Seeing beyond size in vision care networks

There are many other factors to consider when it comes to deciding which vision care network best fits the needs of your employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most people believe that “size matters” in regards to provider networks, but in the world of vision care there are other important factors to consider when deciding which network matches the needs of employees. Network members usually see their vision provider for routine services just once per year. When an employer changes vision administrators, employee in-network utilization is more than 90% regardless of the new network size. Why? Employees are not concerned about changing providers to access in-network benefits. Plus, the new vision provider network will always provide access to multiple providers wherever the employee lives and works.

But what about the quality of the vision care network? To properly assess this measurement of competing networks, employers and benefit advisers need to ask several different questions.

Determine the network’s quality
The quality of the network is vital. Start asking these questions: How are vision care providers credentialed? Do they follow the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) guidelines developed to improve healthcare quality? Are there provider audit programs provided on an ongoing basis? Is the vision care provider re-credentialed and how often? How frequently are reviews conducted of the Office of Inspector General and Medicare and Medicaid disbarment lists?

Establish the network’s effectiveness
Once you know you have a quality network, now you must ask how effective the network is. How diverse is the network? Are there ample ophthalmologists, optometrists and optical retailers we can access? Are some private practitioners? You want to make sure that a solid provider mix is available to give employees options when choosing a vision care provider.

It’s critical to know what languages are spoken within the employee population as well as the providers who care for them. If you have a large population who speak a certain language you want to make sure your network gives them access to people who can truly understand them and with whom they feel comfortable.

Finally, look at the hours of operations. With schedules being busier now than ever before, people need flexibility when it comes to visiting hours. Do they offer evening hours? Weekend hours? This is particularly important for single parents who work during the week and need the flexibility to visit an eye care professional with his or her child after work.

Having a diverse, quality vision care provider network with convenient access helps keep employees happy, healthy and in-network.

Other factors to consider
One of the other factors to be cognizant of is network ownership. Today, many managed vision care companies are involved in not only providing coverage for vision care but also in delivering it. This means the vision benefits company you’re considering may own optical laboratories, frame companies or retail locations, which can pose conflicts of interest between you, your employees and the managed vision care company. Their need to produce profits can lead to undo pressure on your employees to purchase expensive and potentially unnecessary lens types, materials and options. Coupled with direct to consumer advertising and the expansion of brands, eyeglasses have become even more expensive.

This leads to another factor for consideration. Does the potential vision benefit administrator provide meaningful information to help your employees make informed decisions about what they really need, when it comes to the myriad of options available for frames, lenses and lens options?

Network matching
Start by remembering two things when matching networks. First, if you’ve changed vision carriers in the past, you selected a network that was not identical to your previous one. Vision networks never match each other. Some have higher proportions of independent providers and lower percentages of large retailer chains. Second, the infrequency with which the vision benefit is available to be used mitigates the impact of changing providers. People don’t have the same attachment to their eye care professional as they do with their physician.

Beyond quality and effectiveness is the important factor of access. The vision industry has grown to a point where there are often many more providers than would ever be necessary to provide convenient access for your membership. The reality is that two networks may be equally sized in an area and yet there may be little overlap, making the selection of the best network with the lowest overall cost a better strategic direction than simply selecting the one with the highest provider match.

The vision industry has long demonstrated that employees are willing to select new providers, especially when costs are more competitive, and services are more convenient.

SOURCE: Moroff, C (22 August 2018) "Seeing beyond size in vision care networks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/seeing-beyond-size-in-vision-care-networks?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers

According to SANS Institute, it can take up to 200 hours of personal time to resolve issues related to identity theft. With the rise of identity theft in the news, many employees are looking to their employers to provide identity protection benefits. Read on to learn more.


With identity theft in the news constantly, many employees are turning to their employers to ask for an identity protection benefit.

Let us focus on productivity and wellness. Identity theft can wreak havoc on an employee’s personal and work life. According to SANS Institute, it takes an average of six months and up to 200 hours of personal time to resolve issues related to the theft. This includes hours calling banks, credit card companies, filing police reports, notifying the Social Security Administration, and alerting credit bureaus. Most of these calls and follow up activity must be made during business hours. According to ITRC’s latest study, 22% of respondents took time off of work when dealing with issues of identity theft.

