Massachusetts PFML requirements and those important, corresponding dates. Notices and acknowledgements to and from employees must be filed by September 30th; employee deductions begin on October 1st and employers must file their declaration of intent to participate in a private plan by December 20th.

Changes in these regulations as they exist today are likely, and it’s on you and your carrier to stay ahead of these changes to remain compliant.

4. Stress in the workplace has become an epidemic.

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A 2017 Gallup poll shows that workplace stress is the single greatest source of employee dissatisfaction, with 66% of the nation’s workforce feeling disengaged, costing American businesses a staggering $450 billion annually.

Corporate wellness offerings are becoming a more permanent staple in employer benefits packages. Many times those wellness initiatives focus on two ends of the spectrum: hedonic interventions that uplift positive emotions (like a massage or a fun smoothy break) or addressing the pathology that arises from anxiety and depression through EAP. Both are necessary, but not sufficient for wellbeing programs. There is skill development in the middle of that spectrum that can boost resilience, mindfulness, and engagement, helping employee build sustainable resources for wellbeing. 

Megan McDonough from Kripalu spoke about these skills, describing why and how wellness found its way into the workplace, how stress shows up in our bodies, and the choices we have in how we respond to stress. Megan urged us to share with our organizations the power of establishing stress resilience and mindfulness best practices, and how doing so can lead to greater retention, productivity, and employee satisfaction. By changing the ways we breathe, place our attention, and connect with self and others in a strengths-based approach, we can change the way our workforce functions.

5. Change can happen in an instant.

The keynote speaker of the event was the articulate, new author, Matt Brown. Tragically paralyzed during a hockey game in 2010, Matt left us with a simple yet powerful message: change is inevitable, and we need to learn to adapt to whatever obstacles we’re facing – in and outside of work.

The choice to stay stuck and wallow in what’s not working – or overcome adversity – wasn’t a choice at all, for Matt. Why? “Because tomorrow could be the day that everything changes. Tomorrow could be the day that they find a cure for paralysis,” and that’s enough for Matt to keep going, keep working, keep improving and be ready for the Line Change.