Tag Archives: save money

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Save money with smart open enrollment changes

Employers will soon be offering workers their yearly opportunity to make changes to their health care benefits. All too often this open-enrollment period has required combing through pages and pages of confusing insurance terms, according to an Associated Press report.

But this year workers will receive help translating that jargon thanks to a new requirement that insurers provide a user-friendly coverage summary of all health plans. Combined with innovative wellness plans that reward employees for staying health, experts say millions of workers should be able to make smarter benefit decision and save money in the process.

“There’s a $5 or $10 bill just sitting there,” says Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer with WageWorks. “They have to do a little bit of homework, but that $5 or $10 is theirs for the taking.”

More than 55 percent of insured workers estimate they waste up to $750 each year because of mistakes during open enrollment, according to a recent survey by insurance provider Aflac. Those wasted dollars are more crucial than ever. Even three years after the recession ended, 62 percent of middle class Americans tell the Pew Research Center they have been forced to cut back on spending in the past year.

Here are ways to make sure you’re getting every dollar’s worth from your health benefits:

MAKE TIME

“I think people spend less than an hour on (open enrollment) — not because they don’t want to — but because they feel it’s overwhelming and complicated,” says Rebecca Madsen, a senior vice president with UnitedHealth Group. Open enrollment generally starts in October or November for plans that begin Jan. 1.

Many insurers are trying to present benefit information in interesting, more user-friendly ways. UnitedHealth runs the website www.healthcarelane.com , which lets visitors explore a virtual town, where each person they encounter offers information and advice about a different health plan offering. The Department of Health and Human Services offers a more straightforward website designed to demystify health care topics: www.healthcare.gov .

This year’s open enrollment should be easier to navigate even for those who get their information from paper and ink sources. Starting this month insurers are required to provide standardized 8-page summaries that explain key terms and cost details of their plans. The rule was passed as part of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul and is intended to make it easier to compare policies and the costs and benefits of various plans.

STAY FIT, SAVE MONEY

Most large employers now offer wellness programs designed to keep employees healthy and, ultimately, cut medical expenses. These programs often come with financial perks to increase participation. More than 81 percent of businesses with 50 or more employees offer at least one wellness benefit, such as gym memberships, quit-smoking programs and stress management classes, according to the Wellness Council of America, an insurance industry group.

These companies are trying to curb health insurance costs that have climbed more than 25 percent over the last five years, outpacing inflation.

For several years now, many companies have offered cash or gift certificates to encourage employees to participate in their programs. Some still do, but low participation rates have prompted an increasing number to offer insurance cost breaks instead.

For instance, employees enrolled in UnitedHealth’s personal rewards program can cut their premiums by $1,000 per year for meeting basic health benchmarks for cholesterol, blood pressure and other measures.

“The two-pronged trend here is that there is more money on the table, but at the same time you have to do more to get it,” says Ian Duncan, actuary and professor of Actuarial Statistics at University of California, Santa Barbara.

In some cases employees must provide evidence they are filling important prescriptions, or attending exercise classes before they can claim the financial reward.

Meanwhile, other employers are trying an opposite strategy by assessing penalties on those who have health risk factors. Eleven percent of large employers require employees with unhealthy habits like smoking to complete classes to avoid higher premiums, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Experts say such carrot and stick approaches will likely increase in the years ahead. Under President Obama’s health care overhaul, employers can increase the value of such penalties to as much as 30 percent of workers’ total premiums.

TAKE A HEALTH CARE TAX BREAK

Employers continue to give workers a chance to save money by setting aside pre-tax money for medical expenses. These flexible spending accounts can help employees save 20 to 40 percent on medical expenses not covered by insurance, such as braces, glasses and contact lenses.

Employees should estimate their out-of-pocket health care expenses and have that amount withdrawn from their paychecks over the course of the year. The money contributed to an FSA is not subject to payroll tax, which effectively lowers participants’ taxable income, but with the condition that they must spend the money before the end of the year. Money left in the account on Dec. 31 is forfeited.

Wageworks estimates about 75 percent of U.S. employees have access to a flexible savings account, though just 20 to 25 percent participate, mainly because of concerns about the “use it or lose it” rule.

The health overhaul makes one major change to flexible spending accounts beginning in 2013: Health care flexible spending accounts will be capped at $2,500, which could limit tax savings for people with large families or expensive medical conditions. The government previously didn’t limit how much workers could set aside, but most companies capped contributions at around $5,000.

kitchell hospital construction, AZRE Magazine May/June 2012

Technology Revolutionizes Hospital Construction

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” — R. Buckminster Fuller 

With apologies to the sage Buckminster Fuller, the technology that is being developed for hospital construction is being done so for all the right reasons: to enhance quality, increase speed, decrease waste, save money and boost safety.

On the current, and extensive, renovation of Chandler Regional Medical Center, which features 180,000 SF of new construction anchored by a 5-story tower, Kitchell is harnessing the latest technologies, and refining new ones, that will continue to evolve as hospital construction unfolds until the opening in spring 2014. The project began with evidence-based design of the re-envisioned hospital featuring a triangle- shaped bed tower and a complete reorientation of the entrance.

Some of the challenges facing the hospital construction team include reorienting the main entrance, extensive infrastructure work, upgrading the central plant, doubling the emergency room and an intricate kitchen renovation — all while patients continue to receive uninterrupted care with no risk of infection. Fortunately, Kitchell has teamed with other professionals eager to utilize the latest technology to streamline the building process while enhancing quality and preserving safety. And it certainly helps that the entire hospital construction team is committed to tearing down the traditional “wall” between the design and construction sides, which is a win-win-win (owner, designer, construction firm — not to mention the building’s inhabitants) for all.

