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Provider networks, premiums drive health plan choices

BY SHRM online staff

When given a choice, most Americans with traditional health coverage say they chose that option because it offered a good network of providers, according to research findings by the not-for-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

In contrast, among those with high-deductible consumer-driven health plans, most cited the lower premiums and opportunity to save money in a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

While close to half of all private-sector workers who have health insurance are offered a choice of health plans, most of those with a choice work for large firms, according to the report, Health Plan Choice: Findings from the 2011 EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey, published in the July 2012 issue of EBRI Notes.

“Most Americans get their health insurance coverage from employment-based plans, yet most employers do not offer a choice of health plans,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the report. “Health plan choices are likely to expand via the expansion of insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so it’s important to know how people make their decisions when they do have a choice.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• Half of consumer-driven health plan enrollees reported that they chose that offering because of the lower premium, while 45% reported that the opportunity to save money in the account for future years was a primary reason.

• Among individuals with traditional health coverage, 39% cited the good network of providers and 32% reported the low out-of-pocket costs as the main reasons for enrolling in the plan.

There was no difference in satisfaction with ease of getting an appointment with a doctor or choice of doctors between those enrolled in a consumer-directed health plan and traditional plan enrollees. However, enrollees in a high-deductible health plan without a spending account were less likely than traditional plan enrollees to be extremely or very satisfied in these areas.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

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Craig’s list: hot sellers at Home Depot

BY Ken Clark

Home Depot’s top merchant spelled out the category gainers during the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

The Atlanta-based home improvement giant yesterday posted strong earnings for the quarter. Executive VP merchandising Craig Menear pointed to three main drivers: “First the core of the store delivered in-line with expectations. Second, record setting warm weather in February and March pulled forward activity that otherwise would have occurred in the second quarter. And, third, we lapped the impact of significant roofing repairs made in the same period a year ago.”

On Menear’s list of departments that outperformed the company’s average comp were decor, lumber, kitchens, paint, electrical, tools, bath, flooring and plumbing.

Double-digit positive compass came from spray paint, laminate flooring and area rugs, he said. “Customers continue to spend on simple decor updates for their home.” 

Not everything sold well. The company’s garden business was slightly negative, he said, hurt by drought-like conditions in parts of the country. Also down were comp sales in building materials, “due to tough year-over-year comparisons in roofing,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Menear pointed to product upgrades in the works for Home Depot’s Husky brand, including new Husky tool storage solutions. Home Depot is also looking ahead to becoming the exclusive home improvement launch partner for the new Delta brand toilets.

The company will reveal 16 new SKUs of Foundations-branded Delta faucets, “a brand that resonates with our pro customer,” said Menear.

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With sales uptick, RILA sees return to stores in general

BY Ken Clark

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) weighed in the Commerce Department’s monthly sales figures, which showed a return to positive numbers.

Monthly retail sales figures for July totaled $403.9 billion, an increase of 0.8% over the previous month, and 4.1% over July 2011.

“Following three months of disappointing sales, skittish consumers returned to stores in July,” said RILA president Sandy Kennedy. “Retailers adjustments to product assortments and pricing are paying off as budget-conscious consumers opened their wallets again last month.”

Remarkably, all retail segments reported gains in July. General merchandisers saw a 0.7% increase over June, while sporting goods and furniture retailers reported growth of 1.6% and 1.1% respectively.

Last week, RILA urged President Obama and Governor Romney to focus on the impending fiscal cliff and to advance policies in the coming months that will promote a robust and vibrant retail industry. 

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