Healthy Living Ideas: Having Trouble Sleeping?

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

The importance of sleep is underscored by the symptoms experienced by those suffering from sleep problems. People suffering from sleep disorders do not get adequate or restorative sleep, and sleep deprivation is associated with a number of both physical and emotional disturbances.

Below are suggested herbal sleep aids supplements to help get a good night's sleep.

1. Chamomile: Chamomile is one of nature's oldest and gentlest herbal sleep aids. It is most often drunk as a tea, which has a mild and pleasant taste. In addition to promoting calm and restfulness, chamomile is also used in cases of stomach irritation.

2. Valerian: Valerian is a root that has long been used as an herbal sleep aid. It has a characteristic smell – just like old socks. Valerian can be used to help occasional sleeplessness, but is also particularly helpful taken long-term.

3. Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces at night. It is sometimes called the "sleep hormone" because it is so important to healthy sleep. People who are blind, who suffer from jet lag, or who live in places with extended sunlight hours may have trouble sleeping because their bodies do not produce enough melatonin.

4. SAMe: SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine) is an amino acid derivative, and is found normally in the body. It is typically used as an antidepressant, but is also commonly used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome or as an herbal sleep aid. Its actions in the body help to promote healthy sleep cycles, especially when taken daily for several weeks.

5. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to seratonin. Low serotonin levels can cause irritability, anxiety, and sleeplessness, so adding more tryptophan to your diet can help you relax and will promote healthier sleep patterns.

Healthy Living Ideas: Stress

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

Stress. The word is used so much these days. Is it real? Can it hurt you? What is it? What can be done about it?

Stress can cause us significant problems. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action (to fight or flee). If we don’t take action, the stress response can lead to health problems.

One way stress is thought to affect the body is by causing digestive dysfunction which can affect Vitamin B production and absorption. Since B Vitamins are required to produce dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, and other brain chemicals, it is important to take a good multi-vitamin, an EFA supplement, and possibly a mineral as well.

Oddly, stress seems too often be caused by a lack of epinephrine, also called adrenaline. This is a hormone released by the body into the bloodstream in response to physical or mental stress. Some of the best stress supplements include tyrosine and GABA, necessary for the adequate production of epinephrine.

Minerals are known as calming supplements -- particularly calcium and magnesium. When selecting a multi-vitamin, it is important to choose one containing a good amount of minerals, or ensure that minerals are taken in another supplement. Many find that taking their calcium before bed relaxes them and it has been said that it is better absorbed during sleep.

Exercise stimulates production of another class of hormones which fights stress called endorphins. These are morphine-like chemicals which block pain and improve mood. It is important to exercise 3-4 times per week to produce adequate amounts.

Studies suggest the best-known single herb to combat both mental and physical stress is Ginseng Root. It has been shown to improve mental activity and it helps the body adjust to stress, as well as providing numerous other benefits (including improving immune system function). Other herbs helpful in combating

Adequate nutrition is very important when the body is under stress. A good way to combat stress is by taking a daily multi-vitamin. Also effective are herbal and mineral supplements and Omega 3/EFA’s. But it is as equally important that your customers understand the importance of following a smart diet plan and eating well (eating correctly portioned proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy oils). Exercise 3-4 times a week is another factor that will combat stress as exercising stimulates the production of endorphins. It is important to avoid hydrogenated oils (in margarine and many processed foods) and Trans fats (fried foods). Following this type of diet and avoiding too many starches and sugars provides excellent mental focus and balance.

12 Implications of Health Care Reform

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

In response to the 2011 health reform, insurance carriers increase premiums. As employers start dealing with the law’s new requirements, there is a heightened focus on providing better education and communication to employees, on negotiating and investigating alternative options, making smarter benefits decisions, and enhancing wellness programs. Here are 12 ways in which health care reform impacts how we do business now and in the future.

