What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?

Did you know you could save for retirement by spending money? Health savings accounts (HSAs) are a new way for employees to save for retirement and pay for healthcare expenses. Read on to learn more about HSAs and how they can help you save for retirement.


The old adage, “You need to spend money to make money,” is applicable to many areas of life and business, but when it comes to retirement, not so much. Particularly for people who are enrolled in retirement accounts, like the 401(k) or IRA.

After all, the more you’re able to fund these accounts on a yearly basis, the sooner you’ll be able to accrue enough money to retire to that beach condo or cabin in the backcountry.  But in recent years, a newcomer has entered the retirement planning picture offering a novel new way to save money: By spending it.

The health savings account (HSA) has the potential to influence the spending/saving conundrum many young professionals face: Do I spend my HSA money on qualifying health care expenses (which can save me up to 40 percent on the dollar) or do I pay out of pocket for the same expenses and watch my HSA balance grow?

What many people don’t realize is that yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible. So if account holders aren’t factoring in doctor co-payments, prescription drugs and the thousands of over-the-counter health products that tax-advantaged HSA funds can cover, they may be missing an opportunity to save in taxes each year.

By maximizing their contributions and paying with HSA funds as opposed to out-of-pocket, HSA users can cover products they were going to purchase anyway with tax-free funds, while using whatever is rolled over to save for retirement.

Spending more to save more. Who knew?

Here’s some food for thought that savvy employersshould consider sharing with employees of all ages.

Facts about health savings accounts (HSAs)

HSAs were created in 2003, but unlike flexible spending accounts (FSAs) that work on a year-to-year basis, HSAs have no deadlines and funds roll over annually. HSAs also feature a “triple tax benefit,” in that HSA contributions reduce your taxable income, interest earned on the HSA balance accrues tax free, and withdrawals for qualifying health expenses are not taxed.

Account holders can set aside up to $3,500 (2019 individual health plan enrollment limit) annually and $7,000 if participating in the health plan as two-person or family, and these funds can cover a huge range of qualifying medical products and services.

HSAs can only be funded if the account holder is enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP). If the account holder loses coverage, he/she can still use the money in the HSA to cover qualifying health care expenses, but will be unable to deposit more funds until HDHP coverage resumes. The IRS defines an HSA-qualified HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family (in 2019 – limits are adjusted each year).

Despite their relatively short lifespan, HSAs are among the fastest growing tax-advantaged accounts in the United States today. In 2017, HSAs hit 22 million accounts for the first time, but a massive growth in HSA investment assets is the real story. HSA investment assets grew to an estimated $8.3 billion at the end of December, up 53 percent year-over-year (2017 Year-End Devenir HSA Research Report).

However, while HSAs offer immediate tax benefits, they also have a key differentiator: the ability to save for retirement. HSA funds roll over from year to year, giving account holders the option to pay for expenses out of pocket while they are employed and save their HSA for retirement.

If account holders use their HSA funds for non-qualified expenses, they will face a 20% tax penalty. However, once they are Medicare-eligible at age 65, that tax penalty disappears and HSA funds can be withdrawn for any expense and  will only be taxed as income. Additionally, once employees  turn 55, they  can contribute an extra $1,000 per year to their HSAs, a “catch-up contribution,” to bolster their HSA nest eggs before retirement. When all is said and done, diligently funding an HSA can provide a major boost to employees’ financial bottom lines in retirement.

What’s the best HSA strategy by income level?

HSAs have immediate tax-saving benefits and long-term retirement potential, but they require different savings strategies based on your income level.

Ideally, if you have the financial means to do so, putting aside the HSA maximum each year may allow you to cover health expenses as they come up and continue saving for retirement down the road. But even if you’re depositing far below the yearly contribution limit, your HSA can provide a boost to your financial wellness now and in the future.

I’ve seen this firsthand. Before we launched our e-commerce store for all HSA-eligible medical products, we extensively researched the profiles of the primary HSA user groups through partnerships with HSA plan providers.

We then created “personas” that provide insights on how to communicate with different audiences about HSA management at varying points in the account holder’s life cycle, and these same lessons can be just as vital to employers.

The following contribution strategies are based on these personas and offer insights that could help employees get their HSA nest egg off and growing. These suggestions offer a means of getting started.

As employees receive pay raises and promotions, they may be able to increase their HSA contributions over time, but this can be a way to get their health care savings off the ground and then adjust to life with an HSA.

Disclaimer: These personas are for illustrative purposes only and in all cases you may want to speak with a tax or financial advisor. Information provided should not be considered tax or legal advice.

1. Employee Type: Millennials/Gen-Z with an income between $35-75k/year

For the vast majority of young professionals starting out, health care is not at the top of their budget priorities. However, high-deductible health plans have low monthly premiums, and by contributing to an HSA, an account holder can cover these expenses until the deductible is exhausted. For this group of employees, starting off small and gradually increasing contributions as income increases is a sound financial solution.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

2. Employee Type: Full-Time HDHP Users Enrolled with an income between $35-60k/year

With many companies switching to all HDHP health plan options, a large contingent of workers find themselves using HDHPs for the first time. For this group, it’s all about finding the right balance between tax savings and the ability to cover necessary health expenses. Setting aside money in an HSA will allow workers to reduce how much they pay in taxes yearly by reducing their taxable income, while being able to pay down their deductible with HSA funds at the same time.