Identity theft also impacts wellness and mental health. According to the ITRC study, 75% of respondents reported that they were severely distressed by the misuse of their information, and many sought professional help to manage their identity theft experience — either by going to a doctor for their physical symptoms or seeking mental health counseling.

These findings make it clear that identity theft directly impacts productivity and wellness. That is why comprehensive and compassionate restoration services should be a key element of any ID Protection plan offered by the employer.

Restoration services are the fixers in a comprehensive identity protection plan. For victims of identity theft, the restoration specialist will do the required work to restore the victim’s identity. Specialists make the calls during business hours, complete the necessary paperwork, and manage the process. They free up the employee to focus on their job, and alleviate the stress of dealing with the challenges of identity restoration.

There are a range of features to look for when evaluating restoration services across plans. Some plans only offer advice and information kits to guide members on what steps they need to take. Those services typically do not do the work for the member.

For plans that provide a full restoration process, consider if the plan provides victims with a dedicated restoration specialist as a single point of contact. Since the restoration process can take months or years, it’s best if a victim has a consistent person to speak with who knows the case and can provide periodic updates. Restoration services should be available 24/7 so victims can initiate the process immediately to lessen the damage. Plans should also provide multilingual specialists to best serve all members and handle all types of identity theft.

Although monitoring may alert individuals that are a victim of identity theft, the even greater value is in fixing the situation. Be sure to fully evaluate the restoration features of an identity protection plan as part of the selection process.

SOURCE: Hazan, J (31 August 2018) "Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/identity-theft-protection-benefits-and-the-business-case-for-employers


Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment

Open enrollment is quickly approaching and can often make the most experienced HR professionals shudder. Read this blog post to learn how you can breeze through open enrollment this year.


Three words have the power to make the most experienced HR professional shudder: open enrollment season.

Open enrollment season is a challenge, no matter how well the HR department prepares. Costs for medical and pharmacy benefits continue to rise, which means there are adjusted employee contributions to present to an audience who’s unlikely to understand the reasoning behind cost increases. There may be new benefits offerings that require employees to pay close attention during the decision-making process. There are open enrollment education campaigns and communications meetings to plan and launch.

Employers with multiple generations of workers must accommodate a wide range of health and welfare benefit needs. New laws (like the federal tax law) plus evolving regulations around benefits add more to HR’s already full plate. (No wonder you don’t have time for lunch.)

But, there’s good news. First, open enrollment is made easier if you plan throughout the year for it. Second, these four tips can help HR professionals make open enrollment much easier.

Review trends and projections ASAP. Focus on the renewal rate long before the renewal date. If your employee benefits renew at the beginning of the year, you may not have received your rate yet. But frankly, by now you should have a very good idea where the rate is projected to land. Reviewing claims and trend data alongside benchmarking and industry analyses throughout the year can help you and your broker project, within a few percentage points, how your renewal rate will increase or decrease.

Your benefits broker should be analyzing your program data on an ongoing basis to estimate the renewal rate and avoid a nasty surprise. The broker should also challenge the first carrier rate offered — there’s almost always room for negotiation. Doing pre-renewal work throughout the year can help you prepare for plan changes and position you to make the best decisions for the organization and employees. It will also help facilitate a smoother open enrollment season.

Keep new benefit options simple. After reviewing benefits and trends, you may find that adding a pre-tax benefit, such as a health savings account, flexible spending account or a health reimbursement account, can help the organization save money while giving employees a way to better plan their healthcare and finances. However, with their alphabet soup acronyms, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs are confusing. Even if you did a whole campaign on the topic for the last open enrollment season, it makes sense to repeat it.

The same goes for voluntary benefits: keep them simple. There is a dearth of voluntary benefits available for a multi-generational workforce. While adding voluntary benefit sounds appealing —especially if your core benefits are changing — which products are right for your organization? Survey your employees to get their feedback; they’ll appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion. Once you tally the feedback, resist the urge to offer a slew of voluntary products. Keeping it simple means adding the one (or a few) that are most desired by your workforce.

Voluntary benefits require significant education and engagement — especially products that are newer to the market. (Student loan debt assistance is a good example.) When it comes to a successful voluntary benefits program, timing is everything. If you plan to add student loan debt repayment, pet insurance, long-term care, or any other new voluntary product, the open enrollment season is not the recommended time to do it. Running a voluntary education and communications campaign and open enrollment off cycle will allow employees to focus on their main menu of options during the open enrollment season, then decide later what they want to add for “dessert.”

