1st Quarter 2016 Benefits Corner


By Al Horan

Al Horan Captioned Q1 2016

I would like to start by wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year! Also, I would like to thank you for the nice comments I received regarding the previous Benefits Corner article. In this article, I would like to reflect on activities and announcements that took place during the latter part of 2015. I would also like to look ahead to what we might expect to see in 2016. Finally, I would like to apprise you of what is taking place in the area of health and reforms that are on the horizon.

Our Chevron Health Care Plans

It’s hard to believe but Open Enrollment for 2016 took place two months ago. During Open Enrollment 51,000 retirees and survivors were given the opportunity to elect Chevron Medical Plan coverage for 2016. Approximately 10% of the group actively enrolled by using the Chevron benefits website (33%) or by phoning the Chevron HR Service Center (67%). The balance of the group either passively enrolled by keeping the same coverage as 2015 or they declined coverage. Based on prior experience, about 75% of the eligible retirees and survivors elect Chevron coverage. At this time, the number of retirees and survivors who elected coverage is not available.

As we saw from the Open Enrollment material that was provided by Chevron, the changes in benefits coverage for 2016 are minimal. For Medicare eligible retirees, they will see the drug deductible increased to $360 from $320 for non-generic drugs. In addition, they will see increases in deductibles and copayments under Medicare Part A (Hospital) and Part B (Medical). The Part A deductible and copayments for hospital confinement increased to: $1,288 for the first 60 days of confinement; $322 per day for the next 30 days; and $644 per day for the next 60 days. The Part B deductible increased to $166. For further details and a comparison of deductibles and copayments for 2016 and 2015 please visit CRA’s website (www.chevronretirees.org) and follow the links under the Benefits tab.

Since it’s a new year, don’t forget to check the drug formulary to determine if your medications are still covered. The formulary for 2016 was distributed by Express Scripts in the latter portion of 2015. If you cannot find a medication, phone Express Scripts for help in locating your medication since they have an extended list of drugs. Their phone number is 800-935-6215 and they can be reached 24/7. If your medication is no longer covered, don’t panic. Ask to speak to a pharmacist. A pharmacist will be able to provide you with a comparable medication that is on the approved formulary for 2016. Once you have the name of an alternative drug you should contact your physician and discuss whether the alternative drug is suited for your medical condition. If your doctor feels that the alternative will not work as well, they will need to file an appeal with Express Scripts. The doctor should be familiar with the appeals process; but, if not, they should phone Express Scripts at 800-753-2851.

Chevron Recreation Program

In case you missed the announcements that were sent to the CRA Chapters, two changes were made to the Chevron Recreation Program. First, discounts are now available to retirees on cell phone service from Sprint. Second, the BenefitHub Program replaced the PerkSpot Program.

The Sprint Wireless (Sprint) Discount Program generally provides a 22% discount. To obtain the discount, existing Sprint customers and prospective customers will be required to validate their eligibility by presenting Sprint with either: a copy of their Benefits Confirmation of Elections Statement (shows that the retiree is participating in a Chevron medical benefits plan); or a confirmation letter of eligibility which will be issued by Jim Bateman. Jim is the CRA Administrator for the Sprint discount and he may be reached by email at jbateman@att.net or by phone at 916-467-7520.

BenefitHub is a Chevron Recreation Partner that offers a variety of regional and national discounts on everyday purchases as well as special offers that are available exclusively through Chevron. Many of the special offers require Chevron Unique Discount Codes which can be found on the BenefitHub website chevrec.benefithub.com. To get started exploring the many savings opportunities you will first need to create a BenefitHub account. However, to complete the registration process you will be required to provide a Referral Code, which is available from your CRA Chapter President or from me.

Remember, that in addition to the Sprint discount, retirees also qualify for a discount on cell phone service through Verizon Wireless. For more information about the Verizon discount please visit the Chevron Recreation website chevrec.mybigcommerce.com. I know that many of you have been patiently waiting for the AT&T cell phone discount to be extended to retirees. While we are still hopeful of being able to obtain the discount, unfortunately it does not appear to be any time soon. Anyone who cannot wait should check the AARP website www.aarp.org since they offer a discount from AT&T Wireless.

