Emergency Preparedness Lessons for Employers from COVID-19

February 17, 2021

An emergency preparedness guide released by the Northeast Business Group on Health recommends that employers invest in V-BID principles to strengthen their COVID-19 response and prepare for a future pandemic situation. The incorporation of value-based principles in plan designs, as demonstrated with the V-BID X health plan, can encourage employees to seek appropriate care and address emergent needs in a public health emergency.

NEBGH Releases Guide on Employer Pandemic Response

February 17, 2021

Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) recently released a guide for employers to manage the current COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemic situations.

The "Pandemic Response, Recovery, and Planning: Lessons Learned for Employers in 2020" guide offers resources, best practices, and action steps around pandemic planning and strategy for the employer community.

The beginning of the pandemic presented employers with many unknowns and a learn-on-the-fly mentality, so NEBGH wanted to compile those learnings and create a guide for future pandemic responses.

"We thought it was important to pull together all of the learnings and best practices from the last year, so that now, and in the future, folks have our resource that they can [utilize,"] Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH, told HealthLeaders.

Sherman added that due to the ongoing vaccination effort around the country, employers may start bringing employees back to the workplace if they haven't already.

She said this is an “opportune time” for employers of all types to “review and refresh what they have in place, [look into] what more they might need to do [to be prepared,] and what some of the new challenges will be."

While focused on the acute, short-term issues presented by COVID-19, NEBGH is also looking ahead to the next potential pandemic situation.

"Experts are certainly predicting that this will not be the last pandemic we have to face, and so it's important to be prepared for whatever lies ahead," Sherman said.

Workers skipped preventative healthcare in 2020. How should employers respond?

February 11, 2021

Dr. Mark Cunningham-Hill remembers the initial months of the pandemic well. As the medical director for the Northeast Business Group on Health, a regional coalition of employers and healthcare stakeholders, Cunningham-Hill observed closures on a wide scale. "Everything stopped for a month or two," he told HR Dive, "and gradually, telemedicine started coming online."

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COVID-19 also may prompt healthcare providers, payers and even employers to re-examine what constitutes high-value or low-value care, Cunningham-Hill said. He referred specifically to procedures such as colonoscopies that are performed on patients over the age of 75, as well as false positives that lead to lengthy investigations that do not turn up problems. But there are also items proven to be valuable, such as asthma medications and diabetes management tools. "How do we come out of this doing more of the high-value stuff?," Cunningham-Hill said.

That points to another actionable item for employers: access. It is one thing to provide coverage for a given form of preventative care, but associated copays may discourage workers from actually taking part in that care. Even if the plan provides 80% coverage for a procedure with a $25 copay for the worker, "that copay is a fortune for someone earning $25,000 a year," Cunningham-Hill said. Such examples point to the need for greater healthcare equity, he added.

Emergency preparedness lessons for employers from COVID-19

February 10, 2021

Employer benefits and human resources professionals should glean key lessons on emergency planning from the COVID-19 pandemic—and a new guide from the Northeast Business Group on Health aims to help set a baseline for those discussions.

The paper outlines seven key action steps employers should take to strengthen their COVID-19 response and prepare for a future pandemic situation that can be deployed now, the group said.

“The experts say it is not a question of if but when a future pandemic will occur. And while it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for future pandemics, employers can enhance their preparedness," said Candice Sherman, CEO of the Northeast Business Group on Health, in a statement.

Businesses should plan for future crises while looking to reopen offices

February 10, 2021

Employers might face myriad challenges when reopening the workplace, but lessons learned during the pandemic suggest they also should consider preparing for a future crisis, according to a guide released today by the Northeast Business Group on Health.

The employer-led coalition of benefit leaders and health care stakeholders published its Pandemic Response, Recovery and Planning guide, which captures lessons learned by employers during the pandemic and outlines action plans for reopening the workplace, adapting benefits to address Covid-19 and preparing for a future pandemic.

"The pandemic is not over, and now is an opportune time for employers to see what more they might need to put in place to address health and safety," said Candice Sherman, CEO of the business group.

As the vaccines are being rolled out, employers will need to think about communicating and engaging with their workforce about vaccinations, she said. Many companies rolled out flu vaccine programs in the past, and some successful measures—such as offering incentives or time off for vaccination—can be employed for the Covid-19 vaccine as well, she said.