Potential Contribution Range: $1,000-$1,500

3. Employee Type: Staff with Families with an income between $75-100k/year

Low premiums from an HDHP plan are attractive for these employees, but parents will have far more health expenses to cover and more opportunities to utilize tax-free funds to cover health and wellness products. With more opportunities to spend down their deductible with qualifying health expenses and the resulting tax savings, parents should strive to put the family maximum contribution ($7000 for 2019) into their HSAs.

Potential Contribution Range:$4,000-$6,900

4. Employee Type: Pre-Retirement Staff with an income between $100-200k/year

Employees who are in their peak earning years have the greatest opportunity to put away thousands in tax-free funds through an HSA. So whenever possible, they should be encouraged to contribute the largest possible allocation to their HSA on a yearly basis. Additionally, employees age 55 and over can contribute an extra $1,000 to their HSA annually until they reach Medicare age at 65 to fast-track their HSA earnings.

Potential Contribution Range: HSA Maximum ($3,500 individual, $7,000 families for 2019)

What else should employers know about HSAs?

Employers can help employees get the most out of HSAs. Here are some tips:

  • Employers should consider contributing to their employees’ accounts on an annual basis. Employer contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible, and this has the added bonus for employees of making it easier to max out their contributions annually.
  • Remember: Employer and employee contributions cannot exceed the yearly HSA contribution limits ($3,500 individual, $7,000 family for 2019), so make this information clear to employees during open enrollment.
  • If employees are still on the fence about HSAs, remind them that deductible expenses can be paid for with HSA funds, and yearly HSA contributions are tax-deductible for employees as well.

SOURCE:
Miller, J (2 July 2018) "What's the best combination of spending/saving with an HSA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/08/whats-the-best-combination-of-spendingsaving-with/


Who are Benefits for, Anyway?

Why do employees turn down benefits offered to them by their employers? Continue reading to find out why and how employers can educate them about the benefits that are offered.


With many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, U.S. employees have a significant need for financial protection products to secure their income and guard against unplanned medical expenses. However, employees frequently decline these benefits when they are offered at the workplace. Only two-thirds of employees purchase life insurance coverage at work when given the option, while roughly half enroll in disability coverage and less than one-third select critical illness insurance coverage. Why do so many employees choose not to enroll in benefits?

Is this right for me?

Some employees may opt out of nonmedical benefits because they do not believe these offerings are intended for people like them. In a recent report, “Don’t Look Down: Employees’ Understanding of Benefits and Risk,” LIMRA asked employees whether they thought life, disability, and critical illness products were “right for someone like me.”

While a majority of employees feels that life insurance coverage is appropriate for someone like them, they are on the fence about other coverages. Fewer than half believe they need disability insurance and only 36 percent feel they need a critical illness policy.

It is also noteworthy that a large portion of employees respond neutrally or only slightly agree or disagree with these sentiments, which suggests a lot of uncertainty. Given employees’ poor understanding of these benefits, many simply do not know if the coverage is intended for them.

Role of behavioral economics

Behavioral economics reveals that human behavior is highly influenced by social norms, particularly among groups that people perceive to be similar to themselves. In light of this, LIMRA asked employees if they think most people like them own certain insurance products. Their responses indicate that employees feel very little social pressure to enroll in these benefits.

Only 22 percent of employees think most people like them are covered by critical illness insurance, while 47 percent disagree. Similarly, 38 percent disagree that most people like them have disability coverage (versus only 34 percent who agree). Life insurance is the only product where a majority of employees (60 percent) think most others like them have the coverage.

Employees who believe others like them purchase benefits will tend to be influenced by this peer behavior. This could lead them to take a closer look at the information provided about these benefits and possibly enroll.

However, for the larger group of employees who think others like them do not have coverage, social pressure will discourage them from enrolling. These employees will perceive not having coverage to be the “norm” and assume it is safe to opt out, without giving these benefits proper consideration.

Who should purchase benefits?

If employees do not think insurance benefits are right for them, who do they believe these products are intended for?

Of employees who are offered disability insurance at work, only 38 percent recognize that anyone with a job who relies on their income should purchase this coverage. Troublingly, more than 1 in 5 think disability insurance is only for people with specific risk factors, such as having a physical or dangerous job, a family history of cancer, or a current disability.

Similarly, less than half of employees recognize that critical illness insurance is right for anyone. One in five think this coverage is only for people with a family history of cancer or other serious illness, while 15 percent believe the coverage is for people who have personally been diagnosed with a serious health condition.

Employees have a better understanding of life insurance. Eighty percent of employees recognize that life insurance is appropriate for anyone who wants to leave money to their spouse or dependents upon their death. However, some employees still express uncertainly about this or believe life insurance is only for high-risk individuals.

Confusion about who should purchase insurance benefits is contributing to low employee participation in these offerings. To counteract this trend, educating employees to understand how these products apply to their own lives is crucial. By clearly explaining what the products do and providing examples of how anyone could use them, benefit providers can help employees see the relevance of these offerings and help them make more informed financial decisions.