1. Increased cost-sharing

Cost-sharing between employers and their employees for health insurance continues to increase. This is one of the easiest ways to manage health insurance costs, but naturally has effects on employee engagement and morale that employers need to consider. The average cost-sharing arrangement has steadily increased in the years preceding 2011.

2. Education about health benefits

Education about how employees can be better health care consumers is becoming more imperative. Often employees do not understand how usage affects costs and need to be educated buyers when using their health insurance plans. Ideas for education efforts other employers have initiated include:

  • Explain the costs associated with health care decisions (i.e. going to the emergency room vs. their primary care physician).
  • Show employees the drivers of health care costs at the organization.
  • Communicate what employees can and need to do in order to maintain or reduce their current costs. Specific actions steps are recommended.
  • Expand education to spouses who are also users of the plan.
  • Provide employees with key questions to ask their doctor.
  • Make health insurance an on-going conversation and communication effort with quarterly meetings to discuss trends, employee forums to discuss suggestions, and other media to disseminate wellness and health insurance information.

3. Use of benefit statements

Benefit or total rewards statements are a widespread and important communication tool that show employees how much the organization is investing in their benefits, and particularly their health insurance. Showing employees actual dollar amounts and levels of coverage your organization has been shown to enhance satisfaction and improve understanding.

4. Review of plan design

Reviews of plan design are increasingly occurring. Plan design should be reviewed carefully and different scenarios should be run and analyzed. Raising deductibles or co-pays to offset other costs or providing a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement account (HRA) are options to consider. But it’s also important to pay attention to the level of benefits that other employers are providing. Conducting an annual benefits analysis can help determine where employer benefits could be modified without compromising competitiveness.

5. Negotiation of options

Taking responsibility for your health care costs and seeking additional bids from other carriers is a necessity. Inquire about other options from your broker that reduce costs and provide greater wellness resources to help employees better manage their health. Your broker may not freely offer this information, so take initiative and ask.

6. Implementation of restrictions or penalties

Increasingly, organizations are implementing more restrictions in their health insurance plans such as spousal carve-out provisions and higher premiums for smokers. Shifting additional costs or penalties to unhealthy workers, although not widespread, is becoming more popular and may help reduce or manage health care costs.

7. Offering of incentives

Incentive use for wellness program participation is expanding. A chief reason that wellness programs may not reduce your organization’s health care costs is lack of participation. Studies continue to show, however, that employees are more likely to participate in programs when meaningful incentives are offered, such as discounts on health insurance premiums.

8. Health risk assessments

Usage of these assessments is becoming very common as they can be valuable data-gathering tools for both organizations and employees. Employees can attain greater insight into health risk areas and organizations can receive an aggregate report of areas where employees need wellness assistance. Wellness programs can then be targeted to those needs. 

9. Free prevention services

Services like flu shots, health screenings, cholesterol and blood pressure checks, vaccinations, and other yearly screenings are increasingly offered in the workplace.  By providing free wellness services on-site, you can decrease usage thereby managing costs better. Also, educate employees to take advantage of the new provision of health care reform which provides free annual preventative services.

10. Wellness initiatives tied to health insurance costs

Wellness initiatives are obviously one of the best ways to reduce health care costs and the majority of employers either have one in place or are planning on initiating one. When planning wellness initiatives, be sure to not only emphasize how your organization is supporting employees’ well-being, but also how these programs are intended to assist employees in better managing and maintaining their health care costs. Employees need to see the connection.

11. Promotion of healthy habits

Recently, we’ve found that more organizations are promoting healthy habits to deal with increasing health care costs through internal nutritional standards, on-site fitness activities, and educational efforts like seminars, paper materials, and online information. Create the “norm” of healthy behavior in your workplace to manage health care costs.

12. Make it a team effort

Involving employees in solving health insurance problems can be effective. Encourage them to get involved in suggesting or implementing wellness activities and to provide their feedback on health insurance options. Collaborating and creating a conversation with your staff can help generate greater buy-in about health care decisions and limit negative perceptions of change.