Employers will be key in communicating to workers the importance of receiving the vaccination.

"It is essential employers educate their workers that the vaccine is safe or the pandemic will never truly be over," Sherman said.

For example, workers who choose not to vaccinate might cause unease among their coworkers, throwing a wrench in reopening efforts. The guide suggests bringing in medical directors from health plans or doctors to hold forums about the vaccine.

Businesses also need to ensure health benefits are adaptable and accessible during a future crisis.

"We're not talking about health insurance coverage … but we're talking about wellness and mental health support, and those chip away at workers more than we realize," Sherman said.

Many organizations provided wellness and mental health support to employees before the pandemic, but access might have been disrupted as offices shuttered. The boom of telehealth tools has become fundamental to ensuring employees continue being able to reach those resources, Sherman said.

Lastly, even as companies build infrastructure—updating air filtration and testing protocols—to address this pandemic, they need to consider implementable plans for a future crisis.

"The experts are saying it's a matter of when, not if," Sherman said. It's never too early to think about what you need to have in place for the future, she added.

The Northeast Business Group on Health was founded in 1982, and its members are senior benefit leaders from about 180 large corporations, organizations and unions, including 1199SEIU, CityMD, Mount Sinai Health System and Pfizer. —S.S.

COVID-19 vaccine, deferred care are top comp, benefits concerns for 2021

January 14, 2021

Members of the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), a regional coalition of employers and healthcare stakeholders, have asked questions about vaccine rollouts and about whether particular types of workers qualify as essential workers, NEBGH CEO Candice Sherman said. But with guidance changing on a day-to-day basis, there is still a "good deal of uncertainty," she added.

Sources who previously spoke to HR Dive described incentivizing vaccination as one potential avenue for employers worried about the impact of other policies, such as a vaccine mandate. While Sherman said NEBGH has not heard much from members with respect to incentives, "I frankly am in favor of incentivizing." She added that employers may want to work with health plans and pharmacy partners to ensure employees and their families have access to good information about vaccine availability.

Employers, in connection with their health plans, may be able to look into concepts such as drive-thru vaccination clinics once vaccines become more broadly available, Sherman said. Some states are already beginning to experiment with this specific idea. Florida announced plans this week to open a golf cart drive-thru vaccination clinic for seniors at one retirement community, reported ABC affiliate WFTV.

Goodbye, Haven: The benefits industry reacts

January 5, 2021

“The Haven health venture and the publicity surrounding it shone a light on the critical role employers play in funding the health care system and generating innovation that can benefit employees and the public at large. But health care delivery is primarily regional, so it’s not a surprise that these companies are pursuing projects tailored to their own populations.”

–Candice Sherman, CEO, Northeast Business Group on Health

Why It’s Vital For Employers To Add Mental Health Benefits

December 28, 2020

Heightened anxiety and stress have a direct impact on employees’ emotional resilience and productivity. Major depressive disorders are tied to 27 lost workdays per year per employee, according to the Northeast Business Group on Health, and an increased cost of $4,426 per employee per year. Additionally, mental health conditions are also tied to other chronic conditions such as obesity and heart disease.

But there are also more widespread impacts on the broader workforce.

Keep in mind that while many employees try as much as possible to compartmentalize work and life stresses, that’s not always possible. Especially at a time of widespread remote work, work and life stresses blend together and can create a charged and overwhelmed state of being.

Guidelines for supporting an employee with cancer

December 10, 2020

For cancer patients, employment is more than financial security and healthcare benefits — it’s a support system.

Four out of every 10 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. That number is only expected to grow; by 2040, the number of cancer survivors is expected to reach more than 26 million — a 50% increase from last year.

“With a growing number of cancer survivors in the workforce, employers need to better understand and be equipped to help support them, given the challenges these employees may face,” said Candice Sherman, CEO of the Northeast Business Group on Health, in a report by the organization.

Here’s how employers can more effectively support cancer survivors

December 9, 2020

A growing number of patients are surviving a cancer diagnosis, meaning employers must be prepared to offer a workplace that supports their specific needs.

To assist with that process, the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) has released a guide for employer benefits and human resources professionals that highlights the key challenges and opportunities in meeting the needs of cancer survivors.

Estimates suggest there will be 26.1 million cancer survivors living in the U.S. by 2040, an increase of more than 50% compared to 2019, the NEBGH said in an announcement.