SOURCE:
Laundry, K (12 July 2018). "Who are benefits for, anyway?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/12/who-are-benefits-for-anyway/


How to help millennials tackle 2 major financial pain points

Researchers say 65 percent of millennials reported being stressed about their finances. Read to find out why millennials are the most reluctant to face their financial struggles head on.


Stress. Shame. Confusion. Embarrassment.

That’s what comes to mind for millennial employees when they think about their personal finances. It’s draining employees’ ability to stay focused on the work at hand and maximize their creativity and productivity. According to a 2017 PWC Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 65 percent of millennials reported being stressed about their finances. Additionally, approximately one-third of employees report being distracted by personal finance issues while at work, with almost half of them spending three hours or more each week handling these matters during the work day.

While employee financial stress is not new, it’s particularly strong among millennials. This group is experiencing many firsts. They are the first generation to face such a large student loan debt crisis. They are the first to need to save enough money to fund retirements that may be the longest in human history. These are no small challenges.

With millennials set to comprise 50 percent of the global workforce in less than two years, it is essential that employers help this group garner the tools necessary to experience financial calm, clarity, and confidence in the face of these challenges. But first, we need to understand why millenials are reluctant to address their financial concerns head-on.

Millennial employees are distracted by money shame

Millennials tend to be a pretty outspoken group. So why are they not speaking up more about their financial stress and the degree to which it distracts them at work?

A big part of this is overarching “money shame.” After years of schooling and higher education, it frankly can feel embarrassing to admit one is struggling with money issues. This is particularly true if the money issues are due to student loan debt – a kind of “good debt” that was supposed to make their lives better. Many millennials are wondering how they can feel so bad (financially) when they “did all the right things” (educationally). As an employer, you need to recognize this money shame is causing your millennial employees to hold back asking for help.

How employers can help their millennials overcome money fears

Employers can help their millennial employees overcome their money woes by providing financial wellness education around the two areas causing the most financial stress for millennials: student loan debt and saving for retirement.

Both of these topics can be extremely overwhelming so baby steps are key. A good introduction to both of these topics could be an educational video laying the groundwork for the big concepts that need to be addressed to help ease employees into the reality of dealing with each of these vital issues.

With regard to student loans, the education here is trickier, as some employees will have government loans, some may have private loans and some may have a combination of both. Providing basic educational lunch-and-learn type lectures to review the role of budgeting in finding the extra funds to accelerate debt paydown, and to discuss various options for consolidation, income based repayment plans and other options can help give employees a sense of relief that they have some tools and information they can use.

When it comes to retirement, many 401k and 403b providers offer onsite education for plan participants. Instructing these providers to focus heavily on these three points can go a long ways towards helping millennials understand how to make smart choices here:

1. The mathematical impact of saving early (i.e. a dollar saved and invested for your retirement in your mid 20s is four to five times more valuable than a dollar saved in your mid 40′s due to the power of compounding).

2. It’s not enough to save for retirement; wise investment choices must be made too (and often the smartest and most cost effective decision here is to use target date retirement funds composed of underlying index funds).

3. The extremely positive mathematical implications of contributing to a retirement plan at least to the point of the employer’s match (i.e. that this is literally “free” money and equates to a guaranteed rate of return; if you are matched $0.50 on the $1.00 that’s a guaranteed 50 percent return which you will not get anywhere else!)

While there are very few “sure things” in the business world, investing in reducing millennial employee financial stress and increasing work enjoyment and productivity has the potential to generate positive “human capital” dividends for years to come.

SOURCE:
Thakor M (13 July 2018) "How to help millennials tackle 2 major financial pain points" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/02/how-to-help-millennials-tackle-2-major-financial-p/


3 questions to ask about paid leave programs

Paid leave is offered for numerous reasons. Employers want to attract new talent, promote employee well-being and more, but are they asking the right questions regarding the costs of these programs. Keep reading to learn about what questions employers need to be asking.


Employers provide paid time away from work policies for a variety of reasons: to attract and retain talent (responding to employee needs and changing demographics); to be compliant with local, state and federal laws (which are proliferating); and to support general employee well-being (recognizing that time away from work improves productivity and engagement).

While offering paid absence policies delivers value to both employees and the employers, employers recognize the need to balance the amount of available time with the organization’s ability to deliver its products and services.

To help employers balance paid time away drivers, here are three key questions to ask to get a handle on the costs and benefits of paid leave.

1. Do you have a complete picture of the costs associated with your employees’ time away from work?

A challenge for many employers is getting a handle on the cost of time away from work and the related benefits. If an employer cannot quantify the costs of absence, it may not be able to define management strategies or to engage leadership to adopt new initiatives, policies or practices related to paid and unpaid time away programs.

Ninety percent of employers participating in the 2017 Aon Absence Pulse Survey reported they hadn’t yet quantified the cost of absence, and 43 percent of participants identified defining the cost of absence as a top challenge and priority. Though intuitively managers and executives recognize there is an impact when employees are absent from work, particularly when an absence is unscheduled, they struggle to develop concrete and focused strategies to address absence utilization without the ability to measure the current cost and collectively the impact of new management initiatives.

