New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women


You can read the original article here.

Source:

Sobel L., Salganicoff A., Rosenzweig C. (6 October 2017). "New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/new-regulations-broadening-employer-exemptions-to-contraceptive-coverage-impact-on-women/

The Trump Administration has issued new regulations that significantly broaden employers’ ability to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement.  The regulation opens the door for any employer or college/ university with a student health plan with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs to qualify for an exemption. Any nonprofit or closely-held for-profit employer with moral objections to contraceptive coverage also qualifies for an exemption. Their female employees, dependents and students will no longer be entitled to coverage for the full range of FDA approved contraceptives at no cost.

On October 6, 2017, the Trump Administration issued two new regulations greatly expanding the types of employers that may be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement.  These regulations are a significant departure from the Obama-era regulations that only granted an exception to houses of worship.  One of the regulations allows nonprofits or for-profit employer with an objection to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs to qualify for an exemption and drop contraceptive coverage from their plans.  The other regulation also exempts all but publicly traded employers with moral objections to contraception from rule. These new policies, effective immediately, also apply to private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans. The immediate impact of these regulations on the number of women who are eligible for contraceptive coverage is unknown, but the new regulations open the door for many more employers to withhold contraceptive coverage from their plans.

New regulations from the Trump administration greatly expand exemption from #ACA contraceptive coverage rule

Contraceptive coverage under the ACA has made access to the full range of contraceptive methods affordable to millions of women. This provision is part of a set of key preventive services that has been identified by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for women that must be covered without cost-sharing. Since it was first issued in 2012, the contraceptive coverage provision has been controversial. While very popular with the public, with over 77% of women and 64% of men reporting support for no-cost contraceptive coverage, it has been the focus of litigation brought by religious employers, with two cases (Zubik v Burwell and Burwell v Hobby Lobby)  reaching the Supreme Court. This brief explains the contraceptive coverage rule under the ACA, the impact it has had on coverage, and how the new regulations issued by the Trump Administration change the contraceptive coverage requirement for employers and affect women’s coverage.

How do the new regulations change contraceptive coverage requirements for employers?

Since they were announced in 2011, the contraceptive coverage rules have evolved through litigation and new regulations. Most employers were required to include the coverage in their plans. Houses of worship could choose to be exempt from the requirement if they had religious objections. This exception meant that women workers and female dependents of exempt employers did not have guaranteed coverage for either some or all FDA approved contraceptive methods if their employer had an objection. Religiously affiliated nonprofits and closely held for-profit corporations were not eligible for an exemption, but could choose an accommodation. This option was offered to religiously affiliated nonprofit employers and then extended to closely held for-profitsafter the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The accommodation allowed these employers to opt out of providing and paying for contraceptive coverage in their plans by either notifying their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection. The insurers were then responsible for covering the costs of contraception, which assured that their workers and dependents had contraceptive coverage while relieving the employers of the requirement to pay for it.

As of 2015, 10% of nonprofits with 5,000 or more employees had elected for an accommodation without challenging the requirement. This approach, however, has not been acceptable to all nonprofits with religious objections.1 In May 2016, the Supreme Court remanded Zubik v. Burwell, sending seven cases brought by religious nonprofits objecting to the contraceptive coverage accommodation back to the respective district Courts of Appeal. The Supreme Court instructed the parties to work together to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”2

On October 6, 2017, the Trump Administration issued new regulations greatly expanding eligibility for the exemption to all nonprofit and closely-held for-profit employers with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, including private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans (Figure 1).  In addition, publicly traded for-profit companies with objections based on religious beliefs also qualify for an exemption. There is no guaranteed right of contraceptive coverage for their female employees and dependents or students. Table 1 presents the changes to the contraceptive coverage rule from the Obama Administration in the new Interim Final regulations issued by the Trump Administration.

Figure 1: Employers Objecting to Contraceptive Coverage: Exemptions and Accommodations Under the Trump Administration Regulations

The accommodation will be available to employers that previously qualified for the accommodation.  They now will also have the choice of an exemption. The federal departments issuing the regulations posit that these new rules will have limited impact on the number of women losing contraceptive coverage.   However, it is not clear how many employers previously utilizing the accommodation will now opt for an exemption, resulting in the loss of contraceptive coverage for their employees and dependents.  In addition, there are also an unknown number of organizations that were not previously eligible for either the accommodation or exemption that may now opt for an exemption. These new regulations create two new categories of employers who can now qualify for an exemption or can voluntarily chooses an accommodation:  1) publicly traded for-profit companies with a religious objection and 2) nonprofit and closely held for-profit employers who have a moral objection to contraceptives, a considerably larger pool of employers than when the exemption was available only to those who were employees of a house of worship or who were eligible for an accommodation in the past.

