Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in

With skyrocketing healthcare costs, payers constantly look for ways to reduce costs and improve health. Continue reading to learn more.


Health care costs continue to skyrocket, and payers are constantly looking for ways to keep their populations healthier and to reduce these costs. Payers looking for more effective strategies to improve health and wellness for members should be aware of the new preventative approaches that more health plans are offering.

One such method that health plans are deploying to engage members is point-of-sale wellness, a type of incentive program that encourages members to actively make healthier purchases and lifestyle choices. As point-of-sale wellness becomes more prevalent among health plans, human resource managers and benefits brokers should understand how these programs work to best determine if they would be a valuable option for their employees and clients.

What is point-of-sale wellness?

Point-of-sale wellness is all about helping health plan members make smart, healthy purchasing decisions when they’re in a retail store or pharmacy. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average consumer visits their doctor 3.1 times per year. This same consumer will visit his or her favorite retailers multiple times per week. This presents the perfect opportunity for actionable engagement. It is often too easy for individuals to make impulsive decisions that favor cheaper care items or junk food that provides instant gratification but lead to an unhealthy lifestyle in the long run. Empowering consumers in these moments before checking out at the register with the understanding — and more importantly, the financial incentive — to make informed, smarter choices can lead to a healthier lifestyle and reduced health care costs. In short, the goal is to help individuals prioritize health and wellness at retail point of sale.

There are numerous ways that health plans can achieve this goal. One of the most common is by providing members with prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for the purchase of over-the-counter (OTC) items such as vitamins, diabetes care items and medications for allergies or cold and flu symptoms. The key component of these specialized prepaid cards is that they can be restricted-spend cards. In other words, they cannot be used to purchase any items that the health plan members want; they can only be used to purchase items off a curated list of products.

Under this arrangement, all parties, from the individual to the health plans and retailers, benefit. With a restricted-spend prepaid card in hand, an individual is rewarded for making purchases that contribute to a healthier lifestyle, while reducing health care costs both for themselves and the health plans administering the cards. In the meantime, the retailers partnering with the health plans to make point-of-sale wellness possible enjoy the opportunity to build long-term customer relationships with the health plan members using the cards.

Point-of-sale wellness in action

Point-of-sale wellness can be customized to be as general or specific as a health plan needs. For example, a health plan that supports a high number of new parents on a regular basis may offer a prepaid card designed specifically to assist members with newborn children. The first years of an infant’s life are among the most expensive from a health care perspective. More health plans are starting to offer new parents prepaid cards that are loaded with funds and discounts for items such as OTC medications, baby food and formula, diapers, strollers, car seats or thermometers. This opens an easier path for new parents to do basic at-home diagnostics and keep their babies’ health monitored so costly trips to an emergency room or urgent care center are not needed as often.

Payers that offer health and wellness programs to assist new parents in their populations can consider engaging health plans that offer these types of prepaid cards. Having a healthier child has the added benefit of reducing stress on the parents, which means they are in a better position to continue performing in the workplace.

Financial incentives for healthier choices

Most wellness programs are focused on informing participants of the best ways to support a healthier lifestyle, but that is only half of the equation. Point-of-sale wellness goes one step further to ensure participants are empowered from a financial perspective to make smarter purchasing decisions while shopping for daily care items. Businesses and benefits brokers who want to provide their employees and clients the best opportunities to live a healthier lifestyle should consider engaging health plans that prioritize these prepaid card incentives into their offerings.

Vielehr, D. (19 July 2018). "Point-of-sale wellness: How health plans are cashing in" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/19/point-of-sale-wellness-how-health-plans-are-cashin/


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Spending more to save more. Who knew?

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

Facts about health savings accounts (HSAs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best HSA strategy by income level?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else should employers know about HSAs?

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

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

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


Improve workplace fitness by focusing on the collective "we"

Employees are more likely to try wellness programs if they know their coworkers are participating as well. In this article, Maurer discusses how focusing on the collective "we" will increase participation in employee wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs are implicitly focused on the individual: biometric screenings, individual incentives, gym member reimbursements. This approach can leave employees feeling less than motivated to take part because, even though the programs focus is on the individual, by no means does it make the program personalized.

As workplace wellness programs rapidly improve to meet the expectations of today’s workers, it’s important to remember the value of accountability and what a culture of health can do to create a workplace committed to wellness solutions.

Since wellness programs have traditionally focused on the individual, oftentimes employees never know if their colleagues are participating in any of the programs being offered. Bring it into the light by giving your employees a program they want to talk about, while still keeping it personalized. The collective “we” are not only more likely to try a wellness program, but we are also more likely to stick with it, if we know our peers are also partaking.

The power of sharing with your peers

We all know writing down a goal gives you a much higher chance of achieving it, but research from the Association for Talent Development says someone is 65 percent more likely to achieve a goal if the goal is shared with another person. Why? Because it creates accountability.

We are in the day and age of a social media frenzy, and, it’s cross-generational. We share everything we do and spend a lot of our time concerned with what our friends, family and co-workers are doing through these social platforms. Wellness practitioners can and should be taking advantage of this, especially as you build your culture of health.

To find the right wellness solution for your company or client, look for solutions that are social and easy to use. If the company as a whole has buy-in, or even a few internal advocates, word-of-mouth can be incredibly powerful. Whether that is around the water-cooler at work, on employees’ personal social media channels, or within the work intranet, create opportunities for employees to talk about your program and encourage them to use it. We know when an employee knows a few of their coworkers are planning to attend yoga or kickboxing on a Tuesday evening, they are much more likely to sign up and actually go.

These “wellness relationships” help not only build stronger bonds at work, but they also help you create and maintain healthy habits. You want your employees to engage with your wellness solution, so encourage them to share and become part of the “solution” themselves. At the end of the day, workplace wellness solutions are there to help everyone get healthier and stay that way, but they have to use the program.

More than just an incentive

We have spent at least a decade looking at incentives and how we align them to solve problems with low participation in our wellness program, when we should have focused on building a program that empowers our employees and puts them in the driver’s seat. I’m not suggesting you stop incentivizing your employees, but I do suggest you measure what it is you are rewarding. If it can’t be measured you may as well burn the money you are investing.

Remember, your employees are the real reason your program will sink or swim. Take care of your employees and encourage them to be and find their healthiest selves. Empower them in the process and give them choice in how, when and with who they participate in your wellness program and let them become your wellness solution.

Maurer E. (18 July 2018). "Improving workplace wellness by focusing on the collective 'we'" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/18/improve-workplace-wellness-by-focusing-on-the-coll/.


House passes bills expanding health savings accounts

Changes may be coming to health savings accounts (HSAs). On Wednesday, two bills were passed by the House of Representatives that, if advanced, would expand the use of HSAs. Read this blog post to learn more.


The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two healthcare bills that would expand the use of health savings accounts, a move that, if advanced, could significantly drive higher employee enrollment in high-deductible health plans that feature HSAs.

The Restoring Access to Medication and Modernizing Health Savings Accounts Act, or HR 6199, takes several steps to modernize HSAs by allowing plans to provide coverage before the deductible is met, increasing flexibility for retail and onsite clinics, and treating certain over-the-counter drugs as qualified medical expenses. It passed 277-142.

The Premium Plans and Expanding Health Savings Accounts Act, meanwhile, passed 242-176. It delays the tax on health insurance from taking effect by two years. It also allows people to contribute more money to their HSAs.

Some provisions of the measures, if they ultimately become law, “could have a large impact” on employee enrollment in high-deductible health plans that feature HSAs, according to Paul Fronstin, director of health research for the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The HSA legislation was also praised as “a step in the right direction” by several industry insiders, including Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president of health policy of the American Benefits Council. The measure’s prospects for passage in the Senate are unclear, but Schuman said she was “hopeful” that will occur.

When HDHPs are accompanied by an HSA, employers face several constraints on plan design. For example, they cannot provide first-dollar coverage for certain “high value” features that would make the plans more attractive to employees with chronic conditions. That means an HDHP plan offered in conjunction with an HSA could not include first-dollar coverage for an eye exam for an employee with diabetes, or other services required for monitoring a chronic condition. Nor could treatment at on-site or retail primary care facility be covered on a first-dollar basis.