Educate. Rinse and repeat. You offer employee benefits to help recruit and retain the best talent. But if your employees don’t understand the core and voluntary benefits you offer, you’re unlikely to increase engagement or retention — and you might even see costs rise.

The health and welfare benefits landscape is changing drastically, which means the onus is on the employer and the HR department to educate the workforce on how the plan is changing (if at all). This means putting decision-support tools, such as calculators, in employees’ hands to help them estimate how much insurance they will need to make the best decision. You could run a whole campaign around that topic.

In addition, try using new methods of communication such as social media messages, text messaging, small-group meetings, your company’s intranet, and one-on-one sessions to help employees avoid mistakes at decision time.

Create a 21st-century experience. Manual benefits enrollment and tracking is so 1999. Moving away from paper-based enrollment will save trees — and possibly your sanity — during the open enrollment season and throughout the year. Benefits administration technology allows employees to ponder their options and enroll at their leisure. A decision-support platform enables better enrollment tracking and eliminates typos and mistakes that can pose major issues for the plan participant and the HR team.

Benefits administration technology provides checks and balances that streamline important tactical functions. Mistakes can put you in a world of hurt when it comes to benefit laws and regulations, such as missing those all-important annual HIPAA and COBRA notifications. You can avoid potential government penalties, fines and employee lawsuits with automatic notifications by the benefits administration platform. Technology can also help you identify ineligible dependents, provide employee data to a COBRA provider if employment ends, interface with your payroll platform — the list is almost endless.

The bottom line: Employees won’t enroll in what they don’t understand — which could lead them to choose a benefits plan that is more expensive, or with fewer options, than what they need. Being prepared for open enrollment season, keeping plans simple, focusing on employee education and communications (and the employee experience) can help mitigate issues for plan participants and HR.

Putting all of your ducks in a row throughout the year will ease headaches during the open enrollment season. You might even be able to take a lunch break.

SOURCE: Newman, H (30 August 2018) "Here’s how HR pros can breeze through open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-human-resources-can-breeze-through-open-enrollment?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


10 creative ways to help working parents

Do you have working parents at your organization? Employers can take an active role to help relieve daily stressors that affect working parents. Continue reading to learn more.


Can working moms have it all? Say goodbye to the broad-shouldered power suits of the ’80s and ’90s. Juggling a career and raising children is no longer a women’s-only issue.

While mothers are now the primary or sole source of income for 40% of American households with children, 75% of employees of all genders report their biggest concern as a working parent is not having enough time for their children. From single dads to same-sex couples, breadwinning moms to full-time working grandparents, the parenting workforce is changing.

No matter a family’s parenting makeup, employers can take an active role to help alleviate daily stressors affecting all working parents in the new, high-demand workplace. Here are 10 ways to do so.

1. Get real about childcare.

One of the biggest challenges working parents face is finding good quality, reliable, affordable care. Employers can help by offering programs and services such as backup childcare, onsite childcare, or dependent care flexible spending accounts. An employee assistance program with comprehensive dependent care resource and referrals, adoption assistance and personal finance services can relieve a lot of the hassle and pressures of finding childcare services for working parents.

2. Offer flexibility.

Many working parents report that the resource they value most is the ability to have some control over where and when they work. A policy allowing for fixed alternative hours, or the opportunity to work at home as needed, can be a big help. Providing the further ability to have some flexibility on a day-to-day basis — whether to get to a parent conference or accommodate a missed school bus — is even better.

3. Make it convenient.

The ability for working parents to get some of life’s necessities taken care of right at the workplace is a huge plus. On-site amenities that employers offer range from big-ticket items like childcare and fitness centers to postal and banking services, take-home dinners to dry cleaning pick-up and delivery, and car washes to oil changes.

4. Help tackle the “hate-to-do” list.

Often without the support of the village, working parents are saddled with overwhelming responsibilities at home and a laundry list of ‘hate’ to-dos. From grocery shopping to laundry services, employers can offer convenient concierge and errand running perks to save employees time, money, and stress in all areas of life, house, and family management. These services help free up golden personal time, so working parents can focus on more fulfilling family experiences rather than constantly catching up on personal tasks and errands.

5. Promote total health.

Being a working parent is stressful. Don’t underestimate the power of wellness offerings to provide much-needed support. From standing desks to yoga classes, walking meetings to meditation rooms, there are many ways to promote a healthy lifestyle at work.