An integrated hospital construction team was established from the start that includes owners, architects, engineers, facility users, subcontractors and suppliers. Here are some tactics the team is deploying to achieve success:

  • Virtual model created three years out
    From the beginning, Kitchell, architect Orcutt | Winslow, Van Borem and Frank, Paragon and LEA Engineers designed and coordinated the project utilizing the most up-to-date BIM software. Integrating Archicad and REVIT into a federated model of the building (include an accompanying image) yielded a virtually constructed facility three-plus years in advance of the tower receiving its first patient.
  • Continuous collaboration courtesy of the Human Factor
    At the job site, a free-flowing workspace complete with design studios and interactive spaces facilitates innovation and consolidates the creation of intellectual property and management of construction. All of the hospital construction project’s principal players are empowered to make decisions and to commit resources on the spot, all in the same room, to keep momentum moving forward. Work studios are defined by activities to be tackled, not disciplines. This co-location “no silos” approach breaks down traditional barriers between engineers, designers and construction personnel while stimulating dialogue and innovation.
  • Lean and streamlined
    Each step of the building process is analyzed to promote continuous and reliable workflow throughout and identify ways to avert possible clogs in the project stream. As the project moves from design to construction, Kitchell is using the earlier planning and knowledge of technology to make the construction process as lean as possible. Pull planning, bringing subcontractors into the scheduling process, has been critical.Early BIM planning is setting the stage for prefabrication of interior corridors, systems and bathrooms. This is not your grandfather’s prefabrication — this is highly sophisticated off -site, controlled building of highly complex and technical components which, once built, are literally “plug and play.” The philosophy behind this strategy is to maintain quality and increase speed of construction while decreasing waste.
  • Full-scale (foam or wood) mock-ups
    Kitchell will construct a full-scale mock-up of the prefabrication areas to demonstrate not only what the finished rooms will look like but also what it will feel like to physically experience the spaces. Even the smallest details were designed in REVIT to enhance the authenticity of the final mock-up.
  • In the field
    Vela Systems enables real time data to be gathered and tasks assigned and transmitted right from where the work is happening via Kitchell’s mobile application on iPads. There is no distinction between in-the-office and in-the-field. RFIs, submittals, project specifications, drawings, etc. are available to everyone — including owners and subcontractors — for immediate, actionable information. Being able to identify and communicate potential issues saves time- and labor-intensive, costly rework caused by incomplete or old information.
  • BIM kiosks — 24/7 access to information without a computer
    Once the construction of the new patient tower is in full swing, several BIM kiosks will be activated so subcontractors will be able to pull up documents and the latest coordinated models throughout the hospital construction. These are all housed in a digital archive.

Decades ago, even just a few years ago, the type of technologies deployed to make design and hospital construction a seamless, flawless process were virtually unheard of. But without these advancements, the world of commercial design and construction would involve much more guesswork and risk. In today’s building world, the right technologies are being deployed for the right reasons.

For more information on Kitchell and their hospital construction projects, visit Kitchell’s website at kitchell.com.

AZRE Magazine May/June 2012

save on summer utility bill

How To Save On Your Summer Utility Bill

When Darcy Small’s 4-year-old twin daughters go off to college, they’ll have a stash of cash that came directly from savings on their family’s annual utility bill. The Small family moved from Oregon to Arizona a year ago and went from not using an air conditioner to having a summer utility bill that topped out at $600 a month. Small learned of SRP’s Time-of-Day Price Plans and out of necessity signed up for SRP EZ-3™.

“We were probably just like typical customers, running our air conditioner all day to keep it comfortable,” Small explained. “We then got an insert in our SRP bill about price plans, and our perception was, ‘I don’t want to be hot for three hours during the day.’ But then we gave it a try for one month, and we were sold.”

With high summer temperatures approaching, SRP is once again offering customers a guaranteed way to save money. The two Time-of-Day plans are designed to accommodate a variety of lifestyles and are popular with customers who can be flexible with energy usage. The more flexibility customers have, the more they can save.

“It’s actually quite easy once you figure out exactly how to do it,” Small added. “During the hotter months, our thermostat is set at 72 degrees during the day, which is most comfortable for us. At 1:30 p.m., the thermostat is set to go down to 62 degrees, and then at 3 p.m., it turns off. From 3 to 6 p.m., the air conditioner doesn’t run. So by 6 p.m., it’s usually 79 degrees, which is starting to get a bit warm, but then it kicks back down to 72 degrees.”

SRP Time-of-Day plans offer lower prices during off-peak hours to encourage customers to use less energy during on-peak hours, when the cost to produce electricity is highest. From now through Oct. 31, 2012, residential customers who switch to either EZ-3 or SRP Time-of-Use™ are guaranteed to save by shifting energy usage to the lower-priced off-peak hours.

If a customer’s first three bills exceed what would have been paid on the residential Basic Price Plan, the customer can call SRP within 30 days of the third utility bill to be credited the difference and returned to the Basic plan at no charge. To learn more, go to savewithsrp.com/prices or call (602) 236-8888.

SRP also offers a Time-of-Use Plan for Business customers. For more information, call the Business Contact Center at (602) 236-9632 or log on to savewithsrpbiz.com/prices.

“It’s the easiest money you will ever save,” Small boasted. “Give it a try for one month, and I can almost guarantee you won’t go back to the regular plan. The extra money goes straight into our children’s college accounts … that’s about $500 every year. So over 18 years, it’s a pretty decent college fund.”

For more information on how to save on your utility bill, visit SRP’s website at srpnet.com.