Table 1: Summary of Changes in the Contraceptive Coverage Regulations for Objecting Entities
  Obama Administration
August 2012 to October 5, 2017
Trump Administration
Effective October 6, 2017
What types of contraceptives must plans cover without cost-sharing? At least one of each of the 18 FDA approved contraceptive methods for women, as prescribed, along with counseling and related services must be covered without cost-sharing. No change
Are any employers “exempt” from the contraceptive mandate?
  • Religious institutions defined as “houses of worship”
  • Grandfathered plans
  • No notice to employees is required. Women workers and female dependents must pay for their own contraceptives.
  • Religious institutions defined as “houses of worship”
  • Grandfathered plans
  • Nonprofit or  for-profit employers (including publicly traded companies), insurers, or private colleges or universities that issue student insurance plans with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage
  • Nonprofit or closely held for-profit employers, insurers, or private colleges or universities that issue student insurance plans with a moralobjection to contraceptive coverage
  • Notice is only required if the plan previously included contraceptive coverage. Women workers and female dependents must pay for their own contraceptives.
Who pays for contraceptive coverage for employees of organizations receiving an exemption?
  • The cost of contraceptives is borne by women workers and female dependents.
  • There is no guarantee of contraceptive coverage for employees of an exempt organization.
  • The employer may choose to cover some methods, but has no obligation to cover all 18 FDA methods without cost sharing
No change

What type of employers may seek an “accommodation” to avoid paying for contraceptives in their plans?  
  • Closely held for-profit corporations and religiously affiliated nonprofits with religious objections to contraception can opt out of providing and paying for contraceptive coverage
  • Notice must be provided to either their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection.
  • Women workers and female dependents receive no cost contraceptive coverage.
  • Any entity (except for houses of worship) eligible for an exemption can choose the accommodation instead of the exemption.
  • Notice must be provided to either their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection.
  • Women workers and female dependents receive no cost contraceptive coverage.
Who pays for contraceptive coverage for employees of organizations receiving an accommodation?
  • Insurance companies of firms obtaining an accommodation must pay for contraceptive coverage.
  • Third-party administrators (TPA) of self-funded health plans must cover the costs of contraceptives for employees. The costs of the benefit are offset by reductions in the fees the TPA pays to participate in the federal exchange.
No change
When can entities change from an accommodation to an exemption? N/A
  • When an employer or private college or university currently using the accommodation opts for an exemption, the revocation of contraceptive coverage will be effective on the first day of the first plan year that begins 30 days after the date of the revocation or 60 days notice may be given in a summary of benefits statement.
  • The issuer or third party administrator is responsible for providing the notice to the beneficiaries.

How has the contraceptive coverage rule affected women?

Contraceptive use among women is widespread, with over 99% of sexually-active women using at least one method at some point during their lifetime.3 Contraceptives make up an estimated 30-44% of out-of-pocket health care spending for women.4 Since the implementation of the ACA, out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs has decreased dramatically (Figure 2). The majority of this decline (63%) can be attributed to the drop in out-of-pocket expenses on the oral contraceptive pill for women.5 One study estimates that roughly $1.4 billion dollars per year in out-of-pocket savings on the pill resulted from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.6  By 2013, most women had no out-of-pocket costs for their contraception, as median expenses for most contraceptive methods, including the IUD and the pill, dropped to zero.7

Figure 2: The Contraceptive Coverage Policy Has Had a Large Impact on Out-Of-Pocket Spending in a Short Amount of Time

This provision has also influenced the decisions women make in their choice of method. After implementation of the ACA contraceptive coverage requirement, women were more likely to choose any method of prescription contraceptive, with a shift towards more effective long-term methods.8  High upfront costs of long-acting methods, such as the IUD and implant, had been a barrier to women who might otherwise prefer these more effective methods.  When faced with no cost-sharing, women choose these methods more often9, with significant implications for the rate of unintended pregnancy and associated costs of childbirth.10

Finally, decreases in cost-sharing were associated with better adherence and more consistent use of the pill. This was especially true among users of generic pills.  One study showed that even copayments as low as $6 were associated with higher levels of discontinuation and non-adherence,11 increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Do states with no-cost contraceptive coverage laws allow exemptions to objecting entities?

The federal standards under Affordable Care Act created a minimum set of preventive benefits that applied to most health plans regulated by the federal government (self-funded plans, federal employee plans) and states (individual, small and large group plans), including contraceptive coverage for women with no cost-sharing.  States have also historically regulated insurance, and many have had mandated minimum benefits for decades. State laws, however, have more limited reach in that they only apply to state regulated fully insured plans, do not have jurisdiction over self-funded plans, where 61% of covered workers are insured.12 In self-funded plans, the employer assumes the risk of providing covered services and usually contracts with a third party administrator (TPA) to manage the claims payment process. These plans are overseen by the Federal Department of Labor under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and are only subject to federally established regulations.13  The ACA sets a minimum standard of coverage for preventive services for all plans. However, state laws regulating insurance, including contraceptive coverage, can require fully insured plans to provide coverage beyond the federal standards.