6. Prioritize mental wellness.

Mental wellness should also be a top priority, and employers can partner with an engaged EAP to build strong stress management solutions and reduce the stigma around mental health at work. Mental health support should be confidential and available at all stages of parenting, from pre-natal to post-partum, empty-nesting and beyond. Mental wellness benefits should be promoted year-round and available to all family members.

7. Remember the older kids.

Parenting doesn’t end when children graduate from grade school. Many employers offer programs such as homework hotlines to help kids through their teen years; EAPs can also provide a wide range of resources and referrals on parenting and education. Services and activities like college coaching, financial counseling, and “lunch and learns” with scholarship or admissions experts can be invaluable to parents facing the next adventure.

8. Simplify travel.

Business travel can be hard when you’re a parent, especially of young children. Careful planning can help ensure working parents don’t have to spend precious weekend time traveling or head to meetings that might have been just as effective by phone. Increasing numbers of employers are also offering breast milk storage and shipping services; some even pay for childcare while employees are out of town.

9. Don’t forget the “working” in working parents.

Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically mean losing interest in your career. Leave it up to employees to decide if they want to take up educational or advancement opportunities.

10. Stay inclusive.

Remember that caregiving responsibilities can encompass a wide range of family situations. Make sure programs and policies — as well as communications about them — support fathers, single parents, adoptive and foster parents, same-sex couples and grandparent-caregivers.

Being a parent is a rewarding and enriching experience — but it can also be exhausting and thankless, especially for those juggling work and family. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make the workplace a more supportive, less stressful place for working parents, who will likely return the favor with greater productivity, engagement and loyalty.

SOURCE: Krehbiel, E (2 July 2018) "10 creative ways to help working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/10-creative-ways-to-help-working-parents#slide-6

The big difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance

Do your employees know the difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance? Employers should understand the difference between the two and educate their employees on each type. Continue reading to learn more.


The longer people live, the more likely they are to face illnesses that necessitate custodial care either at home, in an assisted-living facility, or in a nursing home. So it stands to reason that there’s a resurgence of interest in long-term care and long-term disability insurance.

While the two types of coverage have similar names, they’re very different. As an employer, it’s important to understand the difference and educate employees on why they’d need each type of coverage. Here is a rundown.

Long-term care insurance

Long-term care insurance covers the cost of custodial care if a person is no longer able to perform at least two activities of daily living. These activities include eating, bathing, dressing, moving from a bed to a chair (called transferring), using a toilet or caring for incontinence.

Most people think LTC insurance is for older people who need to turn to a nursing home for care near the end of their lives — which is also part of the reason more employees are asking for LTC insurance. But LTC insurance can cover anyone who requires extended care.

LTC goes beyond medical care to include living assistance for a severe illness or disability for an extended period of time. Although older people use the most LTC services, a millennial or middle-aged employee who has been in an accident or suffered a debilitating illness might also need long-term care. In fact, 40% of people receiving long-term care services are 18-64 years old, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans. Actor Christopher Reeve was 42 when he was thrown from his horse and was paralyzed. He received long-term care services for nine years before his death.

Most people believe something like that will never happen to them, but it’s important to plan for the possibility. While Reeve had financial resources to cover his healthcare, that’s not typically the case for the average person. LTC can be very expensive, depending on the level of services needed and the length of time the individual needs it. One year in a nursing home can average more than $50,000. In some regions, it can cost twice that amount.

When offering LTC insurance, employees choose the amount of the benefit — typically an amount granted each month — and the length of time the benefit covers — such as two years, three years or 10 years. Obviously, as the benefit amount or length of time increases, so does the premium.

LTC insurance premiums are based on a person’s age, which means the earlier employees buy, the lower the premiums. If a person first buys the insurance at age 32, they lock in a better rate than if they purchase the insurance at age 54. Rates may increase only by a class action that is approved by state insurance regulators. Finally, LTC insurance is portable, which means employees take the policy with them if they move onto another job, or retire.

Long-term disability insurance

Long-term disability insurance may sound somewhat similar to LTC insurance, but the two are very different and important in their own right. Most workers don’t believe they’ll ever become disabled and need LTD insurance. Unfortunately, more than one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach retirement, according to the Social Security Administration.