Employers struggle to quantify the cost of absence in the context of productivity loss, including replacement worker costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, employers’ cost of productivity loss associated with absenteeism was $225.8 billion, and 9.6 percent of compensation was spent on lost time benefits and overtime.

Employers are expanding their view of absence, recognizing that use of paid and unpaid time away programs are often associated with an employee’s health. As a result, combining data across health and absence programs allows an employer to recognize drivers of absence “work-related value” and define strategies to address not just how to manage the absence benefit, but to target engagement to improve well-being and the organization’s bottom-line.

As an example, musculoskeletal conditions are frequently associated with absence, which is not surprising when 11 percent of the workforce has back pain. It is noteworthy that of those with back pain, 34 percent are obese, 26 percent are hypertensive and 14 percent have mood disorders. The Integrated Benefits Institute reported in 2017 that back pain adds 2.5 days and $688 in wages to absence associated with this condition. It is this type of information pairing that provides employers with the insight to develop strategies to address comprehensive absence.

When absence and health costs are quantified, organizations quickly recognize the impact on the business’s bottom line. As the old saying goes, “we can only manage what we can measure.”

2. What is your talent strategy to improve work-life benefits, inclusive of time off to care for family?

The race for talent is on, and every industry recognizes the huge impact the changing workforce demographics currently has, and will continue to have. The current workforce incorporates five generations, though an Ernst and Young report from 2017 estimates that by 2025 millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. As a result, the work-life needs of millennials—and their perspectives around benefits—is driving change, including time away from work policies.

It is worth noting that, per a 2015 Ernst and Young survey, millennial households are two times more likely to have both spouses working. The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that, among all workers, 47 percent of adults who have a parent 65 years or older are raising a minor child or supporting a grown child. Additionally, a 2016 report from the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California Hastings claimed that 50 percent of all employees expect to provide elder care in the next five years.

In response, employers are expanding paid time off programs for care of family members. The paid family leave continuum often begins with a paid parental policy providing time to bond with a new birth or adoption placement. An elder care policy may follow, and the culmination might be a family care policy covering events like those under the job-protected Family Medical Leave Act. An Aon SpecSelect Survey reported that 94 percent of employers offer some form of paid parental leave in 2017; this is a significant change from 2016 when 62 percent offered this benefit. Two weeks of 100 percent paid parental leave was the norm per Aon’s SpecSelect 2016 Survey, but we are finding that many employers are expanding these programs, offering between 4 to 12 weeks.

Offering paid leave programs on their own may meet immediate needs for both time and financial support, but may be incomplete to help the employee address the full spectrum of issues that could affect success at work. In combination with family care needs—even those associated with a happy event such as a birth—there may be other health, social or financial issues. Employers combining their paid leave programs with a broader well-being strategy deliver greater value, improve engagement and increase productivity.

3. If you’re a multi-state employer, how are you ensuring your sick and family leave policies are compliant across all relevant jurisdictions?

Paid leave is a hot legislative topic lately. Last December saw the enactment of a paid FMLA tax credit pilot program as part of the federal Tax Reform The paid sick leave law club now totals 42 states and myriad municipalities. Both Washington state and Washington, D.C. are ramping up to implement paid family leave laws in 2020, joining the four states and one city that already have some form of paid family or parental leave law.

How are multi-state employers keeping up with this high-stakes evolving environment? The 2017 Pulse Survey saw 70 percent of employers report they are aware they have an employee who is subject to a paid sick leave law. Ten percent of respondents said they did not know if they had anyone subject to such a law. If knowledge is the first step in the process of compliance, deciding on a compliance strategy and then successfully implementing it are surely steps two and three.

With respect to paid sick leave, there are three major compliance options: comply on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction level, with as many as 42 different designs and no design more generous than it has to be; comply on a national level with one, most generous design, or meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps with one design for each state where a state- or local-level law is in place, or by grouping jurisdictions with similar designs together to strike a balance between being overly generous and being bogged down by dozens of administrative schemes.

Data analytics can be a key driver in designing a successful compliance strategy—compare your employee census to locations with paid sick leave laws. The ability to track and report on available leave is a requirement in all jurisdictions, and at this point, few if any third-party vendors are administering multi-state paid sick leave.

For paid family leave, the primary policy design issue is how an employer’s FMLA, maternity leave and short-term disability benefits will interact with the various paid family leave laws. So, while there may be fewer employer choices to be made with statutory paid family leave, clear employee communications will be critical to success.

Employers may tackle time away from work program issues individually to meet an immediate need, or collectively as a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy would include data analytics across health and lost-time programs, absence policies that meet today’s needs for the employer and employee, health and wellness programs targeting modifiable health behaviors, and absence program administration that is aligned to operational goals. The expected outcome for time away from work programs isn’t about the programs themselves: it is about an engaged, productive workforce who delivers superior products/services. How do your programs stack up?

