New House Healthcare Proposal a Mixed Bag for Employers

The House of Representatives has just introduced their new bipartiasn plan for healthcare reform. Find out how this new healthcare legislation will impact your employers' healthcare in this great article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News.

A new bipartisan healthcare plan in the House contains potential positives and negatives alike for employers.

The plan could provide much-sought relief to small and medium-sized businesses with respect to the employer mandate, but it could also institutionalize the mandate for larger firms and does little to reduce employer-reporting headaches. Critics say it also fails to endorse other employer-friendly reforms to the Affordable Care Act.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 40 Republicans and Democrats led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., unveiled their new plan last week to stabilize the individual markets, following the collapse of Senate talks that were focused on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month. The proposal would be separate from an earlier bill that passed the House to overhaul large swaths of the ACA. Congress is now on recess until after Labor Day, but talks around efforts to shore up the individual markets are likely to resume when lawmakers return to Washington this fall.

PaulThe House lawmakers introduced a broad set of bipartisan principles that they hope will guide future legislation, including several key tweaks to the employer mandate. This plan includes raising the threshold for when the mandate kicks in from firms with 50 or more employees to those with at least 500 workers. It also would up the definition of full-time work from those putting in 30 hours to those working 40 hours per week. Among changes focused on the individual markets, the proposal would bring cost-sharing reduction payments under the congressional appropriations process and ensure they have mandatory funding as well as establish a stability fund that states could tap to reduce premiums and other costs for some patients with expensive health needs.

Legislative talks focused on maintaining the Obamacare markets remain in early stages and it’s unclear whether the provisions targeting the employer mandate will gain long-term traction, though lawmakers in support of the plan said that their proposed measure would help unburden smaller companies.

“The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and acts as a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees,” the Problem Solvers Caucus said in their July 31 release.

Observers note that raising the mandate’s threshold would likely have few dramatic effects on coverage rates. But critics argued that while the plan would eliminate coverage requirements for mid-size employers — a boon for smaller companies — it could ultimately make it more difficult to restructure or remove the mandate altogether.

“It would provide relief to some people — however, it will enshrine the employer mandate forever,” says James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee. “You are exempting the most sympathetic characters and ensuring that large businesses will forever be subject to the mandate and its obscene reporting.”

The real-world impact of the change would likely be limited when it comes to coverage rates, as mid-sized and larger employers tend to use health benefits to help attract and retain their workforce. Nearly all firms with 50 or more full-time employees — about 96% — offered at least one plan that would meet the ACA’s minimum value and affordability requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Education Trust employer health benefits survey for 2016. Participation was even higher — 99% — among firms with at least 200 workers.

“At the 500 bar, realistically, virtually every employer is offering coverage to at least some employees,” says Matthew Rae, a senior policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gelfand notes that under the proposed measure, big businesses would still have to comply with time-consuming and costly reporting requirements under the ACA and would continue to face restrictions in plan design, because of requirements in place that, for example, mandate plans have an actuarial value of at least 60%.

“Prior to the ACA, big business already offered benefits — and they were good benefits that people liked and that were designed to keep people healthy and to make them productive workers,” he says. “[The ACA] forces us to waste a boatload of time and money proving that we offer the benefits that we offer and it constrains our ability to be flexible in designing those benefits.”

Susan Combs, founder of insurance brokerage Combs & Co., says that changing the definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours per week could have a bigger impact than raising the mandate threshold, because it would free up resources for employers who had laid off workers or cut back their hours when they began having to cover benefits for people working 30 or more hours.

“Some employers had to lay off employees or had they to cut back on different things, because they had to now cover benefits for people that were in essence really part-time people, not full-time people,” she says. “If you shifted from 30 to 40 hours, that might give employers additional remedies so they can expand their companies and employ more people eventually.”

Two percent of firms with 50-plus full-time workers surveyed by Kaiser in 2016 said that they changed or planned to change the job classifications of some employees from full-time to part-time so that the workers would not be eligible for health benefits under the mandate. Another 4% said that they reduced the number of full-time employees they intended to hire because of the cost of providing health benefits.