LTD insurance is an income-replacement benefit that kicks in when the employee loses income for an extended period of time due to a disability. LTD insurance can be used for living expenses, not just covering care.

LTD insurance starts after short-term disability ends, typically after three to six months. In most cases, it pays 50-60% of an employee’s salary until they can return to work or, in some cases, until they retire. The more working years an employee has in front of them, the more they need LTD. Unlike long-term care insurance, LTD is typically not portable unless the policy contains conversion privileges. It ends when the employee changes employers.

If you offer both types of insurance, make sure your employees understand the difference. These types of insurance will help them in different ways — both important and more beneficial to have at a young age, but for varying reasons.

As an employer, you’re likely employing multiple generations of workers right now. Offering a range of benefits, including long-term disability and long-term care insurance, can help employees prepare for the unexpected now and in the future.

SOURCE: Granfors-Hunt, L (24 August 2018) "The big difference between long-term care and long-term disability insurance" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-long-term-care-long-term-disability-insurance-differ?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity

After the establishment of the ACA eight years ago, employers have been re-examining their employee benefits packages. Read on to learn more.


Since the ACA was enacted eight years ago, many employers are re-examining employee benefits in an effort to manage costs, navigate changing regulations, and expand their plan options. Self-funded plans are one way that's happening.

In 2017, the UBA Health Plan survey revealed that self-funded plans have increased by 12.8% in the past year overall, and just less than two-thirds of all large employers’ plans are self-funded.

Here are six of the reasons why employers are opting for self-funded plans:

1. Lower operating costs frequently save employers money over time.

2. Employers paying their own claims are more likely to incentivize employee health maintenance, and these practices have clear, immediate benefits for everyone.

3. Increased control over plan dynamics often results in better individual fits, and more needs met effectively overall.

4. More flexibility means designing a plan that can ideally empower employees around their own health issues and priorities.

5. Customization allows employers to incorporate wellness programs in the workplace, which often means increased overall health.

6. Risks that might otherwise make self-funded plans less attractive can be managed through quality stop loss contracts.

If you want to know more about why self-funding can keep employers nimble, how risk can be minimized, and how to incorporate wellness programs, contact your local UBA Partner Firm for a copy of the full white paper, "Self-Funded Plans: A Solid Option for Small Businesses."

SOURCE: Olson, B (16 August 2018) "6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/6-reasons-self-funded-plans-are-gaining-popularity


Assure Elite: Small Employers' New Favorite Healthcare Program

Employers of multi-generational employees often fret about the delicate and difficult balance of offering health coverage. The typical generalization is that younger employees tend to cost less to insure, while older employees cost more. The truth is, not every young employee is going to require less health coverage because they are presumed to be young and healthy. Likewise, not all older employees are going to cost an arm and a leg to insure. With each employer comes unique employees, and therefore, there is a need to have options to benefit and reward small employers and their employees alike – enter the Assure Elite program. In this installment of CenterStage, Tonya Bahr, a Benefits Advisor at Hierl Insurance, has highlighted the game-changing aspects of this unique healthcare program.

What Exactly is Assure Elite?

Assure Elite is a small employer focused healthcare program aimed at offering the best options for small employers who want to take control of their healthcare spending. “As a partnership between Hierl Insurance, Network Health and Agnesian Healthcare (SSM Health), employers can have peace of mind knowing their healthcare options are backed by three local companies who know healthcare expenses are out of hand in our community,” explained Tonya. Through this partnership, Hierl creates unique plan designs with deep discounts reflected in the premium costs, placing money back in the pockets of employers and employees. 

What sets Assure Elite apart is actualization, not generalization. Among other issues facing the modern healthcare scene, age of employees plays a large factor in coverage pricing. The tendency is to believe older employees will cost an employer more to insure due to a greater prone to injury, sickness and other ailments. On the other hand, younger employees are in better shape and theoretically removed from any costly health issues.

However, not always is this the case. By working with a partnership established around the goal of providing the most cost-effective and honest coverage for small employers, Assure Elite bases pricing on the overall health of the employee. Taking age out of the equation and replacing it with health ensures the proper coverage is received.

How Does the Program Work?

