Shifting the burden: employers helping employees manage costs: though company-provided health insurance is the cornerstone to a comprehensive total rewards strategy that savvy employers use to attract and retain the brightest workers, ever-increasing premiums have forced companies to push more costs onto workers--but even that is reaching a saturation point.

Author:Bolch, Matt
Position:Health Care

In the benefits world, it's called "ripping the Band-Aid off," a process that is painful, but often necessary.

Vail Resorts Inc., a Colorado-based mountain resort company with seven properties and 20,000 employees during high season, ripped the Band-Aid off in 2011 when it directly replaced its traditional PPO health insurance plan in favor of a consumer-driven plan coupled with a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA).

Benefits analysts and health insurance brokers generally suggest that companies wishing to adopt high-deductible, consumer-driven plans ease in the transition over three to five years, introducing consumer options while phasing out more traditional insurance offerings.

After careful deliberation, a close examination of the company's younger, mainly healthy population and the acknowledgement of a desire to build upon a new program rather than phase out an older insurance program over the same time period, company officials decided to make the change all at once.

But Vail Resorts didn't simply make the change and leave employees to fend. for themselves. In order for such an abrupt transition to be successful for the PI company and its workers, a great deal of education must take place. Employees also must have at their disposal tools to help them make the right decisions--about everything, including what insurance plan to choose, which physician to choose, which test or procedure, which care facility and more.

"We spent a lot of time explaining why we needed to make this change, how the plan worked, how to go to an in-network doctor and other aspects of the plan, putting money in the HRA of employees who listened to a tutorial," explains David Ganick, director of benefits. "We also provide incentives for those who get biometric screenings, get a flu shot or complete a health risk assessment."

The company is using cost comparison tools from its plan administrator UMR [United HealthCare Services Inc.] and working with providers where Vail Resorts has direct contracts to obtain that pricing data, too. Ganick says those providers account for 45 percent of claims.

The company developed a website outside the intranet firewall that contains nothing but benefit information and decision-support tools so employees have a single source of information, says Rebecca Shipley, director of total rewards.

It also has created programs to meet the unique needs of its worker population. Few companies likely have programs focusing on high-altitude pregnancies, which can result in more premature babies and the tremendous emotional and financial tolls each can bring.

But recognizing that many females in Vail Resort's total population are in their prime child-bearing years resulted in a robust prenatal program for those at-risk. "If we can help make the difference in one pregnancy, it's worth it," Shipley says.

Before the changeover and during the...

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