SOURCE:
VanderWerf, S and Arnedt, R (13 July 2018) "3 questions to ask about paid leave programs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/05/3-questions-to-ask-about-paid-leave-programs/


A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment

Researchers say employees experience chronic stress during their workday and vacations aren't helping to fix it. Take a look at why a stress-free work environment is critical for productivity.


That easy breezy feeling after taking a vacation slips away pretty quickly when people have to face the same systemic workplace issues that wore them down in the first place, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey.

The Harris Poll surveyed 1,512 U.S. adults who were employed either full time, part time or were self-employed, and found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) say the positive effects of vacation time – such as more energy and feeling less stress – disappear immediately upon returning to work. Forty percent say the benefits last only a few days.

“Employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment,” says David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “Unless they address the organizational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business.”

More than a third (35 percent) of respondents say they experience chronic stress during their workday, due to low pay (49 percent), lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (46 percent), too heavy of a workload (42 percent) and unrealistic job expectations and long hours (39 percent each).

However, just half say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs. When adequate resources are provided, only 33 percent of the respondents say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday, compared to 59 percent of those who say their employer doesn’t provide sufficient mental health resources. When it comes to overall well-being, nearly three-fourths of employees supported with mental health resources (73 percent) say their employer helps them develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, compared to 14 percent who say they don’t have the resources.

“Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported – these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Ballard says. “Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”

Even in a very supportive workplace environment, encouraging vacations can boost morale and performance even more, according to the survey. Upon returning from vacation, employees who say their organization’s culture encourages time off were more likely to report having more motivation (71 percent) compared to employees who say their organization doesn’t encourage time off (45 percent). They are also more likely to say they are more productive (73 percent vs. 47 percent) and that their work quality is better (70 percent vs. 46 percent).

Overall, respondents are more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80 percent vs. 37 percent), that they are satisfied with their job (88 percent vs. 50 percent) and that the organization treats them fairly (88 percent vs. 47 percent). They are similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (81 percent vs. 39 percent).

“A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work-life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge,” Ballard says. “Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”

SOURCE:
Kuehner-Hebert, K (13 July 2018) "A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/02/a-vacation-cant-undo-the-damage-of-a-stressful-wor/


12 Ways to Save on Health Care

Managing your money is tough, saving for your health care is pretty rough too. These tips and tricks will assist you in managing your medical finances for the future.


We all know paying for health care is a challenge, with or without insurance, amid rising copays, deductibles, and premiums. But there are ways to hold down the costs that can come in handy now, but also as the Affordable Care Act undergoes whatever transformation (or replacement) the Trump administration comes up with.

The Huffington Post reports that, despite the numerous obstacles to cutting costs on health care for individuals —insured or not — there are also numerous ways to do just that, whether it takes due diligence on the patient’s part or having conversations with doctors, hospitals and insurers — even drug companies — about price.

While such tactics may not exactly amount to haggling, negotiating skills can’t hurt, and determination and perseverance are definite assets when it comes to finding the best prices or convincing medical entities to give you a better deal.

Plenty of other sources have good suggestions for slicing medical expenses, whether for prescription drugs, doctor and dentist visits, or hospital care. In fact,

Here’s a look at 12 strategies and suggestions that can end up saving you beaucoup bucks for care and treatment.

12. Check the internet

You would be amazed at how many tips there are online to help you cut the cost of getting — or staying — healthy.

One of the first things you should do is to check out the internet, where you’ll find not just help from the Huffington Post but also from such prominent sources as Kiplinger, Investopedia, Money, CBS and other news stations — and checking them out can have the advantage of providing you with any new suggestions arising out of changes in the law or in the medical field itself. And definitely compare prices on the Internet for procedures and prescriptions before you do anything else.

11. Skip insurance on your prescriptions

Not all the time, and not everywhere, but you could end up getting your prescriptions filled for less money if you don’t go through your medical insurance.

Costco, Walmart, and other retailers with pharmacies often offer cut-to-the-bone prices on generics, some prescription drugs and large orders (say, a 90-day supply of something you take over an extended period). Costco will even provide home delivery, and fill your pets’ prescriptions, too.

Then there are coupons. GoodRx will compare prices for you, provide free coupons you can print out and take to the pharmacy and save, as the website says, up to 80 percent — without charging a membership fee or requiring a sign-up.

10. Talk to your doctor

And ask for samples and coupons. Especially if you’ve never taken a particular drug before, let your doctor know you want to try out a sample lest you have an adverse reaction to the medication and get stuck with 99 percent of your prescription unusable.

Pharmaceutical reps, of course, provide doctors with samples, but they often give them coupons, too, lest you suffer sticker shock in the pharmacy and walk away without filling the prescription. So ask for those too. Doctors can be more proactive about samples than coupons, but remember to ask for both. After all, it’s your money.

9. Talk directly to the drug companies

So you’ve tried to get a brand-name drug cheaper, but coupons don’t help enough and there’s no generic available (or you react badly to it). Don’t stop there; go directly to the source and ask about assistance programs the pharmaceutical company may offer.

Such programs can be need-based, but not always — sometimes it’s a matter of filling out a little paperwork to get a better deal. The Huffington Post points out dialysis drug Renvela can go for several hundred dollars, but drops to $5 a month if the patient completes a simple form.