The proposed legislation “will allow insurers to provide coverage for and incentivize the use of high-value services that can reduce healthcare costs more broadly, such as primary care visits and telehealth services,” according to Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), a sponsor of the legislation.

“We’ve advocated allowing these plans to offer broader and more meaningful coverage,” Schuman says. Other health services that could be provided on favorable basis include telemedicine-based consultations.

Dollar caps on first-dollar coverage for newly includable health services would be $250 for an employee with individual coverage, and $500 for an employee with family coverage.

Other liberalizations under the measures include allowing employees to use HSA dollars for certain over-the-counter health-related items, including menstrual care products. Another provision would deem qualified “physical activity, fitness, and exercise” related services, including sports activities, as qualified medical expenses, allowing coverage for up to $500 of qualified sports and fitness expenses ($1,000 for family coverage).

The bill also would increase employee HSA contribution limits substantially — to $6,900 (from today’s $3,450) for individual coverage, and to $13,300 (from $6,900) for families. However, EBRI’s Fronstin is skeptical these changes would have a significant impact on enrollment in HDHPs.

“Only 13% of participants contributed the maximum amount in 2016,” he says. While those employees might save more in an HSA under the higher limits, he doesn’t think there are any employees who have chosen not to participate in a HDHP on the basis that the savings caps are too low.

If the measure ultimately becomes law, employers would have to opt to take advantage of the liberalized provisions; they would not otherwise be available to employees.

SOURCE: Stolz, R. (26 July 2018) "House passes bills expanding health savings accounts" (Web Blog Post) Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/house-passes-bills-expanding-health-savings-accounts?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Who are Benefits for, Anyway?

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


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

Is this right for me?

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

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

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

Role of behavioral economics

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

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

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

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

Who should purchase benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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


3 questions to ask about paid leave programs

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3 Ways to Reshape How You Communicate About Benefits with Millennials

Communicating the benefit needs amongst generations and can cause confusion when keeping up with the satisfaction of your younger employees. Ensure millennial happiness with these tips on their unique benefit standards.


As two millennials ourselves, we know what most people think about Generation Y. Many use terms like “techy,” “entitled” and maybe even “lazy” to describe our generation.

But, the reality is today’s millennials are more global, civic-minded and, though you may not expect it,financially conscious than any other generation. And, according to the Pew Research Center, we now represent 35 percent of today’s workforce.

Millennials are also now getting married and starting families. And yes, purchasing more benefits products through their employers as a result.

As we millennials grow up, it’s important to reconsider how you communicate with us about benefits—because it’s a lot different than how you’ve communicated with other employees in the past.

For example, consider your Gen X and Baby Boomer employees for a moment. When you communicate about benefits with them, it’s relatively straightforward. You probably use tools like email, in-person meetings, flyers and newsletters. And messaging probably revolves around safety, reducing risk and explaining the finer points of the benefits themselves.

But when you’re talking about benefits to millennials, things should be a little different. We’re more digitally fluent than other generations. We’re demanding more flexibility—in our work and family lives. And, we’re increasingly cost-conscious.

It’s a different approach. And, we want to talk about three key ways you can start to reshape how talk with millennials more effectively when it comes to benefits:

For millennials, it’s all about the emotion and sense of responsibility.One of the most interesting findings we’ve picked up over the last few years when communicating with millennials has been to focus messaging on making an emotional connection. Highlight the peace of mind benefits will provide. Discuss the fact that purchasing benefits like disability, life and critical illness insurance through their employer is the right, and responsible, thing to do.

In a recent survey conducted on behalf of Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions “providing peace of mind” was the number one reason millennials gave for why they enrolled in key benefit areas. While this was true across all generations in the study, millennials chose “it’s the responsible thing to do” more than others as a secondary reason for purchase. That emotional connection tied in with responsibility is absolutely key when talking to this demographic.