Gelfand calls the provision to raise the definition from 30 to 40 hours per week “an improvement,” though he said a better solution would be to remove the employer mandate entirely.

He added that he would like to see any market stabilization plan include more items employers had backed as part of the earlier repeal and replace debate. While the House plan would remove a tax on medical devices, it does not address the Cadillac tax on high-cost plans, one of the highest priority items that employer groups have been working to delay or repeal. It also doesn’t include language expanding the use of tax-advantaged health savings accounts detailed in earlier House and Senate proposals.

“There’s not likely to be another healthcare vehicle that’s focused on ACA reform, so if you have a reform vehicle that goes through and it doesn’t do anything to give us tax relief and it doesn’t do anything to improve consumer-driven health options, like HSAs, and it doesn’t do anything to improve healthcare costs — wow, what a missed opportunity,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 August 10). New house healthcare proposal a mixed bag for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/new-house-healthcare-proposal-a-mixed-bag-for-employers


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


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

Here is a great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) on what you need to know about COBRA when dealing with fully insured and self-funded health plans by Danielle Capilla.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) allows qualified beneficiaries who lose health benefits due to a qualifying event to continue group health benefits. While some group health plans may provide COBRA continuation coverage at a reduced rate or at no cost, most qualified beneficiaries must pay the full COBRA premium. The COBRA election notice should include information about COBRA premiums.

For fully insured health plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees. For self-insured plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees as determined by an actuary or the past cost from the preceding determination period. The applicable premium calculation for both fully- and self-insured plans includes the cost of providing coverage to both active employees and COBRA qualified beneficiaries. All COBRA premiums must be calculated in good faith compliance with a reasonable interpretation of COBRA requirements.

Generally, COBRA payments are made on an after-tax basis. Qualified beneficiaries have 45 days after the election date to make an initial premium payment. The plan may terminate the qualified beneficiary's COBRA rights if no initial premium payment is made before the end of the 45-day period. In addition, plans must allow monthly premium payments and cannot require payment on a quarterly basis. As established under COBRA, premiums are due on the first day of each month with a minimum 30-day grace period. A plan may terminate COBRA coverage for nonpayment or insufficient payment of premiums after the grace period.

If a qualified beneficiary makes an insignificant underpayment, then the premium payment will still satisfy the payment obligation. An underpayment is deemed insignificant if the shortfall is no greater than the lesser of $50 or 10 percent of the required amount. However, if the plan notifies the qualified beneficiary of the shortfall and grants a reasonable amount of time to correct the underpayment (usually 30 days after the notice is provided), then the qualified beneficiary is required to make the payment; otherwise, COBRA coverage may be canceled.

Fully Insured Health Plans

Generally, the applicable COBRA premium amount for fully insured plans is the insurance premium charged by the insurer. The applicable premium is based on the total cost of coverage, which includes both the employer and employee portions. The premium amount is based on the cost of coverage for similarly situated individuals who have not incurred a qualifying event.

A group health plan may charge at most 102 percent of the premium during the standard COBRA coverage period for similarly situated plan participants (100 percent of the total cost of coverage plus an additional 2 percent for administrative costs). However, the plan may increase the premium for a disabled qualified beneficiary and charge 150 percent of the applicable premium during the 11-month disability extension period (months 19 through 29). In addition, COBRA regulations permit a plan to charge a 150 percent premium to nondisabled qualified beneficiaries as long as the disabled qualified beneficiary is covered under the plan. If the disabled qualified beneficiary is no longer covered under the plan, then the remaining qualified beneficiaries may continue coverage up to 29 months at 102 percent of the cost of the plan.

If an employer maintains more than one plan, then a separate applicable premium is calculated for each plan. Also, the applicable premium for a single plan may vary due to factors such as the coverage level, the benefit package, and the region in which covered employee resides. For instance, single employees may pay a different applicable premium than employees who include their spouse on the plan. Thus, the plan may charge different premiums based on the varying coverage levels.