8. Haggle

Before you go in for a procedure (assuming it’s voluntary), or when the bills start to come in, talk to both the doctors (is there ever only one?) and the hospital and ask for a discount — or a reduction in your bill for paying in cash or for paying the whole amount. Be polite, but stand your ground and negotiate for all you’re worth.

A CBS report cites Consumer Reports as having found that only 31 percent of Americans haggle with doctors over medical bills but that 93 percent of those who did were successful — with more than a third of those saving more than $100. Just make sure you’re talking with the right person in the office — the one who actually has the authority to issue those discounts. And get it in writing.

7. What about an HMO?

If you’re not devoted to your doctor, opting for an HMO can save you money — although it will limit your choices of doctors and hospitals. Still, coverage should be cheaper.

If you’re generally in good health, choosing a plan — HMO or not — that restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals can save you money. And having the flexibility to go see the top specialist in his field won’t necessarily be your top priority unless you have specific health conditions for which you really need specialized care. In that case, you might prefer to hang on to your right of choice, despite the expense.

6. Ask for estimates

Yes, just the way you would from your mechanic or plumber. Ask the doctor/hospital/etc. what the charge is for whatever it is you’re having done, whether it’s a hip replacement or a deviated septum. You will already have checked out the costs for these things on the Internet, of course, so that you have an idea of standard pricing — and if your doctor, etc. comes in substantially higher, look elsewhere.

And while you’re at it, ask whether the doctor uses balance billing. If so, run, do not walk, in the opposite direction and find a doctor who doesn’t. Otherwise, particularly if the doctor’s fees are high, you’ll find yourself paying the balance of his whole bill once the insurance company kicks in its share.

Normally the doctor and insurer reach an agreement that eliminates whatever is left over after you pay your share and the insurer pays its share. But with balance billing, whatever is left over becomes your responsibility — and you’ll be sorry, maybe even bankrupt. By the way, balance billing is actually illegal in some states under some circumstances, so check before you pay.

5. Network, network, network

Always, always ask if the doctor is in network, and if the lab where your blood work goes and the specialist he recommends and the emergency room doctor and surgeon are also in network. Of course you can’t do this if it’s a true emergency, but if you learn after the fact that you were treated by out-of-network doctors at an in-network hospital, see whether your state has any laws against, or limits on, how much those out-of-network practitioners can charge you.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, close to 70 percent of with unaffordable out-of-network medical bills were not aware that the practitioner treating them was not in their plan’s network at the time they received care.

4. Check your bill with a fine-toothed comb

Not only should you check to see whether your bill is accurate, you should also read up on medical terminology so you know whether you’re being billed for medications and procedures you actually received.

Not only do billing offices often mess up — a NerdWallet study found that 49 percent of Medicare medical claims contain medical billing errors, which results in a 26.4 percent overpayment for the care provided, but they can also get a little creative, such as billing for individual parts of a course of treatment that ought to be billed as a single charge. It adds up. And then there are coding errors, which can misclassify one treatment as another and up the charge by thousands of dollars.

3. Get a health care advocate

If you just can’t face fighting insurers or doctors’ offices, or aren’t well enough to fight your own battles, consider calling in a local professional health care advocate. They’ll know what’s correct, be able to spot errors, and can negotiate on your behalf to contest charges or lower bills.

For that matter, if you call them in ahead of time for a planned procedure or course of treatment, they can advise you about care options in your area and maybe forestall a lot of problems.

2. Go for free, not broke

Lots of places offer free flu shots and screenings for things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels — everyplace from drugstores to shopping centers, and maybe even your place of work.

Senior centers do too, but if you can’t find anything locally check out places like Costco and Sam’s Club, which do screenings for $15; that might even be cheaper than your copay at the doctor’s office.

1. Deals can make you smile

Whether you have dental insurance or not, it doesn’t cover much. So go back to #8 (Haggle) to negotiate cash prices with your dentist for major procedures, and take advantage of Living Social or Groupon vouchers to get your routine cleanings and exams with X-rays. The prices, says HuffPost, “range from $19 to $50 and are generally offered by dentists hoping to grow their practices.”

SOURCE:
Satter, M (2 June 2018) "12 ways to save on health care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2017/02/07/12-ways-to-save-on-health-care?t=Consumer-Driven&page=6


Construction Risk Advisor - July 2018 Edition

DATA SCIENCE TO BOOST EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY


In order to improve worker safety and boost efficiency, about 20 construction companies have launched data science initiatives over the past few years.

One of those pioneers is a Boston-based company whose data scientists have developed an algorithm that analyzes photos from its job sites and then scans them for safety hazards. The algorithm then correlates those images with its accident records.

Although the technology still needs some fine-tuning, the company hopes to use the algorithm to rate project risks. As a result, the technology could prove extremely helpful in detecting elevated threats and then intervening with safety briefings.

Combining the data collected from these efforts could also be used to forecast project delays. Although data science is somewhat new to construction, a recent McKinsey report said that firms could boost productivity by as much as 50 percent through real- time analysis of data.