Eight states have strengthened and expanded the federal contraceptive coverage requirement (CA, IL, MD, ME, NV, NY, OR, VT).  Another 20 states have contraceptive equity laws that require plans to cover contraceptives if they also provide coverage for prescription drugs but they do not necessarily require coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives or ban cost-sharing (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Many States Have Contraceptive Coverage Requirements

Many of the 28 states that have passed contraceptive coverage laws (both equity and no-cost coverage) have a provision for exemptions, but the laws vary from state to state and only apply to fully insured plans.  This means that there may be a conflict between the state and federal requirements when it comes to religious exemptions.  In some states with a contraceptive coverage requirement, some employers who are eligible for an exemption under federal law will not qualify for an exemption under state law (Table 2). Employers in those states will have to have to meet the standards established by their state even though they may qualify for an exemption based on the new federal regulations.  This conflict may set the stage for future litigation.

Table 2: State Requirements for No-Cost Contraceptive Coverage
StateDate Effective Applies to Coverage required without cost sharing Exemptions allowed
  Private plans Medicaid With RX all FDA approved OTC Vasectomy Religious Moral
CaliforniaJanuary 2015 X MCOs X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
IllinoisJanuary 2017 X X X
except male condoms
Any employer, or insurer with a religious objection Any employer, or insurer with a moral objection
MarylandJanuary 2018 X X X X X Religious organizations if the coverage conflicts with the organization’s bona fide religious beliefs and practices None
MaineJanuary 2019 X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
NevadaJanuary 2018 X X X Insurers affiliated with a religious organization None
New YorkAugust 2017 X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers* None
OregonAugust 2017 X X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
VermontOctober 2016 X X – and all other public health assistance programs X X None None
NOTES: *Requires the insurer to offer a rider to policyholders so that women will have contraceptive coverage.
SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of state laws and regulations.

Conclusion

The Trump Administration’s new regulations substantially expand the exemption to nonprofit and for-profit employers, as well as to private colleges or universities with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. It is unknown how many of these employers and colleges will maintain coverage through the accommodation as before and how many will now opt for the exemption leaving their students, employees and dependents without no-cost coverage for the full range of contraceptive methods. As a result of the new regulation, choices about coverage and cost-sharing will be made by employers and private colleges and universities that issue student plans. For many women, their employers will determine whether they have no-cost coverage to the full range of FDA approved methods.  Their choice of contraceptive methods may again be limited by cost, placing some of the most effective yet costly methods out of financial reach.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Sobel L., Salganicoff A., Rosenzweig C. (6 October 2017). "New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/new-regulations-broadening-employer-exemptions-to-contraceptive-coverage-impact-on-women/


High-Performing ACA Navigators Mystified By Deep Cuts Less Than Year After Being Touted As ‘Superstars’

What's the latest on the effects of President Trump's executive order on health care? We pulled this article from Kaiser Health News, which includes multiple sources for information. Check them out and stay up-to-date with us!


You can read the original article here.

Source:

Kaiser Family Foundation (10 October 2017). "High-Performing ACA Navigators Mystified By Deep Cuts Less Than Year After Being Touted As ‘Superstars’" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/morning-breakout/high-performing-aca-navigators-mystified-by-deep-cuts-less-than-year-after-being-touted-as-superstars/

 

“We have yet to receive any explanation of the cut. We have met or exceeded every one of our performance metrics. There was never any feedback that gave us any indication that we were not going to receive the same amount,” says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The Trump administration slashed funding for theses navigators by more than 40 percent nationally, with some places seeing cuts of nearly 90 percent.

The New York Times: Trump’s Cuts To Health Law Enrollment Efforts Are Hitting Hard
Michigan Consumers for Health Care, a nonprofit group, has enrolled thousands of people in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and was honored last year as one of the nation’s top performers — a “super navigator” that would serve as a mentor to enrollment counselors in other states. So the group was stunned to learn from the Trump administration that its funds for assisting consumers ahead of the open enrollment period that begins Nov. 1 would be cut by 89 percent, to $129,900, from $1.2 million. (Pear, 10/9)
Meanwhile, in other health law news —
The Hill: Trump Could Make Waves With Health Care Order 
President Trump's planned executive order on ObamaCare is worrying supporters of the law and insurers, who fear it could undermine the stability of ObamaCare. Trump’s order, expected as soon as this week, would allow small businesses or other groups of people to band together to buy health insurance. Some fear that these Association Health Plans (AHPs) would not be subject to the same rules as ObamaCare plans, including those that protect people with pre-existing conditions. (Sullivan, 10/10)
Politico: Republicans Privately Admit Defeat On Obamacare Repeal
For the first time, rank-and-file Republicans are acknowledging Obamacare may never be repealed. After multiple failures to repeal the law, the White House and many GOP lawmakers are publicly promising to try again in early 2018. But privately, both House and Senate Republicans acknowledge they may never be able to deliver on their seven-year vow to scrap the law. (Haberkorn, 10/9)
You can read the original article here.Source:Kaiser Family Foundation (10 October 2017). "High-Performing ACA Navigators Mystified By Deep Cuts Less Than Year After Being Touted As ‘Superstars’" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/morning-breakout/high-performing-aca-navigators-mystified-by-deep-cuts-less-than-year-after-being-touted-as-superstars/


What You Need to Know about Health Flexible Spending Accounts

Are you having a hard time figuring out how a FSAs works? Take a look at this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla and found out everything you need to know about FSAs.


A health flexible spending account (FSA) is a pre-tax account used to pay for out-of-pocket health care costs for a participant as well as a participant's spouse and eligible dependents. Health FSAs are employer-established benefit plans and may be offered with other employer-provided benefits as part of a cafeteria plan. Self-employed individuals are not eligible for FSAs.

Even though a health FSA may be extended to any employee, employers should design their health FSAs so that participation is offered only to employees who are eligible to participate in the employer's major medical plan. Generally, health FSAs must qualify as excepted benefits, which means other nonexcepted group health plan coverage must be available to the health FSA's participants for the year through their employment. If a health FSA fails to qualify as an excepted benefit, then this could result in excise taxes of $100 per participant per day or other penalties.

Contributing to an FSA

Money is set aside from the employee's paycheck before taxes are taken out and the employee may use the money to pay for eligible health care expenses during the plan year. The employer owns the account, but the employee contributes to the account and decides which medical expenses to pay with it.

At the beginning of the plan year, a participant must designate how much to contribute so the employer can deduct an amount every pay day in accordance with the annual election. A participant may contribute with a salary reduction agreement, which is a participant election to have an amount voluntarily withheld by the employer. A participant may change or revoke an election only if there is a change in employment or family status that is specified by the plan.

Per the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), FSAs are capped at $2,600 per year per employee. However, since a plan may have a lower annual limit threshold, employees are encouraged to review their Summary Plan Description (SPD) to find out the annual limit of their plan. A participant's spouse can put $2,600 in an FSA with the spouse's own employer. This applies even if both spouses participate in the same health FSA plan sponsored by the same employer.

Generally, employees must use the money in an FSA within the plan year or they lose the money left in the FSA account. However, employers may offer either a grace period of up to two and a half months following the plan year to use the money in the FSA account or allow a carryover of up to $500 per year to use in the following year.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 29). What you need to know about health flexible spending accounts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-health-flexible-spending-accounts-1


VR headset at DrupalCon LA by pdjohnson from Flickr

VR for HR

Have you always wanted to see the world? May VR technology is a way to incorporate the world into your business. Check out this article from our partner, UBA, written by Geoff Mukhtar, and discover what the world's latest technology can offer your company.

You can read the original article here.


No matter how well traveled you are, or how busy your lifestyle may be, you likely haven’t been everywhere in the world, or done everything there is to do. There is technology out there, however, that can bring the world to you. That technology is called “virtual reality,” or VR for short, and it’s changing the way that people experience life. VR provides a simulated environment that mimics a real one.

Whether you want to climb a mountain, dive deep underwater, or even go on a top-secret military mission, VR can bring all this to you in the comfort of your own home. So, what does all this have to do with human resources? In an article titled, “Virtual Reality Gives Job Candidates a Vivid Big Picture” on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website, there are numerous, maybe even limitless, uses for VR. The U.S. Navy uses VR in its recruiting and so, too, are many companies.

Not only does VR simulate what it’s like to work at a particular company, but it also highlights that a company is on the cutting edge in terms of technology and is using VR to differentiate itself from other companies. Just like Pink Floyd’s song, “Wish you were here,” VR can bring you to any location, whether it’s a city or a corporate headquarters. The latter being especially relevant with recruiting because a company doesn’t have to spend the money to fly job candidates to their office.

Plus, once these job candidates “see” what it would be like to work at a particular company in a particular city, they may even decide that it’s not what they want and retract their application. Thus, not wasting their time, or a company’s time, during the interview process.

Another benefit of VR recruiting is the undivided attention of the wearer. While a job candidate explores the company’s campus, offices, surroundings, etc., messages can be presented that include information about a company’s health plan, employee benefits, and other opportunities.

VR technology is just another tool that recruiters can use, but it’s definitely one of the more powerful ones. No other tool, not even video conferencing, can immerse someone so deeply into an environment so that he or she can seemingly blend into the workplace culture without actually stepping foot through the door.

 

Mukhtar G. (26 September 2017). "VR for HR" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/vr-for-hr


Center Stage...Do You Have an Employer Return to Work Program?

A proven strategy to reduce workers compensation cost and shorten the length of a worker’s compensation time is a return to work (RTW) program.

Loss reduction overall can be greatly improved by an effective RTW program.

 

“Before RTW programs evolved, the role of an employee was a passive one. If an employee was injured and was unable to work, they ended up sitting at home and it became the doctor’s responsibility to decide when they were cleared for work. Hierl takes a proactive approach to getting these workers back on the job.” -Cathleen Christenson

Today, most disability or worker’s compensation insurers enact RTW programs to help facilitate injured workers return to work in a timely manner. Hierl recommends a policy where employers are more actively involved with the doctor and employee throughout the worker’s compensation claim. These policies clarify the employee’s late duty work, alternative job duties to keep workers engaged when they are on a leave, and any other expectations up front.

A study by the Department of Labor and Industry, produced that the chances of returning to any type of work drastically reduced the longer they are away from work. At just six months away from work, the employee only stands a fifty percent chance of getting back to any type of work. At twenty-four months, the study found the worker will most likely never return to productive work.

Key Points to a Successful Return to Work Program

  1. Have a dedicated person responsible

Having a dedicated return to work coordinator or specialist to facilitate the return to work process and provide individualized planning that adapts to the worker’s initial and ongoing needs shows that you care as an employer. This role will also be in charge of assigning modified work duties for the employee. Be sure to make sure the employee knows who they can contact if they have any questions or need help through the return to work process.

 

  1. Maintain active communication

An essential requirement for a successful early return to work program is good communication between the employer, the employee and the medical care provider. It can be very beneficial for employers to be able to develop a relationship with medical providers in their community to allow the medical provider to understand what the company does and accurately determine when an employee can return to their workplace.

  1. Actively engage employee in the return to work program

Often employees are injured and left to stay at home without work and they suffer a serious change to their normal routine. By spending time away from the office, it causes a disconnect from the human element that exists in the office. In order to ensure employees stay involved and return to work, it is crucial to keep them engaged usually through late duty work. Ensure that all employees know the company return to work policy and that they understand the company is committed to keeping them engaged in late duty work.

The key in successful return to work programs is making sure that any of your efforts aren’t perceived as punitive but instead convey to your employees that you care about them. Make sure that all levels of employees recognize that early return to work after an injury speeds up the recovery process and reduces the likelihood of a permanent disability. Studies clearly demonstrate that employees who are off work because of an injury for more than 16 weeks seldom return to the workforce, costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Overall, workplace return to work policies have positive impacts on duration and costs of worker compensation.

Contact Hierl for guidance in enacting a return to work program or general employee safety practices. A good return to work program should be set up before it is needed.


Survey: Small Businesses Keeping Pace with Health Benefits Offered by Employers Nationwide

Find out how small businesses compare to major corporations when it comes to their healthcare benefits in this informative article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bill Olson.

Small employers, those with fewer than 100 employees, have a reputation for not offering health insurance benefits that are competitive with larger employers, but new survey data from UBA’s Health Plan Survey reveals they are keeping pace with the average employer and, in fact, doing a better job of containing costs.

According to our new special report: “Small Businesses Keeping Pace with Nationwide Health Trends,” employees across all plan types pay an average of $3,378 toward annual health insurance benefits, with their employer picking up the rest of the total cost of $9,727. Among small groups, employees pay $3,557, with their employer picking up the balance of $9,474 – only a 5.3 percent difference.

When looking at total average annual cost per employees for PPO plans, small businesses actually cut a better deal even compared to their largest counterparts—their costs are generally below average—and the same holds true for small businesses offering HMO and CDHP plans. (Keep in mind that relief such as grandmothering and the PACE Act helped many of these small groups stay in pre-ACA plans at better rates, unlike their larger counterparts.)

PPO Plan Average Annual Cost per Employee

Think small businesses are cutting coverage to drive these bargains? Compared to the nations very largest groups, that may be true, but compared to average employers, small groups are highly competitive

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olson B. (2017 August 24). Survey: small business keeping pace with health benefits offered by employers nationwide [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/survey-small-businesses-keeping-pace-with-health-benefits-offered-by-employers-nationwide


6 employee benefits trends in 2017

2018 is almost upon us. More employers are beginning to start their search for new talent next year. If you are in the process of hiring check out this great article put together by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro and find out the top employee benefit trends for attracting new talent in 2017.

Employers looking to attract the best new employees need to look closely at their benefits offerings.

That’s according to a CBS report that highlights the six trends in benefits that are of the most interest to prospective employees. With millennials having outpaced GenXers as the largest demographic in the workplace, the report says, “it has become abundantly clear over the course of the last half decade that millennials have very different career priorities than their predecessors.”

With that in mind, here are six types of benefits employers might want to consider, if they’re not already on offer.

Flex hours are high on the list for millennials, who regard life/work balance as very important. In fact, according to a PwC study, it’s more important to them than financial compensation. Flexible schedules provide a way for employers to give that balance to employees, allowing them to work hours other than 9-to-5, or from home part of the week. As a result, the report says, employees will have better job satisfaction and be more likely to stay.

Workplace wellness programs are another way to provide a perk that pays off for both employer and employee — and not necessarily at a high cost, the report says. Not only do such programs foster a strong sense of team unity that will help drive job satisfaction and productivity, they also cut health care costs.

Continuing education not only gives employees a leg up, but also provides employers with better-trained staff who are able to cope with modern challenges and less likely to jump ship in search of a more congenial workplace. While the report concedes that most small and midsize businesses don’t have the budget to provide postgrad tuition to employees, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t focus on such investments in language and software certification classes.

Digital health care solutions enable masters of the cyber world in the workforce to reach out to health practitioners via mobile devices and computers, resulting in faster and more personalized treatment. In addition, the report says, “digital health programs are also incredibly cost effective and are estimated to save billions in medical costs over the next four years.”

Fringe benefits and perks — even if not on the scale of big-budget Silicon Valley companies — are another way to woo millennial employees. Public transportation passes, reimbursing employees for yoga classes and massage sessions and providing free lunches or snacks, can give recruiting an edge over companies that do nothing along these lines, the report points out.

Last but not least, there’s a bigger budget of vacation days. Employers may think that’s too expensive, but employee burnout is responsible for 50 percent of employee churn— and the cost of replacing even an entry-level employee can cost a company up to 50 percent of his or her annual salary. The money spent on extra vacation to avoid burnout could be more than offset by the losses of not doing so. Plus, the knowledge that well-rested employees are more productive will also help to counter the down time that might be caused by those additional days off.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 September 5 ). 6 employee benefits trends in 2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/05/6-employee-benefits-trends-in-2017?page=2&page_all=1


Closing the execution continuum on employee benefit cost savings

Are you using big data to reduce your employee benefits costs? As more employers switch their employee benefits to a digital platform, big data can be a great tool for employers looking to reduce the costs associated with their benefits program. Check out this great article by Eric Helman from Employee Benefit Advisor and found out how you can leverage your data to reduce to cost of an employee benefit program.

A revolution in employee benefits is on the horizon, and 21st century analytics is at the core. Big data holds the promise to scan huge amounts of information in a near real-time environment for insights that will impact the current and future trajectory for a given area. The advancement of true cross-vendor analytics, prescription, engagement and measurement brought on by the democratization of big data is enabling employers, brokers and consultants to improve the performance of their employee benefits plans like never before.

Two decades ago, I had the opportunity to hear Chris Sullivan, one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse, speak to a group of executives about customer research. His sentiments: “We don’t do focus groups. People don’t know what they want. Who would say they would like to stand in line for 30 minutes to eat salty food in a very loud restaurant? But that is exactly what they wanted. And that is what made Outback a success. Instead of focus groups, we place very talented and engaged proprietors in our stores and teach them to observe what people want. Then, we replicate that experience.”

In the realm of employee benefits, surveys, focus groups and anecdotes about specific employee encounters with the benefits program typically drive the discussions about how that program should evolve in the future. Unlike the situation at Outback, it is difficult to “observe” how people actually consume benefits and tailor a program that is attractive to them.

Analytics drive strategy 
Fortunately, recent developments in data analytics have unlocked the potential of using consumer behavior insights to drive employee benefits strategy. Leading practitioners are beginning to leverage these developments to change the annual renewal process. The technologies that support data aggregation, normalization and reporting have been aggressively developed to support the provider and payer communities. Only now have these advancements been made available to employers and their advisers.

The most successful practitioners point to the value of standardized claims reporting based upon credible data. By combining current claims data with industry benchmarks and predictive analytics, employers gain insight into the ongoing performance of their benefit plans. They “see” for themselves what industry professionals have been telling them for years. Plan performance is based upon claims, both in terms of the number of units of healthcare consumed and the price of those units. In recent surveys, benefit professionals report the difficulty they have in convincing CFOs and CEOs to make the necessary changes to benefit programs. Standardized reporting from a credible analytics platform can greatly enhance the ability for benefit professionals to communicate their agenda.

But standardized reporting is not the panacea. Benefits are complex. And the relationship between risk and consumption of healthcare add to the complexity. Even in the best reporting environments where executives are well informed about the performance of their plans and how the key metrics compare to industry norms, they are often perplexed about what to do with the information. Advancements in the realm of “actionable analytics” are beginning to address this problem as well.

While artificial intelligence or AI is all the rage, the underlying concept of having a computer suggest a course of action based upon data is not a new idea. The new application to employee benefits is the ability to provide “suggestions” in the context of standardized financial reporting. The number of ideas to bend the cost curve are numerous. The challenge is matching these ideas with the appropriate populations, convincing decision makers to invest and engaging the appropriate cohorts of employees to take specific actions necessary to realize the return on investment for these initiatives.

New systems are now available to close the gaps on this execution continuum. The foundation for these new systems is a robust analytics platform. But actionable analytics build upon this foundation by evaluating the employer’s data to discern whether a specific cost-saving initiative might generate savings worthy of the investment. These new systems present the output of that analysis in an easy to understand graphical format for benefit consultants and HR professionals to effectively communicate the potential of cost savings initiatives to decision makers.

Targeted engagement maximizes compliance and ROI
Getting executives to commit to intentional actions to affect the rising costs of benefits solves one half of the problem. The second half of the problem is one of focus. Rather than attempting to engage all employees with generalized messaging, these new systems use analytics to focus their engagement on a specific cohort of individuals in order to drive the greatest impact. This focus allows for a concentration of resources on the targeted populations, resulting in increased compliance and larger return on investment. The best implementations are integrated with benefits administration platforms and can incorporate multiple initiatives simultaneously. Point solutions, from an engagement perspective, have been proven to result in single-digit compliance. The power of an integrated engagement solution allows for initiatives that, because they are both focused and automated, can be executed simultaneously.