Assure Elite is a level-funded program, meaning premium is based on actual healthcare utilization rather than age. Healthier overall groups will pay less than a group who is unhealthy (or high users of healthcare). Being a level funded program, Assure Elite is a hybrid between a traditional, fully-insured medical plan and a partially self-funded plan. With a fully-insured plan, employers are paying a fixed monthly premium for coverage, meaning the amount only fluctuates when the number of employees on the plan changes. Often, employers are unaware they are overpaying in premium due to claims paid out by the insurance carrier are less than the premium paid in by the employer. With a partially self-funded plan, an employer still faces fixed costs, (much lower than a fully-insured plan), but also pays for medical claims as the employees incur expenses. Therefore, groups don’t overpay like they do on fully-insured plans because the cost of the claim is what the group’s actual expense is. Cash flow fluctuation can arise from this, and many smaller employers do not prefer this risk. A level funded plan like Assure Elite offers the best of both worlds: providing the fixed monthly premium costs of a fully-insured plan, but at the end of the year, offering the employer 50% of the balance back if the amount paid in is less than the amount paid out by the carrier. Many different options are available to choose from; both EPO and POS, as well as traditional and HDHPs. Employers can dual choice up to 4 plan options. Adherence generic prescriptions are $0 copay and office visits are only $10. Low cost, convenient virtual visits are available, as well. All plan options come with a wellness component offered through Agnesian’s Know & Go program, which includes health risk assessment questionnaires, biometric screenings, coaching, and an employee portal with educational materials, food and exercise trackers, online workshops, a blog, a mobile site and more – all at no additional charge.

How Do I Go About Getting a Quote?

The application process is completely pain-free. Base rates for Assure Elite are released after a current census statement, billing statement and wage and tax statement are received. Employers wishing to move forward with the process would go through medical underwriting to obtain final rates. This includes the completion of a three-page application covering basic demographic information and a brief medical questionnaire. Some groups choose to go through underwriting immediately rather than receiving base rates first, but each decision is unique to each employer. Despite remaining largely competitive for groups having 2 to 49 employees, discounts are still acquirable for group sizes up to 100.

To begin your journey toward optimal employee healthcare coverage, speak with Tonya at Hierl Insurance, Inc. With a passion for educating employees who may not understand their insurance, misuse their coverage and spend more than they need, Tonya is ready to assist in discovering cost-effective care without any missteps. You can reach her at 920.921.5921 or at tbahr@hierl.com.


Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare

Sixty-six percent of baby boomers are working past the traditional retirement age. There are specific rules and regulations regarding contributions and withdrawals in retirement. Continue reading to learn how employers can help prepare their employers for retirement.


Seventy-four million: That’s the estimated number of baby boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 66% of baby boomers are working past traditional retirement ages for a variety of reasons. Some feel they can’t afford to retire, particularly with the looming high costs of healthcare; others may choose to work longer to keep their brains active or because they fear the adjustment to a less structured lifestyle.

Older workers approaching full retirement age (which varies, depending on when they were born) where they can begin receiving 100% of Social Security, face some daunting decisions about Medicare, Social Security and retirement plans such as health savings accounts and 401(k)s — unchartered territory until this point in their lives. There are specific rules about contributions and withdrawals in retirement, and employers should help with the education process. Here are three ways to do so.

Break down the HSA rules from a retiree perspective. If you offer HSAs to your employees, it’s important they understand how HSAs work with Medicare: The IRS dictates that a person can’t contribute to an HSA if they’re enrolled in part of Medicare (Part A, Part D, etc.) However, they can draw on funds already in the account to pay for qualified medical expenses and premiums for Medicare Parts B, C and D (but generally not Medicare supplement plans or Medigap insurance premiums).

Importantly, your employees may be penalized for delaying Medicare, depending on the number of employees you have and whether you have group health insurance. These requirements may not be well known by your employees and should be communicated clearly.

Of course, because Medicare, Social Security and any retirement plans involve several layers of government rules and financial regulations, there are some tricky issues your employees need to know about. One is retirement “back pay.”

When employees sign up for Social Security at least six months beyond the full retirement age, they’ll receive six months of retirement benefit back pay. This is problematic if your employees contributed to their HSAs over the previous six months — they are liable for tax penalties on HSAs. Create an education strategy that includes this information for employees looking to retire, so that they can stop contributing to their HSA six months before retirement and avoid costly mistakes.

Help employees understand how all their benefits work together. Your employees have contributed their knowledge and skills to you; it’s important to help them understand their options as they work toward retirement. For those just a few years out from retirement, your education plan may include helping employees understand eligibility requirements for both Social Security and Medicare, as well as any penalties that might arise from applying late to Medicare.