The most common tier structures include employee-only, employee-plus-spouse, employee-plus-children, and employee-plus-family. According to Internal Revenue Ruling 96-8, a fully insured plan that pays different premiums for individual versus family coverage must use those same premium tiers for COBRA continuation coverage. Thus, COBRA premiums are divided into multi-rate and single-rate tier structures.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 1). Determining COBRA premiums for fully insured and self-funded health plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/determining-cobra-premiums-for-fully-insured-and-self-funded-health-plans-1


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

Small employers, those with less than 100 employees, have a reputation for not offering health insurance benefits that are competitive with larger employers, but new survey data from United Benefit Advisors reveals they are keeping pace with the average employer and, in fact, doing a better job of containing costs. According to UBA's new special report: "Small Businesses Keeping Pace with Nationwide Health Trends," based on the most recent UBA Health Plan Survey, employees across all plan types pay an average of $3,378 toward annual health insurance benefits, with their employer picking up the rest of the total cost of $9,727.  Among small groups, employees pay $3,557, with their employer picking up the balance of $9,474—only a 5.3 percent difference, finds UBA.

"While employers with 500 to 1,000 or more employees may indeed offer better coverage (lower copays, deductibles, in-network out-of-pocket maximums, and monthly premiums), small employers have a lot to offer employees when it comes to wages, purpose, flexibility, etc.," says Peter Weber, President of UBA. "Small employers would do well to benchmark their plans against their same-size peers and communicate how competitive their plans are relative to average national costs, deductibles, copays, and more."

When looking at average annual cost per employee, UBA's data shows that small businesses actually cut a better deal even when compared to their largest counterparts—their costs are generally below average. For example, the average annual cost per employee (all plans) is $9,727, but for small groups with 25 to 49 employees, the average cost per employee is only $9,165.

"Keep in mind that relief such as grandmothering and the PACE Act helped many of these small groups stay in pre-ACA plans at better rates, unlike their larger counterparts," says Weber. "Generally speaking, however, small businesses are not cutting corners with their coverage. Copays, deductibles, and HSA funding (when offered) are generally in line with average employers."

For more detailed information, including a chart of detailed plan costs comparing small to large businesses nationwide, download a free copy of UBA's Special Report: "Small Businesses Keeping Pace with Nationwide Health Trends". 

Contact us for a customized benchmark survey based on industry, region, and business size.

About United Benefit Advisors
United Benefit Advisors® (UBA) is the nation's leading independent employee benefits advisory organization with more than 200 offices throughout the United StatesCanada, and the United Kingdom. UBA empowers more than 2,000 Partners to both maintain their individuality and pool their expertise, insight, and market presence to provide best-in-class services and solutions. Employers, advisors and industry-related organizations interested in obtaining powerful results from the shared wisdom of our Partners should visit www.UBAbenefits.com.


How to Explain HSAs to Employees Who Don’t Understand Them

HSAs can be a very effective tool for employees looking to save for their healthcare and retirement. But many employees are not knowledgeable enough to fully utilize their HSAs. Here is an interesting column by Eric Brewer from Employee Benefit News on what you can do to help educate your employees on the impartance of HSAs.

High-deductible health plans with health savings accounts are becoming more popular as benefits consumerism increases throughout the country. Enrolling your employees in HDHPs is one way to educate them on the true cost of healthcare. And if they use an HSA correctly, it can help them better manage their healthcare costs, and yours.

But understanding how an HDHP works and ensuring your employees will get the most out of an HSA can be tricky. In fact, a recent survey by employee communication software company Jellyvision found that half of employees don’t understand their insurance benefits. And choosing a benefits plan is stressful for employees because it’s a decision that will impact them for a long time. This is further complicated by the trend toward rising employee contributions and the issue of escalating healthcare costs. Employees are taking on more cost share — and that means plan sponsors have a greater responsibility to do a better job of educating them to make the best decision at open enrollment.

HSAs benefit the employee in a number of ways:
· Just like a retirement plan, HSAs can be funded with pre-tax money.
· Employees can choose how much they want to contribute each pay period and it’s automatically deducted.
· Employers can contribute funds to an HSA until the limit is met.