Millennial stereotypes don’t apply.If you’re communicating with millennials, most people would think digital technologies like text messages and social media would be the way to go. However, that’s not the case. According to Trustmark research, millennials listed “meeting in person” and “calling a representative” as their top preferred channels for communicating during enrollment periods—followed by digital communications channels. Surprising, right? It probably shouldn’t be, given millennials’ desire for more personalization in multiple facets of their lives.

Value, convenience and high-level messaging are key.Through our research, we found that millennials react favorably to messaging around value and convenience—so be sure to hit on those points throughout the enrollment process. For instance, explain why coverage is needed or why an employer-paid policy is not enough. Talk about benefit policy costs in comparison to other low-cost items, like a daily cup of coffee. Discuss the value of employer contributions—and what those contributions can mean to millennials’ bottom lines. Also, make sure to share the convenience and ease of payroll deductions; how their employer is simplifying things by making the deduction and payment for them.

Finally, remember, when it comes to benefits, millennials aren’t as concerned about the details of their insurance plans. They want to understand the basics—what’s covered, how much it costs, and why they might consider a specific offering over another. Resist the urge to focus on the fine print, and keep messaging at the higher levels.

Magic number 3

One more thing that may help reshape your approach to communicating with millennials: The number three. That’s the minimum number of times you should be communicating with millennials during your enrollment process. Our research found that employees remembered and appreciated benefits more when they saw three or more distinct communications. In fact, 72 percent of employees who received three types of benefits communication rate themselves “likely” or “very likely” to recommend their employer based specifically on their benefits program.

Does that help give you some ideas for how to reshape your approach to communicating with millennials about benefits? Overall, just make sure to remember that we millennials are looking for personal and professional offerings from our employers that are unique to us—including benefits. And be sure you’re ready to talk with millennials using the right messaging, the right tools and the right cadence to ensure success.

SOURCE:
Dahlinger, M and Moser, C (27 June 2018) " 3 ways to reshape how you communicate about benefits with millennials" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/27/3-ways-to-reshape-how-you-communicate-about-benefi/


3 questions advisers should ask about the potential CVS-Aetna deal

In a rapid changing market, stay ahead of the curve by asking these three questions on the potential CVS-Aetna deal to help determine how it will impact the health insurance industry.


The news that CVS has reportedly launched a $66 billion bid to buy Aetna shows that once unimaginable mergers are becoming the norm. But it also raises some important questions for brokers about the future of group benefits, and how to operate in a fast-moving and constantly changing landscape.

Here are three questions to ask when determining how this potential business deal will impact the employer-based health insurance market:

1) Will this move give Aetna a competitive advantage in the group space?

How are other carriers going to feel about having to compete with an insurer that has pharmacy data on the majority of Americans? Anthem may be at the top of the list with worries, as the company just last week announced that it will partner with CVS to launch its own pharmacy benefits manager called IngenioRx.

2) Are healthcare companies too focused on M&A?

A year ago, Aetna was trying to acquire Humana, and Anthem was trying to buy Cigna. Brokers everywhere were concerned about carrier consolidation and what a lack of competition would do to group prices. How have things pivoted to pharmacy so quickly?

The CVS deal may represent gains for both parties. The deal would give Aetna a new avenue for business growth, and CVS would gain some much needed ground against Amazon’s rumored entrance into the drug business.

But what does this emphasis on inorganic, M&A growth say about the healthcare industry? Healthcare consolidation has been a trend for years, but it hasn’t always worked in consumers’ favor, which could leave brokers wary of this deal.

3) Why should employers care?

What impact will this deal have on prescription prices for employers? Prescription drug costs are one of the largest drivers of employer healthcare spend, so the question is critical. Will Aetna and CVS be able to improve efficiencies and lower costs, or monopolize their group markets?

Another point of interest for employers is the possibility of narrowed prescription options. With narrowing provider networks becoming standard, this deal could result in limited consumer options when it comes to prescription drugs.

On the other hand, the deal could spark cost-saving changes in healthcare delivery. It’s not hard to imagine CVS augmenting their MinuteClinic operations with Aetna’s volume.

Employees might find they like having retail access to primary care at a lower price point, with after-hours service, easy-to book appointments, and pharmacy services built right in. This partnership may be the push retail healthcare needs to become a cornerstone of the primary care model.