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AVOIDABLE ESTIMATION MISTAKES IN CONSTRUCTION


In the past three years, only 31 percent of construction projects came within 10 percent of their budgets, according to RSMeans, a provider of construction cost information. Completing projects within budget is a constant challenge for many contractors. Here are five estimating mistakes to be aware of, along with best practices to combat them.

1. Unrealistic expectations—Don’t rely on ideal orworst-case scenarios, which can lead to impractical estimates. Find the middle ground to avoid setting expectations too high and blowing timelines.

2. Flying solo—Don’t be afraid to use outside data sources from a credible third party. Create a realistic estimate by including a combination of your own historical data and their custom data.

3. Lack of or wrong permits—If you lack permits or have the wrong type, work can come to a standstill. Factor proper permits into your estimate, as well as their corresponding costs.

4. Unclear parameters—Parameters must be established clearly at the onset of each project.Make sure you clearly understand your clients’limitations and restrictions before creating an estimate to avoid unnecessary change orders.

5. Missing details—A lack of knowledge, missing items or generalized task descriptions can lead to estimates that are too low. Take the time to account for all necessary materials, labor and equipment by referencing similar work done in the past or detailed cost data from a third party.


Cyber Risks and Liabilities July/August 2018

Training Staff to Guard Against Cyber Attacks


Using mobile devices to work remotely is becoming the new norm. But when your employees use phones, tablets and laptops to access your networkand do their jobs, they’re essentially providinghackers with more entry points, leaving your organization highly vulnerable to attacks.

No matter how many security measures you take,they’re useless if you don’t supplement them withemployee training. Here are five ways to help employees protect your company from cyber attacks:

  1. Offer training on phishing and spam. Show your employees what to look for so they can alert IT if they receive a suspicious email. You can also use phishing simulator training tools, which attempt to trick your employees into opening the wrong types of email. The employees who click on those emails can then be flagged for additional training.
  2. Provide strong password training. Passwords should be changed on a regular basis and contain more than seven characters, an uppercase letter, a number and a symbol.
  3. Teach employees to report problems. Even if your employees clicked on something they shouldn’t have, it’s important that they feel comfortable reporting their infractions so any potential threat can be addressed immediately.
  4. Insist that your employees update all software when new updates become available.Vulnerabilities spread like wildfire among hackers. If employees fail to perform updates,they’re allowing hackers access to the device and possibly your entire network.
  5. Give remote access and Wi-Fi training and set up a virtual private network (VPN). Any employee that works remotely should use that VPN at all times for all activities.

Businesses Need Both Cyber Threat Intelligence and Business Risk Intelligence


Devising an all-encompassing strategy that protects your organization from cyber criminals, data breaches and other cyber security threats is no easy task. You need to ensure protection from not only hackers, but also the actions of your own staff.

Your employees may not intentionally threaten your organization, but without proper training and policies on using, storing and transferring data, there will always be a chance of them inadvertently putting your business at risk. In order to protect against such threats and react accordingly, businesses need to two types of intelligence: cyber threat intelligence and business risk intelligence.

Cyber Threat Intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence is information that has been collected, evaluated and analyzed. It involves looking outward, always being on the defense for potential cyber threats and turning unknown threats into well-known, mitigated threats. Cyber threat intelligence helps organizations understand the threat landscape they face and improve the effectiveness of their defense.

Cyber security analysts can use the data from their own internal security systems and outside vendors to build an understanding of the threats they face. They may also enlist the help of outside providers who understand the behavior of cyber criminals, as well as the long-term trends and short-term risks that might affect a particular sector.

Business Risk Intelligence

Business risk intelligence addresses the broader risks facing a business, including the digital risks. Due to the connected nature of the “internet of things,” business risk intelligence can also include cyber threat intelligence. But unlike cyber threat intelligence—which primarily affects the day-to-day operations of a company’s chief information security officer—the impact of business risk intelligence is likely to be felt across the entire executive suite.

A company with business risk intelligence is aware of the broad risks it faces. That may include insider threats to the physical security of staff or the risk of engaging with third-party vendors in the supply chain. Any type of activity that can alter business operations can be combatted with business risk intelligence.

Save Your Website from ADA Lawsuits


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability, which involves ensuring that everyone has reasonable access to all areas of public life. Although the ADA doesn’t explicitly mention the internet, the federalgovernment has taken the position that Title III of the ADA covers access to websites of public accommodations, including service and rental establishments, retail stores, educational institutions and recreational facilities.

Currently, ADA website compliance is only mandatory for government-managed websites. However, the absence of laws enforcing ADA compliance for websites ofpublic accommodations hasn’t prevented people from filing lawsuits againstcompanies that don’t meet the suggested guidelines.

Businesses in health care, government and education have been the most common targets of these lawsuits. Attorneys looking for easy money typically target small businesses’ websites by offering a low settlement fee. If your business is targeted by an ADA website compliance grievance, consider taking the following steps in response:

  1. Review the grievance for credibility. A lawsuit may likely begin by citing“violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title 42 U.S.C. 12101 and12181.” It may also include an inexpensive settlement option—a prime indicator that the lawsuit has no legs to stand on and is likely a scam.
  2. Consult a lawyer. Doing so will help determine the credibility of the threat and stop future threats to your business.
  3. Respond to the plaintiff. Ask your attorney to draft something explaining thatyou’ve reviewed their grievance and consulted a lawyer. Realizing that you’vesought legal help may scare away anyone trying to file a lawsuit.
  4. Update your website. Do this regardless of whether there is a legal need. If your site is easily accessible by people with disabilities, you may see beneficial returns from those users.