These are important facts to tell employees. But there’s more to it than that. Here are some tips on how to best explain HSAs to your workforce.

The devil is in the details: discuss tax-time changes

Employees using HSAs will see an extra number or two on their W-2s and receive additional tax forms. Here’s what to know:

· The amount deposited into the HSA will appear in Box 12 of the W-2.
· Employees may also receive form 5498-SA if they deposited funds in addition to what has been deducted via payroll.
· Employees must submit form 8889 before deducting contributions to an HSA. On the form they’ll have to include their deductible contributions, calculate the deduction, note what you’ve spend on medical expenses, and figure the tax on non-medical expenses you may have also paid for using the HSA.
· Employees will receive a 1099SA that includes distributions from the HSA.

Importantly, most tax software walks employees through these steps.

Dispel myths

A lot of confusion surrounds HSAs because they’re yet another acronym that employees have to remember when dealing with their insurance (more on that later). Here are a few myths you should work to dispel.

· Funds are “use it or lose it.” Unlike a flexible spending account, funds in an HSA never go away. In fact, they belong to an employee. So even if they go to another job, they can still use the HSA to pay for medical expenses tax-free.

· HDHPs with HSAs are risky. There are benefits to choosing an HDHP with an HSA for both healthy people and those with chronic illnesses. Healthy people benefit from low HDHP premiums and can contribute to an HSA at a level they’re comfortable with. On the other hand, people with chronic illnesses will likely hit their deductible each year; after that time, medical expenses are covered in most cases.

Help employees understand they’re in control

High-deductible plans with an HSA might seem intimidating, but they put employees firmly in control of their healthcare. This is increasingly important in today’s insurance landscape. When employees choose an HSA, healthcare becomes more transparent. They can shop around for services and find the best deal for services before they make a decision.

HSAs also give you control and flexibility over how and when employees spend the funds. Users can cover medical costs as they happen or collect receipts and get reimbursed later. Finally, employees don’t have to worry about sending in receipts to be reviewed. This means they must be responsible for using the funds the right way, or face tax penalties.

Resist ‘insurance speak’

As an HR professional, you may not realize how much benefits jargon you use every day. After all, you deal with benefits all the time, so using industry terms is second nature. But jargon, especially the alphabet soup of insurance acronyms that I mentioned earlier, is confusing to employees.

One tip is to spell out acronyms on the first reference. Second, simplify the explanation by shortening sentences so that anyone can understand it.

Here’s an example of a way to introduce an HSA:

A health savings account, also called an HSA, is a tax-free savings account. An HSA helps you cover healthcare expenses. You can use the money in your HSA to pay medical, dental and vision costs for yourself, spouse and dependents who are covered by your health plan. You can use HSA funds to pay for non-medical expenses, but you will have to pay taxes on them…

You get the idea.

As responsibility continues to shift to employees, they may need more education in small chunks over time to reinforce their knowledge. As the employer, it’s in your best interest to help employees choose the best plan and use it the right way.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Brewer E. (2017 August 4). How to explain HSAs to employees who don't understand them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-explain-hsas-to-employees-who-dont-understand-them?feed=00000152-18a5-d58e-ad5a-99fd665c0000


Benefits Technology: What do Employers Want?

Do you know which technology will be the most beneficial for your employee benefits program? Take a look at this article by Kimberly Landry from Benefits Pro on what employers should be looking for when searching for the right technology for the benefits program.

It’s no secret that we are in the midst of a revolution in how employers manage their insurance benefits. Enrolling and administering benefits was once a manual process involving plenty of paperwork, but much of this work has now shifted to electronic benefits platforms. A recent LIMRA survey, Convenient and Connected: How Are Employers Using Technology Today?, found that 59 percent of employers are now using a technology platform for insurance benefit enrollment, administration, or both. In addition, more than 1 in 3 firms that do not use technology are currently looking for a platform.

Brokers can provide value to their clients by helping them find a technology system that meets their needs. In fact, over one quarter of employers say their broker should have primary responsibility for researching and evaluating possible technology solutions. However, to do this successfully, it is necessary to understand what problems employers are trying to solve with technology.