SOURCE:
Tolbert, B (22 June 2018) "3 questions advisers should ask about the potential CVS-Aetna deal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-questions-advisers-should-ask-about-the-potential-cvs-aetna-merger


Five steps to becoming a trusted retirement plan adviser

Discover creative ways to deliver the best retirement plan to your employees with these five steps in retirement plan advising.


Many trends within the employee benefits industry challenge advisers to think creatively on behalf of their clients. For instance, millennials are more likely to pay off student loans and less likely to contribute to their company’s 401(k) plan. They lose the benefit of compound interest over all those years to retirement, which over decades, can amount to up to 80% of a millennial’s nest egg.

When companies experience low participation rates with new hires, the overall health of the plan will suffer and many of the more highly compensated and key employees may not be able to defer as much as they would like into the plan. Advisers must develop relationships with business owners to establish customized retirement plans that work best for their and their employees’ needs.

When advisers overcome these challenges they expand their client base and move toward success. The following five steps will help retirement plan advisers bring their career to the next level:

Understand the fiduciary requirements and minimize the risk of the employer

Strive to impart knowledge on the employer and the participants to make them confident in their retirement plans. Company owners will feel more comfortable if an adviser helps to reduce the fiduciary risk associated with the creation and ongoing operation of a plan. Advisers can share and even take over most of the fiduciary responsibility with the employer to lessen the pressure. With the right information, a business owner can understand the requirements of the plan and is motivated to establish a 401(k) or other type of plan for the benefit of their employees and overall business objectives.

Know the best plan options for the companies you’re serving

Not every company should have a 401(k) plan. While 401(k) plans may be optimal for large and even small companies, small companies may benefit from other types of plans. Small businesses often operate at a loss or minimal profit for many years before they generate significant profit. As a result, business owners may seek a plan — such as a defined benefit plan — that allows them to contribute more toward their retirement. In some cases, this may more than triple the amount of yearly contributions an employer can make compared to a 401(k) plan. Employers can contribute to a defined benefit plan and take a tax deduction equivalent to the contributions made to the plan.

Understand the tax advantages of retirement plans

Successful plan advisers should understand the tax advantages associated with the chosen retirement plan for both the owners and the participants. Traditional 401(k) plans tend to provide the most benefits to employees with tax-deferred contributions. On the other hand, small company owners can benefit from the tax advantages of properly designed cash balance or defined benefit plans. These frequently overlooked plans enable employers to deduct the cost of the company’s plan from their taxable income to secure tax savings.

Employee benefit advisers must have this foundational understanding of the tax advantages to successfully serve their clients. Partner with a retirement company record-keeper and a third-party administrator to learn the details for each option.

Discover profitable prospects among small companies too

Many employee benefit advisers in search of success avoid talking to small companies. However, these small companies have significant potential and are vital to success in an otherwise crowded market. Small companies, even with only three to five employees, are great to work with, especially if you help them establish a defined benefit plan, and if it’s the best plan for them. Through these plans, retirement plan advisers can receive the fees needed to provide the service because the company is making larger contributions than to a profit sharing or 401(k) plan.

Target underserved, yet vibrant markets

According to a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 53% of small to midsize companies have retirement plans in place. Owners may think they are too small to be able to afford and monitor a program. These businesses are important prospects to pursue. Make yourself known to these companies and show the employer that there is a retirement plan that will work for their employees and company, no matter the size. Explain what program the company can implement and easily administer with your guidance.

Small companies provide great opportunities for advisers to become successful and differentiate themselves from other industry professionals. Keep in mind that these small companies are also more dependent on advisers because of the costs and risk associated with retirement plans. They will require more frequent contact for advice and personalized service. If you do not have the right expertise in the beginning, partner with someone in your office or a TPA until you have the credentials and knowledge to advise small companies on your own.

SOURCE:
Weintraub, M (19 June 2018) "Five steps to becoming a trusted retirement plan adviser" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/five-steps-to-becoming-a-trusted-retirement-plan-adviser?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge. Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry. Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry. This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership. "We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest. Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest. This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges. Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/