In pushing for healthier employees, Florida Power & Light’s parent company is charging well ahead of the pack, offering up to $1,640 a year to some employees for good behavior while punishing others by threatening to take away up to $30 out of each biweekly paycheck.
As South Florida employers prepare to stage open enrollments for 2013 health insurance, the offering of carrots for healthy actions keeps ramping up, but Next Era Energy, owner of Florida Power & Light, is leading the way among the region’s large employers with threatening with a stick as well.
Some companies are making only minor tweaks, but at least one large employer is struggling to deal with skyrocketing catastrophic claims. Meanwhile, some experts say the truly major changes are a year away, in 2014 — a time when many employees might find themselves in a virtual shopping mall, choosing health insurance with company provided credits.
As always, costs keep rising. The Aon Hewitt consulting company projects healthcare costs for large employers in South Florida will increase 6.4 percent in 2013, to $9,788. Workers should expect a 9 percent increase — spending about $5,000 out of their own pockets for their share of premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
Another consulting company, Mercer, reports that most of its large-company clients are passing only minor cost increases to their employees.
“It’s been a great year for employees,” said Matthew Snook of Mercer’s Tampa office. Most Mercer clients are making “very, very calm rates of increase” to employees, generally 3 percent to 5 percent. Employers “are being kind of gentle.”
That’s what’s happening at the University of Miami. Spokeswoman Margot Winick reported: “Our health plan costs have risen slightly but the percentage is still far below national and local trend rates.” For 2013, most faculty and staff will see a monthly increase of $1 to $5 in their premium costs, but no changes in deductibles or co-pays.
Bigger changes — and potential awards — are ahead for workers at Next Era Energy and its subsidiaries.
For the past six years, Next Era has been ramping up awards for employees who fill out health assessments on the web, said Melissa Miller, Next Era’s benefits director.
These self-estimates can trigger automatic responses, suggesting programs available for certain risk factors, such as overweight diabetics. That might be followed up by a call from a professional recommending lifestyle changes.
“We have 12 dedicated nurses and coaches to help them improve their health,” Miller said.
While completing the assessments has previously been rewarded with bonuses, FPL this fall sent a letter to union employees stating that, starting Jan. 1, $15 per employee or $30 per couple will be deducted from biweekly paychecks if less than 80 percent of union workers and covered spouses don’t fill out the assessment.
Other incentives are available at Next Era. Nonunion employees and covered spouses who undergo a simple physical exam can get $100 each for meeting benchmarks for blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. That adds up to a potential $600 a year that can be placed in a health reimbursement account, to pay for deductibles and other healthcare needs, Miller said.
The use of weight is particularly interesting. Healthcare experts have long known that obese employees cost companies more, but many consultants have warned against penalizing fat employees because workers could claim their weight is due to a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, or genetics, opening the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit.