As Cost of Benefits Rises, Employees See Shift in Spending

Have you seen a reduction in the amount of money your company spends on their employee benefits program? Take a look at this interesting column by Royce Swayze of Employee Benefits Adviser on how the rising cost of employee benefits is causing employers to look for new ways to lower their costs while trying to help increase their employees financial and physical well-being.

Are employees getting the benefits they really want? Maybe not, a recent Willis Towers Watson analysis found. The study, “Shifts in Benefit Allocations Among U.S. Employers,” revealed that from 2001 to 2015 the cost of employer-provided benefits, measured as a percentage of pay, rose 24%, and, during that time, employers shifted benefit dollars to areas that may not meet employee preferences.

Specifically, the study shows the overall cost of benefits — retirement, healthcare and post-retirement medical benefits — climbed from 14.8% of pay in 2001 to 18.3% of pay in 2015, for a total increase of 24%, driven largely by a doubling in healthcare benefit costs.

While healthcare costs more than doubled from 5.7% to 11.5% of pay, retirement costs, which include defined benefit, defined contribution and post-retirement plans, decreased by 25%, falling from 9.1% to 6.8% of pay.

In the past decade and a half, benefit costs have done an about-face.

“In 2001, active healthcare costs comprised about two-fifths while retirement benefits made up the remaining three-fifths,” the analysis reads, “By 2015, the ratio had flipped, with active healthcare benefits accounting for slightly less than two-thirds of costs and the retirement share dropping to slightly more than one-third.”

“Healthcare benefits are eating up a larger portion of dollars while the amount spent on retirement programs is on the decline,” says John Bremen, managing director of the Human Capital and Benefits division at Willis Towers Watson. “This reallocation has major implications for employers and employees alike.”

The study explains that the decrease in retirement costs is a result of the large shift in employers offering a traditional defined benefit plan to usually replacing them with enhancements to their defined contribution plan. Even though defined contribution plan costs rose by 1.6 percentage points between 2001 and 2015, this increase was not sufficient to offset the 2.9 percentage point decrease in the cost of defined benefit plan costs.

While Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey notes that employees value their healthcare benefits just as much as their retirement benefits, many employees seem to have reached the maximum they are able or willing to pay for healthcare benefits. Also, employees are concerned about their current and future financial circumstances and worry that they will not have sufficient funds saved for retirement and will thus have to work past the usual retirement age.

Taming costs
Alexa Nerdrum, a senior retirement consultant at Willis Towers Watson, says there are a couple of ways employee benefit advisers can help employers tame these costs.

“I think one would be for employers really to identify and understand the financial needs and the priorities of the workforce. I think for a long time we’ve had employers kind of construct this as a one-size-fits-all,” says Nerdrum.

Nerdrum suggests that employers may need to reevaluate how benefit dollars are allocated to better fit the needs and concerns of their employees. While each company’s solution would be different, Nerdrum notes that employers could explore using tax-efficient saving mechanisms, like health savings accounts, and also just spend more wisely on healthcare.

“The other big piece would be improving financial literacy. By and large, a lot of employees just don’t understand what they need to be doing and how to make the right choice,” says Nerdrum. “So — to the extent employers can invest in education, technology and tools to improve financial literacy — I think that’ll go a long way toward somebody not just continuing the status quo and making a right decision for them. In turn [this leads] to healthier choices, which kind goes down the line of lowering employer costs and improving the financial wellness of the workforce.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Swayze R. (2017 August 4). As cost of benefits rises, employees see shift in spending [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/as-cost-of-benefits-rises-employees-see-shift-in-spending?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


6 Promising Wearables Tips for Wellness Programs

Have you been trying to implement wearable technology in your wellness program? Check out this great article by Jessica Grossmeier from Benefits Pro for some great tips to know when integrating wearable technology into your company's wellness program.

Wearable devices can be a powerful element in a workplace wellness program. They add a fun factor to fitness challenges, and allow individuals to more clearly see the progress they’re making toward their goals.

A new report and video from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) identifies six promising practices for effectively integrating wearables into wellness programs.

Read on to find out how these companies increased participation in wellness programs and even decreased health cost trends for some participants.

1. Remove financial barriers

While many people have discovered the value of wearables, more than half of Americans still believe the devices are too expensive, and that may be enough to keep them from participating in a wellness program. Giving the devices to employees for free or at reduced cost removes a significant barrier and makes it easier for everyone to participate.

2. Choose culturally relevant incentives

Having goals can help drive change, and the data fitness trackers generate make it simple and fun to track progress toward those goals. Offer employees incentives for reaching targets, but make sure the incentives make sense for your workplace. For example, some employees may value prime parking or internal recognition more than a cash prize or a gift card.

3. Cultivate support at home

Convincing employees to walk more is easier if they have someone to walk with. When you involve spouses or domestic partners in the program, employees have someone at home motivated to hit the trail with them rather than settling in for an evening on the couch.

4. Get the details right

There’s a lot to consider when you add wearables to a wellness program, and it’s not always possible to think of everything before you start. Working out the details with a small pilot program creates an opportunity to identify challenges and opportunities, streamline processes, and set meaningful goals for the program once it expands companywide.

5. Shake things up

Wearables can add a fun factor to your wellness program, but even fun activities can wear out their welcome. It’s important to keep things fresh in your wearables strategy, so watch how employees use their devices, and change things up when you see an opportunity to increase engagement.

6. Keep your eye on the prize

Wearable devices show great promise, but a device isn’t a magic solution. Success with wearables requires planning. Before you hand out your first device, make sure you know what you want to accomplish, how the device fits in your broader well-being strategy, and how you’ll measure success.

The employers who participated in the HERO report saw increased participation in wellness programs — employees enjoyed using the devices. And at least one company saw decreased health cost trends for participants. They attribute their successful integration of wearables to these six promising practices.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Grossmeier J. (2017 July 31). 6 promising wearables tips for wellness programs [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/07/31/6-promising-wearables-tips-for-wellness-programs?page_all=1


How Health Coaching can Revitalize a Workforce

Do you need help revitalizing your workforce? Check out this great column by Paul Turner from Employee Benefit Advisor and see how health coaching can be a great way to increase engagement and productivity among your employees.

Nearly 50% of Americans live with at least one chronic illness, and millions more have lifestyle habits that increase their risk of health problems in the future, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pulmonary disease and other conditions account for more than 75% of the $2 trillion spent annually on medical care in the U.S.

Employers have a stake in improving on these discouraging statistics. People spend a good portion of their lives at work, where good health habits can be cultivated and then integrated into their personal lives. While chronic diseases often can’t be cured, many risk factors can be mitigated with good health behaviors, positive and consistent lifestyle habits and adherence to medication and treatment plans. Moreover, healthy behaviors — like smoking cessation, weight management, and exercise — can help prevent people from developing a chronic disease in the first place.

Companies that sponsor well-being programs realize the benefits of a healthier and more vital employee population, with lower rates of absenteeism and improved productivity. Investing in such programs can yield a significant return — particularly from condition management programs for costly chronic diseases.

Digitally-based well-being programs in particular are powerful motivators to adopt healthy behaviors. Yet for many employees, dealing with difficult health challenges can be daunting and digital wellness tools may not offer them sufficient support. Combining these health technologies with the skill and support of a health coach, however, can be a winning approach for greater workplace well-being. The benefits of coaching can also extend to employees that are currently healthy. People without a known condition may still struggle with stress, sleep issues, and lack of exercise, and the guidance of a coach can address risk factors and help prevent future health problems.

Choosing a health coach

Coaching is an investment, and the more rigor that employers put into the selection of a coaching team, the better the results. Coaches should be a credentialed Certified Health Education Specialist or a healthcare professional, such as a registered nurse or dietician, who is extensively trained in motivational interviewing. It also helps when a coach has a specialty accreditation in an area such as nutrition, exercise physiology, mental health or diabetes management. Such training allows the coach to respond effectively to highly individualized needs.

This sort of personalization is essential. A good coach will recognize that each wellness program participant is motivated by a different set of desires and rewards and is undermined by their own unique combination of doubts, fears and temptations. They build trust and confidence by helping employees identify the emotional triggers that may lead them to overeat, smoke or fail to stick with their treatment plans and healthy lifestyle behaviors.

What works for one employee, does not work for another. A 50-year-old trying to quit smoking may need the personal touch of a meeting or phone conversation to connect with her coach; a 30-year-old focused on stress management might prefer email or texting. It’s important for the coaching team to accommodate these preferences.

Working with our employer clients, WebMD has seen what rigorous coaching can achieve:
· A 54% quit rate for participants in a 12-week smoking-cessation program
· Successful weight loss for 68% of those who joined a weight-management program
· A nearly 33% reduction in known health risks for relatively healthy employees in a lifestyle coaching program
· A corresponding 28% health risk reduction for employees with a known condition who received condition management coaching.

Coaching is more likely to succeed when it is part of a comprehensive wellness program carried out in an environment where employee well-being is clearly emphasized by the employer and its managers. WebMD popularizes the saying that ‘When the coach is in, everybody wins.’ Qualified health coaching may be the missing ingredient that helps an employer achieve its well-being goals and energize its workforce.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Turner P. (2017 July 27). How health coaching can revitalize a workforce [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-health-coaching-can-revitalize-a-workforce?feed=00000152-1387-d1cc-a5fa-7fffaf8f0000


Vacation Time can boost Employee Performance

Who doesn't love taking a vacation from work? Vacation time is a great benefit that employers can offer that has been shown to improve performance among employees.  Find out more about how vacations can be beneficial for both employees and employers in this great article by Amanda Eisenberg from Employee Benefit News.

Employers who want to boost employee performance may want to encourage workers to take a break from working.

New research indicates that high-performing employees take more vacation time, suggesting that a generous — or unlimited — vacation policy benefit has a positive impact on the workplace.

The report from HR technology company Namely analyzed data from more than 125,000 employees and found that high performers take about 19 days of paid time off a year, five more than an average performer under a regular PTO plan.

Still, vacation time is underutilized, the firm said. Nearly 700 million vacation days went unused last year, but 80% of employees said they felt more comfortable taking time off if a manager encouraged them.

Namely said that unlimited vacation policies may be beneficial for employers, adding that it’s a myth that employees with such benefits abuse the policy. For the 1% of companies that offer unlimited vacation days, employees only take about 13 days off, according to Namely’s “HR Mythbusters 2017” report.

“Unlimited vacation time can be a strong benefit that increases employee engagement, productivity, and retention — but only if the policy is actually utilized,” according to the report.

Computer software company Trifacta, for example, encourages its employees to use their paid time off with a recognition program.

“We offer a discretionary PTO policy because we want people to truly take the PTO they need,” says Yvonne Caprini Sorenson, Trifacta’s senior manager of HR. “We have a recognition program called Above + Beyond. Employees can nominate high-performing peers, and the winners receive $1,000 to spend toward travel. It’s a great way to encourage vacation use and to make it clear that Trifacta supports work-life balance.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Eisenberg A. (2017 July 30). Vacation time can boost employee performance [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/vacation-time-can-boost-employee-performance?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Employers Spend $742 per Employee for Wellness Program Incentives

How much money are you spending on your employees and their wellness program? Check out this great article by Brookie Madison from Benefits News on how employers are encouraging more of their employees to sign-up for company sponser wellness programs.

Wellness programs are popular with employers but employees continue to need motivation to participate. Seventy percent of employers are investing in wellness programs, while 73% of employees say they are interested in wellness programs, but 64% of employees undervalue the financial incentives to join the wellness programs, according to UnitedHealthcare’s Consumer Sentiment Survey entitled “Wellness Check Up.”

Only 7% of employees understand the four basic terms of health care —premium, deductible, copayment and coinsurance — which is why UHC didn’t find it surprising that workers underestimate their financial incentives in wellness programs, says Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare.

Despite this disconnect between what employers are offering to help ensure their employees’ health and what employees are willing to do to maintain a healthy well-being, the most appealing incentives to employees for wellness programs are health insurance premium reductions (77%), grocery vouchers (64%) and health savings accounts (62%).

Employees find the financial incentives of the wellness programs appealing, yet only 24% of employees are willing to give up one to three hours of their time per week to exercise, attend wellness coaching sessions or research healthier recipes to eat.

“Unwilling to engage is part of the problem why a third of the country is obese and another third is overweight. We have a real problem in terms of keeping people healthy and that’s what we want to help address,” says Madsen.

Madsen recommends that employers promote their wellness programs and incentives multiple times throughout the year. Gift cards, reduction of premiums and contributing to health savings accounts are leading ways to reward employees. “Incentives on an ongoing basis get people engaged and motivated to participate for a long period of time,” says Madsen.

Wellness programs also provide a way for employers to adjust their benefit packages to be customized and be more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. “Look at your insurance claims, work with insurance providers and identify common health challenges. See where you have prevalent healthcare needs and who your high risk populations are to develop programs that target those results,” suggests Madsen.

Wellness programs need endless support from advisers, insurance providers, consultants, consumers, friends, family members and employers in order to encourage employees to live healthy lifestyles, according to UnitedHealthcare.

Madsen suggests that employers have onsite biometric screenings. “Helping people know their numbers will help them understand where they have an opportunity to improve their health, which would make them motivated to engage more,” says Madsen.

New trends of wellness programs incorporate the use of activity trackers. Twenty-five percent of employees use an activity tracker and 62% would like to use one as part of a wellness program.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Madison B. (2017 July 17). Employers spend $742 per employee for wellness program incentives [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employers-spend-742-per-employee-for-wellness-program-incentives?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


Reduce Employee Financial Stress

Are your employees struggling to reach their financial goals? Here is a great article by Heather Garbers from SHRM on what employers can do to help their employees reduce their financial stress and reach their monetary goals.

More American workers are living paycheck to paycheck than ever before, just making ends meet. Nearly three-fourths have less than $1,000 saved; and 34 percent have nothing in savings. Student loan debt totals over $1.3 trillion among some 44.2 million borrowers in the U.S. Unexpected expenses are not budgeted for and people are placing themselves at great financial risk.

As HR practitioners, we need to recognize that people are struggling financially – and that it is taking a toll not only on them personally, but also in the workplace. There are innovative benefit options and strategies that can help relieve financial stress on employees:

Student loan assistance. Today’s Millennials are challenged to get their lives going despite the crushing burden of student loan debt, and trust their employers for advice on how to manage it. Doing so can make you stand out in attracting the best talent and help win loyalty.  Programs are available that not only assist Employees in refinancing and managing their debt, but also allow you to make contributions to loan balances, and assist Employees in setting up a 529 savings plan.

Employee Purchasing Programs (EPP). When people are experiencing financial stress and are confronted with unexpected expenses, they may take on high interest credit card debt or a payday loan. Employee purchasing programs are a great way for them to avoid amassing high interest rate charges when purchasing consumer goods.

Low Interest Installment Loans and Credit. A major danger for financially stretched employees is the ease with which they can get payday loans or cash advances on their credit cards without fully understanding the risk. The exorbitant interest rates only worsen the vicious cycle of debt. There are services, however, that underwrite low-interest rate installment loans well below the going rates and allow Employees to make payments through payroll deduction. Employers can sponsor the service at no cost as a voluntary benefit, and Employees can use the funds however they need to – whether it is paying a medical bill or purchasing a new air conditioner.

Financial planning and wellness services. Whether offered as one-on-one, personal coaching or online resources with interactive money management tools, everyone appreciates when employers offer resources to help them understand how to repair or build their credit and better manage their money. By offering these services, you have the opportunity to occupy a position of trust and cement long-term employee loyalty.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Garbers H. (2017 July 17). Reduce employee financial stress [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/reduce-employee-financial-stress


Compliance Recap July 2017

July was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world, despite the U.S. Senate's release of two bills in its attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

First, the U.S. Senate revised its Better Care Reconciliation Act and declined to vote on its revision. Then the U.S. Senate released its Health Care Freedom Act and voted on it. The Health Care Freedom Act failed to pass the U.S. Senate.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) launched an electronic form 300A that employers use to report work-related injuries and accidents. Two courts issued decisions regarding ACA accommodation and website accessibility. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, opened the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker program to an additional 15,000 workers for 2017, and began issuing redesigned Green Cards and EADs as part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project.

The U.S. District Court, which issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prohibit HHS from enforcing portions of the ACA's Section 1557, remanded the case in part to HHS for reconsideration of the regulation.

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in July:

·         COBRA Notices

·         Determining COBRA Premiums for Fully Insured and Self-Funded Health Plans

·         ERISA's "Church Plan" Exception

UBA updated existing guidance:

·         OSHA's Final Rule on Electronic Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

U.S. Senate Releases Revision of Better Care Reconciliation Act

On July 13, 2017, the U.S. Senate released a revised draft of its Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) bill. The U.S. Senate released the original draft of the BCRA on June 22, 2017, which would substitute the House's House Resolution 1628, a reconciliation bill aimed at "repealing and replacing" the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House bill was titled the "American Health Care Act of 2017" (AHCA).

The revised draft BCRA proposes to affect employer-sponsored plans in a few ways:

·         Allow health savings account (HSA) funds to be used to pay for the medical expenses of children under age 27 and to pay for high-deductible health plans' (HDHPs) premiums that are not otherwise covered by tax credits, deductibles, or exclusions.

·         Make HDHPs ineligible for HSAs if the HDHPs cover abortions except where necessary to save the mother's life or in cases of rape or incest.

·         Allow professional employer organizations to sponsor association plans.

On July 18, 2017, the U.S. Senate declined to vote on the revised BCRA after it determined that it didn't have enough votes to pass the bill.

On July 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate voted on the Health Care Freedom Act to repeal the ACA's individual and employer mandates and temporarily repeal the medical device tax. The bill failed to pass.

Employers with group health plans should continue to monitor progress in Washington, D.C., and should not stop adhering to any provisions of the ACA in the interim, or begin planning to comply with provisions in either the AHCA or revised BCRA.

OSHA Launches Electronic Form 300A

In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a rule entitled "Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses" which issued sweeping changes to the way certain employers were required to report work-related injuries and accidents. Employers with at least 10 employees at a single site have always been required to maintain and annually post a Form 300A log. Among the changes were that "high risk" employers with at least 20 employees (see the complete list atwww.osha.gov/recordkeeping/NAICScodesforelectronicsubmission.pdf) and all employers with 250 or more employees in a single physical location were required to file their report electronically. The original due date for filing 2016 data was July 1, 2017.

On June 28, 2017, OSHA proposed delaying the compliance date until December 1, 2017, "to provide the new administration an opportunity to review the new electronic reporting requirements prior to their implementation and allow affected entities sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the electronic reporting system, which will not be available until August 1."

OSHA will release the electronic Injury Tracking Application (ITA). Three options have been made available for submission:

1.     Users may manually enter data into a web form.

2.     Users may upload a CSV file to process single or multiple establishments at the same time.

3.     Users of automated recordkeeping systems will have the ability to transmit data electronically via an API (application programming interface).

OSHA estimates that it will take employers 10 minutes to create an account. Establishments may no longer submit paper reports. Future plans include an interface for entering data from a mobile device.

Technology is the New Frontier with ADA Accommodation

Website accessibility has become a hot topic in the world of ADA accommodation. Recently, a Florida federal judge handed down a trial verdict finding that grocery chain Winn-Dixie had violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by having a website that was inaccessible to a blind plaintiff. Shortly thereafter, a federal judge in the Central District of California allowed another blind plaintiff to continue a case against Hobby Lobby for failing to "provide full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered by its physical stores by not maintaining a fully accessible website."

Title III relates to public accommodation (private and non-profit business) and could impact any business offering goods and services through a website, which, in this era of e-commerce is far-reaching. Further, Title I of the ADA relates to employment, so would impact online application processes and career web pages.

In the Winn-Dixie case, the court recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the website standard. WCAG are guidelines developed by a private group of accessibility experts that have been used to support accommodation initiatives. Until this case, WCAG had not been referenced by the court as the de facto legal standard.

Regarding Title I employment accommodation, the U.S. Department of Labor recently identified the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) as the source for employers who want to ensure that their workplace technology is accessible to all employees and job applicants. In particular, the "Accessible Technology Action Steps: A Guide for Employers" was recommended as a resource.

Definitive guidelines have traditionally been elusive in the amorphous arena of public accommodations within the requirements of the ADA. Businesses would be well advised to review their accessibility through these validated resources.

Immigration Updates: I-9, H-2B Visas, Green Cards

I-9 Updates

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17, 2017. Employers can use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 through September 17, 2017. On September 18, 2017, employers must use the revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17. Revisions include changes to the instructions and revisions to the List of Acceptable Documents, including:

·         All the certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350, and Form FS-240) were combined into List C, number 2.

·         All List C documents were renumbered, except the Social Security card. For example, the employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security on List C changed from number 8 to number 7.

·         Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) was added to List C. Employers completing Form I-9 on a computer will be able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C of Sections 2 and 3. E-Verify users will also be able to select Form FS-240 when creating a case for an employee who has presented this document for Form I-9.

Increase in H-2B Visas

USCIS has opened the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker program to anadditional 15,000 workers for 2017. The H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker program was designed to serve U.S. businesses unable to find a sufficient number of qualified U.S. workers to perform nonagricultural work of a temporary nature. To qualify for the additional visas, petitioners must attest, under penalty of perjury, that their business is likely to suffer irreparable harm if it cannot employ H-2B nonimmigrant workers during fiscal year (FY) 2017.

New Green Cards Issued

USCIS has begun issuing redesigned Green Cards and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) as part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project. The new cards feature enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant features. Enhancements include:

·         The card holder's photo on both sides of the card

·         Unique graphic images and color palette

·         Holographic images

Cards will no longer display the individual's signature, nor will they have an optical stripe on the back.

Court Remands ACA Section 1557 Case to HHS

ACA Section 1557 provides that individuals shall not be excluded from participation, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any health program or activity which receives federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

In May 2016, HHS issued a final rule implementing Section 1557, which took effect on July 18, 2016.

Eight states and three faith-based private health care providers filed a lawsuit to challenge HHS' authority under the ACA to issue regulations that interpret sex discrimination as forbidding discrimination based on gender identity and termination of pregnancy. The lawsuit also asserted that the regulations violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as applied to them.

On December 31, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the rule as it prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or pregnancy termination.

On July 10, 2017, the District Court stayed the case and remanded it in part to HHS for reconsideration of the rule. The injunction remains in place.

Question of the Month

Q. Who must be counted under Form 5500's 100-participant rule?

A. Generally, small unfunded, insured, and combination unfunded/insured welfare plans are exempt from the Form 5500 filing requirement. To qualify for the exemption, a plan must cover "fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year."

Employees who are covered participants are counted. All former employees who are COBRA qualified beneficiaries are counted. Non-employees (covered spouses and dependent children) are not counted.

Only covered participants are counted. To determine when a participant is covered, the plan sponsor would look to the earlier of:

·         The date that the plan document states that participation begins.

·         The date when the individual becomes eligible to receive a benefit.

·         The date when the individual makes a voluntary or mandatory plan contribution.

To download the full recap click here.


Voluntary Benefits Key to Helping Employees with Rising Health Costs

With the cost of healthcare rising day by day, many employees are struggling to pay for their healthcare expenses. Take a look at this interesting article by Nick Otto from Employee Benefit Adviser and see how employers are leveraging their voluntary benefits to help employees offset some of their healthcare costs.

As workers continue to struggle with out-of-pocket medical bills, there’s a growing opportunity for benefits managers to hold more conversations with employees on voluntary benefits that can help offset costs.

“The rising cost of healthcare has driven many employers to offer supplemental group insurance products, often in conjunction with a health savings account,” says Elias Vogen, director of group insurance client relationships for financial services firm Securian. “This combination can be cost-effective for both employer and employee … and when employees are aware that these benefits are available to them through work they opt in at a high rate.”

According to a recent survey from Securian, 28% of employees with health insurance through work facing an out-of-pocket expense of $5,000 or more would use their personal savings to pay rather than other means, including an HSA (8%) or supplemental group insurance (7%).

Further, a majority of respondents said they do not know how they would pay for an out-of-pocket expense (21%), or that they would need to rely on credit cards (12%), a loan from their 401(k) (7%) or family/friends (4%), their tax return (5%) or by selling/pawning a personal possession (2%).

“Healthcare costs continue to rise and that almost certainly will not change anytime soon,” Vogen says. “As a result, employers and employees will continue to look for options to help ease the cost crunch. The popularity of benefits like accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance will continue to rise. These benefits are here to stay.”

A multi-touch strategy is the best way for employers to communicate with employees about voluntary benefits, according to Vogen.

“We recently conducted accident and critical illness insurance enrollment campaigns with a large employer that involved six points of contact: direct mail, e-mail, videos, digital materials, an interactive benefits guide and webinars,” he says. “By using a variety of channels, we were able to educate employees on the value of these voluntary benefits in ways that were convenient and comfortable to them.”

Voluntary benefits relieve a key concern for employees: While the survey revealed that paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses would be the top financial concern for a plurality (42%) of workers facing a debilitating injury, a critical illness diagnosis or a hospitalization, 58% say their top concern would be lost wages from work, the ability to pay for regular monthly expenses such as groceries, or the need to take on additional expenses such as lawn care or cleaning.

“If you break your leg, or your critically ill spouse needs specialized medical care out of state, these benefits can be used to help pay for expenses like hiring out your household chores, paying for travel costs, extra child care and more,” says Vogen. “You don’t have to turn in your receipts; you’re able to use the funds as you wish. The flexible nature of these benefits can be instrumental in warding off financial troubles from an unexpected health event.”

According to the survey, employees were asked if they are offered six different voluntary benefits by their employer:

· Life insurance (54% said yes)
· Disability insurance (38%)
· Health savings account (36%)
· Accident insurance (24%)
· Critical illness insurance (15%), and
· Hospital indemnity insurance (9%).

Further, 12% of employees said they are offered none of these benefits, and 18% said they are not sure if these benefits are offered by their employer.

Of these six benefits, life insurance is the most popular, with 75% of employees who have access to life insurance through their employer saying they are enrolled. “Accident insurance ranked second, with 64% of employees offered this insurance enrolled. Hospital indemnity insurance came in third at 59%, followed by disability insurance at 54%, health savings account at 52% and critical illness insurance at 47%,” says Vogen.

Employers recognize that healthcare costs have become burdensome to their workers and their families, and it’s important to remember that these cost increases have impacted employers’ bottom lines as well, according to Terry Holloway, an employee benefits adviser and executive vice president with insurance broker Cobbs Allen.

“Supplemental group insurance benefits are a cost-effective solution for both employers and employees,” Holloway says. “We have seen a significant increase in employer interest in these and other voluntary benefit platforms in the past five years, along with innovative enrollment solutions from insurance carriers.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 July 20). Voluntary benefits key to helping employees with rising health costs [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/voluntary-benefits-key-to-helping-employees-with-rising-health-costs?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Top Misconceptions about Long Term Care Insurance

What do you know about long-term care insurance? Here is a great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Christine McCullugh on the top misconceptions people have about long-term care insurance.

In conversations with HR professionals and benefit brokers, we find that the topic of long-term care insurance (LTCi) is often covered in less than two minutes during renewal meetings. When I ask why the topic of conversation is so short, they tell me, “Employees just aren’t asking about it, so they must not be interested.”

If employees aren’t asking about LTCi, does it mean they aren’t interested? They just may be unaware of the value of LTCi and that it can be offered by their employer with concessions not available in the open market. Here are the top seven reasons why LTCi should be a bigger part of the employee benefits conversation.

  1. Do you know LTCi can be offered as an employee benefit?
    There are multiple employer-sponsored products, including those with pricing discounts, guarantee issue, and payroll deduction.
  2. Do you believe Medicaid and Medicare will provide long-term care for employees?
    This is a popular misconception. Medicare and Medicaid will restrict your employees’ choices of where and how they receive care. These options will either not offer custodial or home care, or they’ll force employees to spend down their assets for care.
  3. Do you think LTCi is too expensive, or that your employee population is too young to need it?
    Many plans can be customized to meet personal budgets and potential care needs. It’s also important to know that rates are based on employees’ ages. The younger the employees are, the lower their rates will be.
  4. Are you aware of the variety of LTCi plans?
    Many policies offer flexible coverage options. Depending on the policy an employer selects, LTCi can cover a wide range of care—in some cases even adult day care and home safety modifications.
  5. Do you believe the market is unstable?
    Today’s products are priced based on conservative assumptions, and employers are enrolling very stable LTCi plans for their employees. Each month, we see new plan options and products being introduced along with new carriers entering the market.
  6. Do you already offer an LTCi plan but it’s closed to new hires?
    Being able to offer a similar LTCi benefit to all employees is crucial for most employers. Find a partner that can assist with the current LTCi plan and can assist with bringing in a new LTCi offering for new hires.

See the original article Here.

Source:

McCullugh C. (2017 July 6). Top misconceptions about long term care insurance [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/top-misconceptions-about-long-term-care-insurance


Employers Spend $742 per Employee for Wellness Program Incentives

Are you looking for new incentives to help your employees participate in your wellness program? Check out this interesting article by Brookie Madison from Employee Benefit Advisor on how employers are offering financial incentives in order to increase participation in their wellness programs.

Wellness programs are popular with employers but employees continue to need motivation to participate. Seventy percent of employers are investing in wellness programs, while 73% of employees say they are interested in wellness programs, but 64% of employees undervalue the financial incentives to join the wellness programs, according to UnitedHealthcare’s Consumer Sentiment Survey entitled “Wellness Check Up.”

Only 7% of employees understand the four basic terms of health care —premium, deductible, copayment and coinsurance — which is why UHC didn’t find it surprising that workers underestimate their financial incentives in wellness programs, says Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare.

Despite this disconnect between what employers are offering to help ensure their employees’ health and what employees are willing to do to maintain a healthy well-being, the most appealing incentives to employees for wellness programs are health insurance premium reductions (77%), grocery vouchers (64%) and health savings accounts (62%).

Employees find the financial incentives of the wellness programs appealing, yet only 24% of employees are willing to give up one to three hours of their time per week to exercise, attend wellness coaching sessions or research healthier recipes to eat.

“Unwilling to engage is part of the problem why a third of the country is obese and another third is overweight. We have a real problem in terms of keeping people healthy and that’s what we want to help address,” says Madsen.

Madsen recommends that employers promote their wellness programs and incentives multiple times throughout the year. Gift cards, reduction of premiums and contributing to health savings accounts are leading ways to reward employees. “Incentives on an ongoing basis get people engaged and motivated to participate for a long period of time,” says Madsen.

Wellness programs also provide a way for employers to adjust their benefit packages to be customized and be more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. “Look at your insurance claims, work with insurance providers and identify common health challenges. See where you have prevalent healthcare needs and who your high risk populations are to develop programs that target those results,” suggests Madsen.

Wellness programs need endless support from advisers, insurance providers, consultants, consumers, friends, family members and employers in order to encourage employees to live healthy lifestyles, according to UnitedHealthcare.

Madsen suggests that employers have onsite biometric screenings. “Helping people know their numbers will help them understand where they have an opportunity to improve their health, which would make them motivated to engage more,” says Madsen.
New trends of wellness programs incorporate the use of activity trackers. Twenty-five percent of employees use an activity tracker and 62% would like to use one as part of a wellness program.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Madison B. (2017 June 28). Employers spend $742 per employee for wellness program incentives [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-spend-742-per-employee-for-wellness-program-incentives