The advantages of benefits technology tend to fall into two categories: improving the experience for HR/benefits staff and improving the experience for employees. While employers see the value of both aspects, it is clear that the desire for technology is driven more by HR needs such as reducing costs, improving management of benefits data, and reducing the time and resources needed to administer benefits, rather than employee needs (Figure X). In seeking technology, employers are, first and foremost, trying to make their own lives easier.

This provides insight into some of the key features employers are seeking in technology, many of which revolve around greater convenience in managing benefits. For example, 80 percent of employers say it is important for a technology platform to be accessible all year so they can use it for ongoing administration and updates, rather than a “one-and-done” enrollment system. Ongoing access is one of the top features employers look for in a platform, with sizable portions also specifying that they want a system that can enroll new hires and support ongoing life event and coverage changes.

I would love to find a product … that would allow us to reduce the amount of time that we spend during the enrollment process and also during the course of a year, adding employees or terminating employees.

—Employer with 65 employees (Voice of the Employer,LIMRA, 2016)

Similarly, 77 percent of employers want a technology system that can manage all of their benefits on the same platform, regardless of which carriers are providing the products. Consolidating benefits on one platform helps employers save time and allows them to quickly get a complete view of their overall benefits package in one place. In fact, employers that currently manage all of their benefits on one platform are more satisfied with their technology than those that don’t have this capability. Moreover, roughly 1 in 6 employers say the ability to handle all benefits in one place would motivate them to switch technology platforms.

Employers also want the convenience of a platform that integrates smoothly with other technology systems, including carrier, payroll, and HRIS systems. When it comes to carrier systems, employers want to feel confident that no errors are occurring in the data transfer and don’t want to spend a lot of time checking for mistakes.

Our HR benefits administrator has spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to, literally person by person, dependent by dependent, go through each little piece and figure out why somebody's kid is getting dropped…So I think I'd like to see those communications [work] a little bit better.

—Employer with 320 employees

Employers also want technology to integrate with their payroll and other HRIS systems so they do not have to make changes in multiple systems, which is perceived as time-consuming and inefficient.

And those two systems...they don't communicate with each other... Without that communication, it's almost like double work because if there's an address change or anything like that, you have to go to one system, then go to another, and that just seems broken to me.

—Employer with 32 employees

While employers are primarily seeking convenience for their own HR staff, it is important to note that they would like this value to extend to their employees as well. Overall, 85 percent of employers think it’s important that an enrollment platform be easy and intuitive for their employees to use. In fact, user-friendliness is often one of the first priorities that comes to mind when employers describe their ideal platform.

I want to make sure it's easy, as simple as possible, as fast as possible, and I don't want it to be a burden every year.

—Employer with 30,000 employees 

When it comes to selecting benefits technology, it is clear that convenience is key. By guiding employers to technology solutions that will make it quicker and easier to administer benefits, brokers can improve the experience for everyone involved and help the industry move into the future.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Landry K. (2017 July 21). Benefits technology: what do employers want? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/07/21/benefits-technology-what-do-employers-want?kw=Benefits+technology%3A+What+do+employers+want%3F&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170721&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Daily&page_all=1


How to Meet Growing Demands for Bigger, Better Voluntary Plans

Has there been an increase in demand from your employees to offer more voluntary benefits? Check out this great article by Whitney Ehret from Employee Benefits Adviser on what you can do to meet your employees' demand for more voluntary benefits.

Over the years, voluntary benefits or worksite products have unfortunately earned a negative reputation in the marketplace. This is largely due to overzealous carriers with aggressive sales tactics and brokers purely seeking higher commissions.

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, employers began to shift more of the benefits cost to employees via high-deductible health plans, increased coinsurance costs and copays. The majority of today’s workforce is comprised of millennials, coupled with Generation Z quickly entering the workforce. There’s no question: traditional employer benefit offerings are about to undergo some major changes.