Advancements in technology have created a new era in which the democratization of big data allows for non-technical professionals to access detailed information and convert that information into intelligence. According to a recent survey, more than 65% of employers confess they are not strategic when it comes to benefits cost management. In spite of the many cost savings ideas available, more than 40% say they are not engaging in any new initiatives in the upcoming year. While the future of healthcare reform is in doubt, the potential for actionable analytics to significantly change the trajectory of the employer’s benefits costs is certain.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Helman E. (2017 September 5). Closing the execution continuum on employee benefit cost savings [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/closing-the-execution-continuum-on-employee-benefit-cost-savings?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Compliance Recap August 2017

August was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its 2018 affordability rate, four information letters regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and its draft Forms 1094 and 1095. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) increased the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) health and welfare fringe benefit rate and issued compliance guidance for employee benefit plans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projected Medicare Part D premiums for 2018. A U.S. District Court remanded wellness program rules to the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for reconsideration.

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in August:

IRS Released the 2018 Affordability Rate

The Internal Revenue Service released its Revenue Procedure 2017-36 which sets the affordability percentage at 9.56 percent for 2018. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an applicable large employer may be liable for a penalty if a full-time employee’s share of premium for the lowest cost self-only option offered by the employer is not affordable (for 2018, if it’s more than 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income) and the employee gets a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage.

Because the 2018 affordability rate is lower than the 2017 affordability rate, applicable large employers may need to reduce their employees’ share of premium contributions to maintain affordable coverage. Employers should double check their anticipated 2018 premiums now to prevent the need for mid-year changes.

IRS Releases Information Letters

The IRS issued Information Letters 2017-0010, 2017-0011, 2017-0013, and 2017-0017 on the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions and individual mandate.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 explain that the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions continue to apply. The letters state, “The [President’s January 20, 2017] Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.” Further, the letters indicate that there are no waivers from potential penalties for failing to offer health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0011 and 2017-0017 address the continued application of the ACA’s individual shared responsibility provisions. Letter 2017-0017 states, “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.”

IRS Issues Draft Forms 1094/1095

The IRS issued draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C for the 2017 tax year. Coverage providers use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report health plan enrollment. Applicable large employers use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information related to their employer shared responsibility provisions under the ACA.

There are no changes to the face of draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, or 1095-C. The IRS made one substantive change to draft Form 1094-C. The IRS removed the line 22 box “Section 4980H Transition Relief” which was applicable to the 2015 plan year only.

DOL Increases SCA Health and Welfare Fringe Benefit Rate

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its All Agency Memorandum Number 225 which increased the prevailing health and welfare fringe benefits issued under the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) to a rate of $4.41 per hour which is required in all government contract bids or other service contracts awarded on or after August 1, 2017.

There is a different rate for Hawaii. The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level for Hawaii will be $1.91 per hour for all employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act (HPHCA). The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level will be $1.63 per hour for employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the HPHCA and who are performing on contracts covered by Executive Order 13706 Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors.

DOL Issues Compliance Guidance for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

The DOL issued guidance for employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, and employers located in a county identified for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to Hurricane Harvey.

Because plan participants and beneficiaries may have difficulty meeting deadlines for filing ERISA benefit claims and making COBRA elections, the DOL advised plan sponsors to “act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes.”

The DOL acknowledged that group health plans may not be able to timely and fully comply with deadlines due to a physical disruption to a plan’s principal place of business. The DOL’s enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief as appropriate.

CMS Issues Projected Part D Premiums for 2018

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects that the average basic premium for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan will be $33.50 per month for 2018.

Court Remands Wellness Regulations to EEOC for Reconsideration

On August 22, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules.

The court declined to vacate the EEOC’s rules because of the significant disruptive effect it would have. However, the court remanded the rules to the EEOC for reconsideration.

Question of the Month

  1. Based on the recent court decision to require the EEOC to reconsider its wellness program rules, does this mean that the EEOC rules no longer apply to employer wellness programs?
  2. No. For now, the current EEOC rules apply to employer wellness programs. However, employers should stay informed on the status of the EEOC’s reconsideration of the wellness program rules so that employers can change their wellness programs’ design, if necessary, to comply with new EEOC rules.

You can download the full recap here.


Why Employee Engagement Matters – and 4 Ways to Build It Up

An engaged employee is a productive employee. Employee engagement is a very important piece of a company's operations. They are some of the best assets a company can have and without engaged employees, your company's operations could be negatively impacted. Take a look at this great article by Joe Wedgewood from The Happiness Index and check out some of the helpful tips on how you can boost engagement across your organization.

Organizations with high employee engagement levels outperform their low engagement counterparts in total shareholder returns and higher annual net income.” — Kenexa.

Your people are undoubtedly your greatest asset. You may have the best product in the world, but if you can’t keep them engaged and motivated — then it counts for very little.

By making efforts to keep your people engaged, you will maximize your human capital investment and witness your efforts being repaid exponentially.

The benefits of an engaged workforce

Increase in profitability: 

Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year.” — Workplace Research Foundation.

 There is a wealth of research to suggest that companies that focus on employee engagement will have an emotionally invested and committed workforce. This tends to result in higher profitability rates and shareholder returns. The more engaged your employees are the more efficient and productive they become. This will help lower operating costs and increase profit margins.

An engaged workforce will be more committed and driven to help your business succeed. By focusing on engagement and investing in your people’s future, you will create a workforce that will generate more income for your business.