I would also like to remind you that in addition to the discounts that are offered through BenefitHub Chevron also offers other discounts through the Chevron Purchase Programs. These Programs include discounts on electronics, travel and vehicles. For more information please check out the Chevron Recreation website. While retirees qualify for most discounts that are offered to employees there are a few instances where they are exclusively reserved for employees. An example is the Microsoft Home Use Program.

2016 – Outlook

With 2016 being a Presidential election year, I believe that we’ll be seeing and hearing a fair amount about health and Health Care Reform. As we are aware Health Care Reform has been a hotly debated and discussed subject. Health care affects approximately 325 million in the U.S. The age distribution of the population is as follows:

  • Under Age 18: 75 million
  • Ages 18 to 64: 200 million
  • Age 65 and Over: 50 million

Out of the total population, it is estimated that about 50 million are without medical coverage. The balance are covered for medical care either though the Federal Government or a State Government, or they are covered privately or through an employer sponsored plan. There are roughly 55 million enrolled in Medicare, 60 million enrolled in Medicaid (excludes 10 million with dual Medicare and Medicaid coverage), 10 million enrolled through the Veterans Administration, and 150 million enrolled in medical insurance either privately or through employer sponsored plans. This means that roughly 15% are uninsured, 40% are covered through the Government and 45% are covered privately or through their employers.

As I pointed out in past articles, anyone who is covered by Medicare, including Medicaid, is insulated from large increases in the cost of medical care because of price controls that apply to Medicare/Medicaid. You may recall that the cost of medical care for everyone else has been rising exponentially because, in part, of cost shifting from Medicare/Medicaid patients to other patients. With the ever-increasing number of individuals qualifying for Medicare the problem will become even more acute. There are roughly 10 thousand “baby boomers” added to the ranks of Medicare on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s not hard to see how the current situation will deteriorate.

In the original Health Care Reform Act, the Government protected insurance carriers from major losses if they offered coverage through an insurance exchange. That protection was recently repealed. The consequence, in part, has been a reduction in the types of medical insurance coverage that was offered for 2016 through the exchanges. The greatest impact has been a reduction in the number of and type of PPO coverage that is available to non-Medicare individuals. I have seen the introduction of hybrid PPO insurance and a greater emphasis being placed on HMO’s. Carriers feel that they have a better chance of controlling costs with these products. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas now only offers HMO’s.

As we can see from the above, the brunt of the shift in cost is mainly borne by those individuals who are actively employed. There are estimated to be 113 million full time workers who are employed privately (95 million) or by government (18 million). In addition to ever increasing medical insurance premiums these workers are also faced with a real possibility of the need for increased Medicare taxes to support the burgeoning ranks of Medicare participants. It is projected that the percentage of the age 65 plus portion of the population will grow from 15% to 21% by 2030 and to 24% by 2040.

Based on what we know the problem can only get worse. While the medical community is not happy with the current arrangement with Medicare/Medicaid, they cannot afford to turn their backs on the members of these programs since they represent a large portion of the insured community. The answer to this dilemma, I feel, involves a willingness of all parties (the medical community, patients, the Government and insurance carriers) to compromise. This probably means reasonable medical fees, higher deductibles/copayments, and some controls on access to expensive medical tests and procedures. As I mentioned previously, the United States is the only major country without a universal system for accessing medical care and treatment (e.g. universal insurance in Australia).

I suspect that we’ll see a fair amount of debate on this subject in 2016. It probably will not be until 2017 or even 2018 before we see viable alternatives offered.

Tips and Helpful Information

I would like to share with you the following tips and information.

Will a ban be placed on advertising prescription drugs?
The American Medical Association recently called for a ban on advertising prescription drugs. The group feels that advertising is contributing to the escalation of drug costs. About $4.5 billion is spent annually on promoting drugs. Over the past two years advertising costs rose by 30%. The AMA believes that advertising is increasing demand for expensive treatments, even where cheaper alternatives are available. Note, only the U.S. and New Zealand allow direct consumer advertising of prescription drugs.