With a new administration in place and increasing generational challenges, employers are becoming more open to creative ideas to improve their total benefits offering. Today’s voluntary benefits market isn’t shy of options, which in turn makes things quite confusing. Companies will need to shift focus from traditional offerings and begin to get more resourceful — not only with the products they offer, but also with their entire strategy. Communications, enrollment and marketing will all become especially critical in retaining and attracting top talent in the coming months and years.

For the most part, the majority of brokers and employers are somewhat familiar with the top voluntary products in the market: dental, vision, accident, critical illness, cancer, hospital indemnity, disability and life insurance. Those are traditionally the products that spark initial voluntary benefit conversations, although there are many more — including legal, identity theft, auto/home, pet, employee purchasing programs, unemployment gap, tuition and loan assistance programs.

For the remainder of 2017, the conversation is predicted to still involve the top voluntary products, but shift to a new focus. Nearly two thirds of employers are looking to voluntary benefits to reduce overall financial stress on employees, the 2016 Xerox HR Services Financial Wellbeing & Voluntary Benefits Survey found. Integrating voluntary benefits with core benefits may reduce financial stress that ultimately leads to health issues and higher overall benefit costs.

The main goal of these products is to provide employees with cash resources, paid directly to the insured, should they experience an unexpected life event. Insureds can use these payments for anything they choose: mortgage, rent, groceries, deductibles, coinsurance payments, copays and more. Compared to state disability programs, these payments are generally made more quickly and offer a simpler claim filing process. If an employee is faced with a difficult situation, these conveniences can greatly reduce stress during a highly sensitive and vulnerable time.

Financial wellbeing is the focus
A recent Employee Benefit News article found 89% of millennials are interested in receiving financial advice, yet only 58% have been offered this type of assistance. With the majority of the workforce now comprised of millennials, employers will need to offer more diverse benefit options that are tailored to this population.

Millennials aren’t the only ones who are concerned about their financial wellbeing. The MetLife’s U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study found 49% of employees are concerned, anxious, or fearful about their current financial situation, 72% said that a customized benefits package increases loyalty and only 27% are satisfied with their progress toward paying down student loans. These statistics demonstrate the immediate need for a comprehensive voluntary benefit offering.

Student loan debt is an issue for all generations in the workforce. Whether the individual is a millennial trying to get established and create wealth, a Gen X employee who is struggling with existing student loan debt family debt and saving for retirement, or a baby boomer who is trying to help support the family’s educational needs — namely children and grandchildren — everyone, at some level, has a need for student loan assistance.

Additionally, most voluntary products offer wellness benefits, which is a direct payment to the individual for completing an annual wellness exam. With amounts ranging between $50-$200 (employer selected), this is pure profit to the individual, since ACA requires preventative exams to be covered 100% by insurance carriers.

In addition, this benefit helps to subsidize the actual cost of the product annually. There are carriers in the market that will pay this benefit multiple times in a single year for a single insured.

Increasingly, companies are getting involved with wellness specific initiatives and incentives for their employees to hopefully drive healthy habits that will, in turn, lower healthcare costs and increase workplace satisfaction. To promote these wellness programs, employers offer reduced pricing on their medical plans or make contributions into a medical savings account if employees complete their annual exams or participate in various wellness activities. Offering voluntary products with a wellness benefit is another way to enhance a company’s total health portfolio at no cost to the employer.

Carrier selection Is key
Like many other industries, this business is all about relationships. Brokers and employers need to be able to trust and rely on their voluntary benefits carriers. As HR staffing has shrunk and brokers are required to provide more services with the same resources, it’s imperative that the appropriate carrier is selected for each unique case.

Voluntary benefits, as “cookie-cutter” as we may perceive them to be, are just not that. Since their onset, voluntary benefits have come with administrative obstacles that have historically taken up too much of HR’s time.

Unfortunately, while these products do provide a valuable benefit to employees, they are not the priority for most employers. Employers don’t often care about how many products they are offering as long as the plans aren’t administrative-heavy, the 2016 Employee Benefit News annual survey found. Carriers recognize this issue, and have steadily made improvements to these processes over recent years.