As your employees age, they are also eligible to contribute “catch-up” funds to HSAs, IRAs and 401(k)s in preparation for retirement. Your 401(k) partners and financial wellness resources can help employees assess their financial situations and prepare for retirement. For example, it’s a good idea to encourage employees who may have multiple 401(k) plans to consolidate them into one — this will make it easier to manage when they retire. They may ultimately roll these into an IRA to access additional investment options.

Maintain a focus on wellness. If you have a wellness program in place, take measures to boost participation and steer employees, especially older participants, toward healthy habits to help them live well and be productive leading up to retirement.

Wellness may extend outside of physical, emotional and mental wellness to professional development. Help them improve their retirement outlook by keeping job skills up to date so they are better prepared if they need to take on other employment to supplement their retirement.

For anyone nearing retirement age it’s a good idea to become acquainted with “Medicare and You,” the government’s official Medicare handbook. While each employee’s situation will differ, there’s no doubt that planning and education are key to a successful retirement strategy and, as an employer, you can support these efforts.

SOURCE: Metzger, L (14 August 2018) "Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-best-educate-baby-boomer-workers-on-retirement


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Life Insurance

Did you know that there are different kinds of life insurance? Many people don’t know much about life insurance. Continue reading to learn more.


Life insurance blah blah blah. Is that what you hear when someone mentions it as part of your new job’s employee benefits round-up or when you see something about it on TV or social media?  Not to worry: we’ve got the low-down on what you need to know. And it’s really not as overwhelming (or underwhelming) as you might think.

1. It’s part of a sound financial plan. You know about savings, you know about retirement. You might know a bit about investments and long-term financial planning for your health and happiness. And life insurance helps with planning for your loved ones’ long-term health and happiness, especially those who depend on your income, in case something were to happen to you.

2. There are different kinds of life insurance. In addition to employment-based life insurance (which typically only lasts as long as your employment at your job), there’s term and permanent life insurance.

Term life insurance: You typically pay lower premiums for term life insurance, but your coverage is just for a specified amount of time, say 20 years, for example. At the end of the term, your insurance coverage ends.

Permanent life insurance: With permanent life insurance (whole, universal, variable) you typically pay higher premiums in the short term, but then these policies generally allow you to accumulate cash value over time. Your coverage is designed to last as long as you continue to pay premiums.

3. Life insurance is surprisingly affordable for most people. Sure, there are forms of life insurance that get pricier the more features you add on to it, and the price goes up if you’re a smoker or dealing with health problems. But most people think life insurance costs about three times as much as it really does, according to the Insurance Barometer Study by Life Happens and LIMRA. Just as a general guide, a healthy nonsmoking 30-year-old man can get a $250,000 20-year level term policy for about $16 a month.

4. Key life events are often the best time to get on board. Getting married? Having kids? Changing jobs? Bought a house? Significant life events are often the time you become most aware of the need for life insurance—and on that note…

5. You can change your life insurance. Perhaps you have a life insurance policy that your parents got for you when you were a baby. Perhaps you have a term policy from when you bought your house but now you have a bigger family and you’re concerned about getting them all through college. Or perhaps you want to bump up your coverage because your overall cost of living has changed. And on *that* note …

6. You may well need more coverage than you think. Sometimes people think life insurance is to pay off their own debts and funeral expenses. But a key advantage of having life insurance is to ensure that the people who depend on you will be OK with their ongoing and future financial needs if something happens to you. Need help figuring this out how much? Go to this online calculator: www.lifehappens.org/howmuch.

7. Life insurance pays out quickly. Because life insurance doesn’t get tangled up in estate claims, it generally pays out quickly, sometimes in days or weeks, usually inside of a month.

8. Life insurance proceeds are generally tax-free. Compare this to, say, crowdfunding options like “GoFundMe” that have become so popular yet create tax consequences for the people they’re meant to help (to say nothing of fees and the lack of guaranteed benefit). It’s also helpful when you’re trying to create an inheritance for a beneficiary.

9. Life insurance protects your family, but only if you let it. Keep your premiums paid up and your beneficiaries up to date, and the door with your agent open so that your loved ones know who to call if they need to. Keep your paperwork with your other vital documents.