(Source: AMA Conference in Atlanta, Georgia)

Could I have Diabetes?
Many people do not even think about diabetes until they are diagnosed with the condition. Then it’s too late. Generally, most people have signs of diabetes for a long time before it’s discovered. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to remove sugar from the bloodstream. Excess blood sugar can damage blood vessels, affect circulation, and put the person at risk for a myriad of other ailments – heart attack, stroke, blindness, etc. Ways to avoid diabetes include: being physically active; controlling our weight, blood pressure and cholesterol; getting the proper amount of sleep; and getting tested at least annually for diabetes.

(Source: Dallas Morning News)

When should I take my hypertension medication?
Taking hypertension medication at night instead of the morning could control blood pressure more effectively and reduce the risk of diabetes. Based on a research study of 2,012 men and women with high blood pressure, it was found that individuals who took their medication at night had a 57% lower risk of diabetes. Also, there was a relative reduction in nighttime blood pressure. Before changing your medication regimen you should consult your physician.

(Source: New York Times)

Do I need a calcium supplement?
In trials of 13,790 men and women over age 50, the data showed that taking calcium supplements only increased bone density by 1% to 2%. The overall effect had little impact on fractures. Dr. Mark J. Bolland, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, concluded that “…if you have a normal diet, you don’t need to worry about your calcium intake.” Before making any changes in your regimen, you should consult your physician.

(Source: New York Times)

Atypical Medical Treatment

Long before medical care became available to everyone it was customary for many people to use home remedies to treat various conditions. Even today, some people choose to follow secondary methods of treatment. Examples are the use of “Essential Oils” and “Aromatherapy”.

I would like to share with you the following material, which is the result of research undertaken by Mark Engelbrecht. Mark is a Member of the CRA Benefits Committee.

“Essential Oils” and “Aromatherapy”
Science has recently confirmed that there may be health benefits from aromatic liquids and compounds that people have been using for several thousand years. Specifically, some people believe that the use of essential oils can enhance physical and mental health.

Essential oils are created by steam distillation of various plant matter, such as seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, fruits, etc. In this process, steam is passed through the plant matter, which causes the oils inside the plant to boil. Through evaporation, the oils collect on the exterior of the plant matter. Finally, the oils condense and are collected in a vessel. The end product is an oil, which is natural, multi-purposed, and convenient. 

Essential oils are typically used topically, aromatically or internally. In topical applications an oil is applied to specific area of the body. With aromatherapy, an oil is diffused into the air or it is inhaled from a container, like a bottle. With the internal use of oils, an oil is ingested. 

The quality of essential oils that are produced by manufacturers can vary. Some qualitative aspects of oil include whether it is certified organic, if it is pure, and if it is approved by the FDA for human consumption. Additionally, the quality of oil can vary by the distillation process and the skill of the distiller.  

There are many publications that cover the uses of and benefits of essential oils, including a range of illnesses and conditions that can be treated with essential oils. Some people have taken to using essential oils as natural alternatives to chemically based products. Anyone who considers using essential oils should first consult their physician. Like medications, there can be adverse effects including the interaction of essential oils and medications. In the U.S. essential oils can be found in specialty stores as well as some food stores, like Whole Foods. However, in some countries, like France, essential oils can only be purchased at a pharmacy. 

Some of the more popular oils are: lavender, peppermint, lemon, clary sage, juniper, frankincense, and tea tree.  Essential oils can also be a blend of oils that are purported to treat a specific medical issue, like arthritis. Other uses include:    

  • Skin conditions: Lavender or frankincense
  • Indigestion/heartburn: Peppermint or ginger
  • Muscle cramps: Lemongrass with peppermint, frankincense, lemon or cloves
  • Sore throat: Tea tree, oregano or eucalyptus

Some individuals could be allergic to essential oils. Also, anyone who considers using any of these oils should first consult their physician.

A Final Thought

A few years ago I was introduced to NOMOROBO that is a free service that intercepts annoying phone calls that are computer generated and deliver a pre-recorded message. Yet, it lets through legitimate calls from doctors reminding patients of appointments. The only downside, it doesn’t intercept most calls until after one ring. Also, it only works with landlines and it doesn’t work with all carriers. In my case, I have a landline with Verizon. To find out more about this free service you should visit their website www.nomorobo.com.

If you have questions my contact information can be found below.

Al Horan, Benefits Chair:
Phone: 972-964-1787
Email: awhoran@verizon.net