There are carriers in the marketplace today that allow clients to self-bill and self-pay, which is essentially what employers are already used to doing on their basic and supplemental group life and AD&D plans. For claims issues, they have also made this process easier by making it electronic and not requiring extensive information from the employees in the claims-filing process.

Core carriers (traditional medical carriers) are also beginning to get into the worksite market and are further simplifying the claims process by linking their medical system with their voluntary system. This allows the carrier to proactively initiate claims and file complete claims for the insured since the majority of the claims information is already within the single carrier system.

The other benefit to offering voluntary plans with the core medical carrier is that often some products may provide additional benefits if employees have a certain medical condition. For example, voluntary dental plans will provide more cleaning exams per year if an insured is pregnant. Most insureds would not realize they have this benefit, but by linking these systems with a core carrier, the insured makes sure to get the most out of their plan.

Communication style and strategy are imperative 
Not only is it important to consider the products and carriers that are offered, but also how they are enrolled and communicated. From the voluntary benefits perspective, these products have typically been enrolled face to face with employees. While this may be the best way to fully educate employees on their benefit options, that is no longer the future of employee benefits enrollment.

ACA has also helped enrollment move to the electronic platform because of the requirements made on employers for reporting. Millennials are the technology generation, making them naturally comfortable using technology to enroll and learn about benefits and even be treated by a virtual doctor.

Employers are trending toward a more self-service enrollment environment, which brings its own challenges. Most of these systems are built with decision tools that allow for the enrollment experience to be customized to the employee. These tools will make plan recommendations for the employees based on the answers to health and financial questions. Often, videos within the enrollment site are used to further enhance the educational experience.

Some of the main problems with electronic enrollments include keeping employees engaged, offering voluntary benefit products and carriers that work with the system, keeping costs low or free for the employer and ensuring data accuracy and security.

A company’s overall benefits package is becoming increasingly important in the decision-making process for prospective employees, as well as to retain top industry talent. Employers, rightfully so, are concerned about cost and maintaining this delicate balance while still attempting to manage the complex administration of these plans.

More and more, employers are looking for voluntary benefits to solve this need by offering “free” technology and enrollment solutions to their groups. There is no doubt that if employers want to retain and attract top talent, they are going to have to adapt with the market and offer their employees a wide array of benefit options and new technology that is tailored to their employee needs.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Ehret W. (2017 July 24). How to meet growing demands for bigger, better voluntary plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-meet-growing-demands-for-bigger-better-voluntary-plans


Government and Education Employers Offer Richest HSA Plans

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bill Olson

Across most industries, HSA contributions are, for the most part, down or unchanged from three years ago, according to UBA’s Health Plan Survey. The average employer contribution to an HSA is $474 for a single employee (down 3.5 percent from 2015 and 17.6 percent from five years ago) and $801 for a family (down 9.2 percent from last year and 13.7 percent from five years ago). Government and education employers are the only industries with average single contributions well above average and on the rise.

Government employees had the most generous contributions for singles at $850, on average, up from $834 in 2015. This industry also has the highest employer contributions for families, on average, at $1,595 (though that is down from 1,636 in 2015). Educational employers are the next most generous, contributing $636, on average, for singles and $1,131 for families.

Singles in the accommodation/food services industries received virtually no support from employers, with average HSA contributions at $166. The same is true for families with HSA plans in the accommodation/food services industries with average family contributions of $174.

Retail employers also remain among the least generous contributors to single and family HSA plans, contributing $305 and $470, respectively. This may be why they have low enrollment in these plans.

The education services industry has seen a 109 percent increase in HSA enrollment since 2013 (aided by employers’ generous contributions), catapulting the industry to the lead in HSA enrollment at 23.8 percent. The professional/scientific/tech and finance/insurance industries follow closely at 23.3 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively.

The mining/oil/gas industry sees the lowest enrollment at 3.8 percent. The retail, hotel, and food industries continue to have some of the lowest enrollment rates despite the prevalence of these plans, indicating that these industries, in particular, may want to increase employee education efforts about these plans and how they work.

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olson B. (2017 July 27). Government and education employers offer richest HSA plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/government-and-education-employers-offer-richest-hsa-plans


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


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