Navigating health care reform and its effects won’t be easy, but we’re seeing many employers taking a proactive approach and implementing a variety of initiatives to cope, educate, and manage the law’s changes and effects on their businesses. 

Additional Resources

ERC Health
Visit www.erchealth.com to learn about our health insurance offerings for small and mid-sized businesses.

HR Help Desk
For more information and guidance pertaining to any of the content in this article, please contact hrhelp@yourerc.com.

Employees Sharing More of Health Insurance Costs

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

According to ERC’s 2011/2012 Policies & Benefits Survey, the average health insurance deductible paid by employees (as reported by Northeast Ohio employers) increased significantly from 2009. Employees' co-pay amounts and contributions to health insurance premiums also showed slight increases from 2009.

The results of the survey, which provided detailed information on a variety of health plans and health insurance practices, appeared to suggest that organizations continued to increase cost-sharing with employees to cope with rises in costs.

Specifically, the survey provided detailed information about eligibility for coverage, medical plan options, and detailed practices for HMO, PPO/POS, Indemnity, and High Deductible Plans including percent of medical premium paid; average amounts of co-pays, lifetime maximums, and annual deductibles; and in-network and out-of-network amounts. It also covered information about Health Savings Accounts in terms of average annual contributions, services covered, and out-of-pocket expense limitations, as well as Health Reimbursement Accounts, Prescription Drug Plans, and much more.

 

Health Insurance Premiums Rise for Northeast Ohio Employers

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

A 2010 survey released by ERC reports that on average, Northeast Ohio employers’ health insurance premiums rose 15.2% in 2010.  In terms of industry differences, local non-profit organizations saw the lowest average percent increase in health insurance premium, while manufacturing organizations reported the highest average percent increase.

The survey also shows that the average percent of health insurance premium that employers plan to contribute in 2011 is 75%, and the average percent of health insurance premium that employees will be required to contribute in 2011 is 26%. Several employers have raised co-pay amounts (19%), annual deductibles (31%), and employee contributions (32%) to cope with rising costs, but many respondents (43%) have also not increased these.

Average percent of employer and employee contributions to health insurance premiums and average percent increase in premium

To download the results of ERC’s Health Care & Wellness Practices Survey, which summarizes trends in health care and wellness practices among 90 local Northeast Ohio employers, please click here.

Creating a Wellness Initiative: 5 Steps

Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share this Page

Wellness programs and initiatives are often on many employers’ agendas. With wellness’ increasing popularity in the workplace and ability to successfully contain health insurance costs, we’ve summarized five important steps to creating an effective wellness program or initiative.

1. Obtain Management Buy-In

One of the most important, but perhaps challenging elements of building an effective wellness program is obtaining management buy-in.  Generally, obtaining management buy-in can be accomplished by making a business case for implementing the program (i.e. has it been effective in other organizations, what research supports the use of such programs, what are the expected gains/losses and budget, etc) and by showing positive results of the program, particularly on the bottom line and in reducing high costs such as health insurance or absenteeism. Your organization may consider running a pilot and measuring the results. Here are a few common metrics you may consider using to evaluate a pilot program or actual wellness program’s effectiveness:

  • Key performance indicators or program objectives or goals (such as reduced risk factors)
  • Health care claims costs
  • Health insurance usage
  • Employee participation or usage
  • Number of days absent as a result of illness or health conditions
  • Employee engagement or satisfaction
  • Number of policy or workplace changes
  • Return on investment (ROI)

2. Target the Right Needs

Wellness programs should be aligned with the right needs of your workforce.  There are three ways you can determine employees’ wellness needs. Health risk assessments, which are commonly conducted by employers, usually provide an aggregate and summary report for employers to determine what their staff’s health needs are and what preventable health risks are evident. Another way you can determine the wellness needs of your employees is by using an anonymous survey that measures employees’ perceived need for certain types of wellness activities or health-related interventions, or via other feedback methods such as interviews or focus groups. A final way your organization can determine the wellness needs of your employees is from observation of work behaviors such as:

  • Do employees appear to have generally healthy lifestyles?
  • Do employees tend to eat nutritiously?
  • Do employees make time to exercise or engage in fitness activities?
  • Are employees frequently ill or absent due to health-related issues?
  • Do employees have chronic diseases or conditions?
  • Do employees tend to smoke?
  • Do employees understand how to be healthy or are they lacking knowledge and education on wellness?
  • Do employees have issues with stress management?

Data provided in these assessments, modes of feedback, and/or observation can yield information that helps your organization develop a wellness program that meets the health risk areas and needs of your workforce and select the appropriate activities that target those needs. Additionally, gathering data related to the barriers to becoming healthier that employees perceive can be helpful as well in designing programs or initiative.

3. Choose Impactful Activities

Once your organization has determined the needs of its workforce, the next step is to choose activities aligned with those needs – as well as your budget for the program. It’s important to note that the issue(s) you select to target should be capable of being changed. Typically employers choose to focus on these areas, and implement both education and formal activities to help address needs:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness/physical activity
  • Stress management
  • Disease management or prevention
  • Smoking cessation

Activities in these areas can be low-cost, medium-cost, or high-cost. Low-cost activities typically tend to be more “cultural” in nature, in that the organization makes accommodations to its workplace or policies to better enable healthy behaviors – such as allowing flexible schedules, posting motivational or health oriented tips in the office, allowing for breaks to pursue physical activity, offering healthy food alternatives, or implementing in-house staff-run activities (versus those involving an outside consultant, trainer, or vendor) such as walking or running programs. Activities with moderate costs may include providing educational seminars, coordinating activity clubs, providing subsidized discounts on fitness club memberships or classes, or using community facilities. Higher cost activities tend to provide maximal access opportunities and are higher-impact, such as offering massages, having an on-site fitness center or fitness classes, offering health screenings and vaccinations, providing opportunities for coaching with a wellness expert, and offering incentives.

If your organization does not have the internal staff expertise required to implement a wellness program, it will likely need quality vendors. When selecting vendors, consider the product or service quality and delivery, professionals’ training/education/experience, and the product or service value for the cost incurred.

4. Generate Employee Motivation and Participation

Another crucial component of an effective wellness program is significant employee participation. After all, employees need to actually use the program in order to generate results. If health and wellness aren’t necessarily core aspects of your culture, solid participation and employee motivation may be difficult to attain. Nonetheless, many organizations provide incentives that are attractive to employees and make participation seem worthwhile. Such incentives most commonly include discounts on health insurance premiums as well as cash and gift cards. Time off to pursue wellness opportunities is also a valuable incentive.

Other ways to increase participation is to keep in mind the common barriers that prevent employees from participating in wellness programs such as time, access, cost, and complexity. Offering programs before or after work may lead to less participation than programs occurring during work time or the lunch hour. Similarly, free and simple programs are best. While some more expensive programs may require cost-sharing between an employee and the organization and can facilitate greater commitment to the initiative, it’s important for this to not be too costly that it would be a significant barrier to participation. Access is another potential obstacle to participation; however, programs offered on-site and at convenient times and locations can help reduce access issues.

5. Stay Compliant

Compliance is an on-going hurdle employers face when creating and implementing wellness programs. Wellness programs need to be compliant with laws including ADA, HIPPA, GINA, and Title VII. In addition, there are limits placed on financial awards offered to employees who meet health-related goals. The health care reform bill has impact on wellness plan design, as well.

While legal and policy issues are outside the scope of this article, additional information on these topics can be obtained through ERC’s HR Help Desk (more information below).

View ERC's Wellness Practices Survey Results

This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of organizations in Northeast Ohio on practices related to health care and wellness.

View the Results