10. Life insurance can be more than just life insurance. Using “riders,” or an addendum to a life insurance contract, or even a specific kind of policy, life insurance benefits can become “living benefits,” money you can access before you die, or use to pay for long-term care, as two examples.

If you still need help getting a handle on all this, talk to an agent. They can help you understand the ins and outs and the best policy for your budget and needs. Because of course—the most important thing to know about life insurance is that it’s there to help the people you love the most.

SOURCE: Mosher, H. (29 June 2018) "10 things you didn’t know about life insurance" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.lifehappens.org/blog/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-life-insurance/


Bringing personal services to work

Are you looking to incorporate onsite benefits in your employee benefits package? Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about the different onsite benefits employers are offering.


Onsite employee benefits that go beyond big-ticket items like health clinics, gyms and child care centers are now within the reach of many employers.

When Cassandra Lammers, vice president of total rewards at Audible Inc., a publisher of audio books in Newark, N.J., wanted to encourage employees to schedule regular dental visits, she focused on the large percentage of the firm's employees who are part of the Millennial generation. These younger workers tended not to use their dental benefits, claims records showed.

To address the situation, Lammers began researching mobile dental services, looking for a vendor that would provide dental care onsite during the workday. That was not as easy as it sounded. "Most of these services are designed to help the elderly and the disabled who are not able to get to a dentist's office," she noted.

See also: 15 employee benefits on the rise

After many months of looking, Lammers connected with Henry the Dentist, a mobile dental office that parks its trailer at an employer's location for a few days to provide onsite dental services. The trailer offers state-of-the-art dental services and can serve three patients at a time.

The biggest selling points for Audible were the convenience for employees and the fact that all of the dentists were in-network providers for the company's dental plan, so audible does not have to pay for the service.

"We now schedule a few days each quarter to help employees get into a normal cycle for dental visits," Lammers said. The initial visit was scheduled to last only two or three days. However, employee demand for appointments was so great that the visit lasted six full days to serve 189 employees. Lammers expects to schedule five days per quarter going forward.

"The feedback from employees has been fantastic, and they love the convenience," she said.

Alexandria Ketcheson, marketing and brand director at Henry, said that under the company's current employment model "all our dentists are full-time employees of Henry," and that "a large part of our promise to our corporate clients is that their employees will see the same medical staff during every visit."

Fill'er Up

Onsite benefit programs should be designed to save employees time and to make their lives easier. Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line offers a range of onsite benefits to accomplish just that, including dry cleaning, a coffee shop and deliveries from a flower vendor every Friday so that employees can buy fresh flowers for the weekend.

"This is all part of our effort to be an employer of choice," said Tami Blanco, the company's vice president of shoreside human resources. "We focus on providing services that employees use or need regularly. Employees want to spend their time off with family, not running errands."

One of the more popular onsite benefits is access to Neighborhood Fuel, a service that comes to Carnival Cruise employees in South Florida and fills up their gas tanks in the parking lot while they are working.

See also: The Changing Landscape of Employee Benefits

By using a smartphone app, employees can request a fill-up, leaving the gas cap door ajar on their cars. Once the fuel truck completes the fill-up, the app sends an alert with the total cost of the gas.

So far, half of Carnival Cruise's Miami-based employees have signed up to use the service, and 75 percent of those employees say it is of great value to them, Blanco said.

Beware Upselling

When an employer offers any onsite benefit to employees, it comes with an implicit endorsement of the vendor's services, so it's important for employers to proceed with caution when choosing those vendors.

Carnival Cruise Line, for example, often offers new services to one group of employees as a pilot project to see if it is something the company wants to offer to all employees.

Before offering onsite dental care, Lammers not only read the reviews of the dental providers working for Henry the Dentist but also asked pointed questions about how the service ensures the safety of employees while they are walking to and from the mobile facility and while they are inside receiving treatment. "We also wanted to understand how they operate [and] how they interface with employees, ensure confidentiality, et cetera," said Lammers, who inspected the mobile dental facility personally.

See also: How millennials are shaping employee benefits

Once employees begin using any onsite service, employers should check in periodically to make sure employees are happy with the service and comfortable using it. For example, if employees feel a vendor is putting pressure on them to buy more or to upgrade, that's something an employer may want to address directly with the vendor so that employees don't feel pressured.

SOURCE: Sammer, J (5 July 2018) “Bringing personal services to work” (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/bringing-personal-services-to-work.aspx