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Safety Focused Newsletter - July 2018

Back Strain: A Workplace Risk for Every Employee


Back injuries are common in the workplace and are typically the result of a strain or sprain to back ligaments or muscles, the spinal cord, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum or coccyx. What’s more, you don’t need to work in a manual labor-intensive job to experience back problems. Employees of all kinds can maintain back health by keeping these tips in mind during their workday:

  • Take small breaks throughout your workday and stretch regularly.
  • Manage your stress level to reduce discomfort and back pain.
  • Exercise and stay active to reduce your chances of developing back pain.
  • Adjust your posture frequently.
  • Position your desk chair so your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Lift with your knees, and keep what you are lifting close to your body. Ask a co-worker to assist you when performing tasks that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or throwing.
  • Drink enough water and eat a healthy diet. This helps keep your spinal discs hydrated and healthy.
  • Watch where you walk. Many back strain injuries are the result of involuntary motion, like an attempt to recover from a slip.It may also be a good idea to work with your manager to plan your working hours in a way that helps you avoid long periods of repetitive work.

EMPLOYEES DO NOT NEED TO WORK IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY OR A MANUAL LABOR- INTENSIVE JOB TO EXPERIENCE BACK PROBLEMS.

5 WAYS TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION

  1. AVOID CLICHÉS
  2. BE BRIEF
  3. BE SINCERE
  4. AVOID ARGUMENTS
  5. ALLOW OTHERS TO RESPOND WITHOUT INTERRUPTION

How Employees Can Improve Workplace Communication


Communication is key in all aspects of life, but especially in the workplace. Without good communication, employees and productivity can suffer.

However, there are things you can do to establish better communication and improve the way things are done at your workplace. When it comes to interacting with your co-workers, keep in mind the following:

Make sure you are being clear and concise.

This applies not only to face-to-face conversations, but also to emails and all other types of communication. Your messages should be complete and include everything you want to convey.

Listen carefully. Don’t respond to what someone has said—aloud or in your head—until they have finished speaking. If you start thinking about a response before your co- worker has gotten their message across, you could miss important pieces of information and derail the conversation.

Summarize what you’ve said. After you’vegiven a long-winded speech or written an extensive email, go over the basic, most important points. This will help refresh yourlistener’s memory and potentially weed outopportunities for miscommunication.

Make meetings meaningful. Schedule a meeting to elaborate on complex tasks and make the most of scheduled time. Don’tstray from the topic, and keep conversations productive.

Follow up in writing. No matter how compelling a meeting or conversation was, it’s likely that people will not remember everything that was shared. For important matters, follow up with an email that highlights key takeaways from the conversation or meeting.

Above all, it’s important to be mindful ofyour body language and tone when you communicate. Together, these strategies ensure clear, effective correspondence.

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Agriculture Risk Advisor- July/August 2018

FARM BILL UPDATE


On June 13, in a 20-1 vote, a Senate panel approved a modest, bipartisan rewrite of federal farm and nutrition programs. The sole vote against the bill was by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, because his amendment to limit subsidy payments was omitted.

If passed, the legislation would renew farm programs that include subsidies for crop insurance, farm credit and land conservation. It would also extend the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the Food Stamp Program—which helps feed more than 40 million people.

The House failed to pass a version of this bill in May due to a still unresolved immigration debate. Contrary to the Senate farm bill, the House is asking for greater job training opportunities for SNAP recipients. However, the bill has been heavily criticized for what some call a poor design and the possibility that it could exclude 2 million people from SNAP.

The current food and farm bill expires at the end of September. Although enacting the legislation this year is unlikely, a short-term extension is expected when the bill is brought back to the floor.

NEW WEB TOOLS FOR CATTLE MARKET


Two new web tools created by the Noble Research Institute will allow cattle producers to easily access Oklahoma cattle auction data. The tools include a price slide table and market charts.

PRICE SLIDE TABLE

The first web tool is a breakdown of the price slide (PS) and value of gain (VOG) for the reported markets. The PS and VOG tool looks at the sales receipts for the selected market, as well as frame size, gender, yield grade and the sale date to give producers a glimpse at the type of cattle buyers are looking for.

Cattle with notes about their features aren’t included in the table in order to prevent the PS and VOG from being affected. However, a link to the original USDA- AMS report is provided near the top of the page for producers who want more details and to see where the original data was taken from.

MARKET CHARTS

The second web tool is a set of charts for slaughter, feeder and replacement cattle. The tool offers an option to compare each group across whichever markets the user selects, either during a specific year or across years.

The auction comparison tool was designed to provide producers with information to help them in their marketing and purchasing options. By comparing years, producers can better evaluate how the current year is stacking up against previous years for a particular market.

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