Improved retention and recruitment rates:

“Replacing employees who leave can cost up to 150% of the departing employee’s salary. Highly engaged organizations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%; the disengaged are four times more likely to leave the organization than the average employee.” — Corporate Leadership Council

Retaining good employees is vital for organizational success. Engaged employees are much less likely to leave, as they will be committed to their work and invested in the success of the company. They will have an increased chance of attracting more qualified people.

Ultimately the more engaged your people are, the higher their productivity and workplace satisfaction will be. This will significantly reduce costs around absences, recruitment, training and time lost for interviews and onboarding.

Boost in workplace happiness:

“Happy employees are 12%t more productive than the norm, and 22% more productive than their unhappy peers. Creating a pleasant workplace full of happy people contributes directly to the bottom line.” – Inc.

Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees are productive employees. A clear focus on workplace happiness, will help you to unlock everyone’s true potential. On top of this, an engaged and happy workforce can also become loyal advocates for your company. This is evidenced by the Corporate Leadership Council, “67% of engaged employees were happy to advocate their organizations compared to only 3% of the disengaged.”

Higher levels of productivity:

“Employees with the highest levels of commitment perform 20% better than employees with lower levels of commitment.” — The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Often your most engaged people will be the most dedicated and productive, which will give your bottom line a positive boost. Employees who are engaged with their role and align with the culture are more productive as they are looking beyond personal benefits. Put simply, they will work with the overall success of the organization in mind and performance will increase.

More innovation:

“Employee engagement plays a central role in translating additional job resources into innovative work behaviour.” — J.J. Hakanen.

Employee engagement and innovation are closely linked. Disengaged employees will not have the desire to work innovatively and think of new ways to improve your business; whereas an engaged workforce will perform at a higher level, due to increased levels of satisfaction and interest in their role. This often breeds creativity and innovation.

If your people are highly engaged they will be emotionally invested in your business. This can result in them making efforts to share ideas and innovations with you that can lead to the creation of new services and products — thus improving employee profitability.

Strategies to increase employee engagement

Communicate regularly:

Every member of your team will have valuable insights, feedback and suggestions. Many will have concerns and frustrations too. Failure to effectively listen and respond to everyone will lower their engagement and negatively affect the company culture.

Create open lines of communication and ensure everyone knows how to contact you. This will create a platform for your people to share ideas, innovations and concerns with you. It will also bridge gaps between senior management and the rest of the team.

An effective way to communicate and respond to everyone in real-time is by introducing pulse surveys — which will allow you to gather instant intelligence on your people to help you understand the sentiment of your organization. You can use this feedback to create relevant action plans to boost engagement and make smarter business decisions.

Take the time to respond and share action plans with everyone. This will ensure your people know that their feedback is being heard and can really make a difference.

Recognize achievements:

“The engagement level of employees who receive recognition is almost three times higher than the engagement level of those who do not.” — IBM Smarter Workforce Institute.

If your people feel undervalued or unappreciated then their performance and profitability will decrease. According to a survey conducted by technology company Badgeville, only 31% of employees are most motivated by monetary awards. The remaining 69% of employees are motivated by job satisfaction, recognition and learning opportunities.

Make efforts to celebrate good work and recognize everyone’s input. Take the time to personally congratulate people and honor their achievements and hard work. You will likely be rewarded with an engaged and energized workforce, that will make efforts to impress you and have their efforts recognized.

Provide opportunities for growth:

Career development is key for employee engagement. If your people feel like their careers are stagnating, or their hard work and emotional investment aren’t being reciprocated — then you can be certain that engagement will drop.

By meeting with your people regularly, discussing agreed targets and time frames, and clearly highlighting how they fit into the organizations wider plans, you can build a “road map” for their future. This will show that their efforts and hard work aren’t going unnoticed.

Improve company culture:

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” — Simon Sinek.

Building a culture that reflects your brand and creates a fun and productive working environment is one of the most effective ways to keep your employees engaged. It’ll also boost retention and help recruitment efforts. If your culture motivates everyone to work hard, help each other, become brand ambassadors, and even keep the place clean — then you have won the battle.

An engaged and committed workforce is a huge contributor to any organization’s bottom line. The rightculture will be a catalyst to help you achieve this.

Here’s how you can improve the company culture within your organization:

  • Empower your people: Empowered employees will take ownership of their responsibilities, solve problems and do whatever it takes to help your company succeed. This will drive your company culture forward. Demonstrate you have faith in your people and trust them to fulfill their duties to their best of their abilities. This will ensure they feel valued, which can lead to empowerment.
  • Manage and communicate expectations: Your people may struggle to understand your cultural vision. By setting clear and regular expectations and communicating your vision via posters, emails, discussions and leading by example, you will prevent confusion and limit deviation from your desired vision.
  • Be consistent: To sustain a consistent culture, you must show uniformity with your actions and communications. Make efforts to have consistent expectations and standards for all your workers, and communicate everything in the same way.

By focusing on employee engagement and investing in your people, they will repay your efforts with an increase in performance, productivity and — ultimately — profit.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Wedgewood J. (2017 June 8). Why employee engagement matters - and 4 ways to build it up [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/employee-engagement-ways-to-build-it-up/