Seeing beyond size in vision care networks

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Safety Focused Newsletter: September 2018

Staying Safe When Traveling for Work

Many jobs require employees to travel for work, sometimes even abroad. While this can be a fun experience, staying safe can be much more difficult if you are in an unfamiliar area. To keep yourself safe when traveling for work, remember the following tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with local customs and laws, as you are subject to them while traveling.
  • Avoid hailing taxis on the street when possible. Instead, have your hotel’s concierge service book a reliable driver or car service for you.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip and maintaining your safety.

  • Keep hotel doors and windows locked at all times. When you arrive, and any time you leave and return to the room, make sure the locks are working.
  • Ensure that your room has a working peephole and use it to verify the identity of anyone visiting your room. If an unexpected visitor claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm.
  • Take photos of important documents and information, like your passport and driver’s license, and leave copies at home.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip. Planning ahead and remaining vigilant can make all the difference.

Ways to Communicate with Peers You Disagree With

In your professional career, you’re bound to have to work alongside people you don’t agree with. For some, this can be a source of stress, particularly if you have to go out of your way to keep the workplace relationship civil.

In these situations, it’s important to know how to interact professionally. Not only will this display a high level of maturity to your co-workers and managers, but it can also help you avoid making a bad situation worse.

To work with peers you disagree with, do the following:

  • Listen more than you speak. Diversity of opinions is important, and allowing yourself the time to process what another person wants can help you understand where they’re coming from.
  • Think before you respond. Choose your words carefully when responding to something you disagree with. Doing so ensures that you can justify your arguments in a sincere, respectful tone.
  • Try to find common ground and avoid dragging others into an argument.
  • Avoid personal insults. Discussions should be civil and focus on workplace issues.
  • Ask questions. Sometimes disagreements come from a lack of understanding. Asking questions in a friendly tone can be a good way to steer a conversation into a more positive direction.

Working with people you disagree with can be difficult, but it’s an important part of most jobs. If you are concerned that you and a peer will never get along, consider speaking to a supervisor.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 creative ways to help working parents

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


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

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

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

1. Get real about childcare.

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

2. Offer flexibility.

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

3. Make it convenient.

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

4. Help tackle the “hate-to-do” list.

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

5. Promote total health.

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

6. Prioritize mental wellness.

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

7. Remember the older kids.

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

8. Simplify travel.

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

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

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

10. Stay inclusive.

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

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

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

Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?

Often, employees are unsure who they should go to first when they have a health crisis at work. Many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing health crises. Read this blog post to learn more.


When talking to employers about their disability programs, I often ask, “Who do your employees go to first for assistance when they have a health condition?”

If I ask that question of a direct supervisor, it’s met with a quick response of “Me!”, which is quickly followed by the statement, “My employees know that my door is always open and I’m here to help them!”

Sadly, this is not true. Another insurance company recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition in the workplace and asked that same question: Who did you go to for assistance? The responses varied.

For example, we found that at midsize companies with 100 to 499 employees, it varied:

· 44% went to their HR manager
· 33% went to their direct supervisor
· 18% went to their HR manager and direct supervisor
· 5% went elsewhere

What this shows is that many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing employees with health conditions. This confusion or misunderstanding about whom to approach for assistance can create an inconsistent process for your clients and their workforce — potentially resulting in a negative experience for employees and lost productivity for employers.

Based on the survey findings, employees who worked with their HR manager tended to have a more positive experience and felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition.

For instance, 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor, versus only 37% of employees who went to their HR manager. In addition, 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61% of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.

There are several reasons why working with an HR manager can be more beneficial for employees, and ultimately, your clients. Typically, working with an HR manager can lead to more communication while an employee is on leave. Our research shows employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and returned to work 44% faster than when they worked with their direct supervisor.

HR managers also are usually more aware of available resources and how to connect employees to necessary programs to help treat their condition. HR managers who engaged their disability carriers saw a 22% boost in employees’ use of workplace resources, such as an EAP, or disease management or wellness program, when involved in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan.

This connection to additional resources is essential, as it can help employees receive holistic support to manage their health condition — whether it’s financial wellness support, connection to mental health resources through an EAP or one-on-one sessions with a health coach. HR managers also are usually able to better engage their disability carrier to provide tailored accommodations, which can help aid in stay-at-work or return-to-work plans.

Providing your client with these findings can help them understand the importance of creating a disability process that puts HR as the main point of contact. Not only does this create a consistent experience that helps provide employees with the support they need, it can improve employee morale and reduce turnover.

SOURCE: Smith, Jeffery (16 August 2018) "Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/do-employees-know-where-to-go-in-a-health-crisis


Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment

Researchers say employees experience chronic stress during their workday and vacations aren't helping to fix it. Take a look at why a stress-free work environment is critical for productivity.


That easy breezy feeling after taking a vacation slips away pretty quickly when people have to face the same systemic workplace issues that wore them down in the first place, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey.

The Harris Poll surveyed 1,512 U.S. adults who were employed either full time, part time or were self-employed, and found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) say the positive effects of vacation time – such as more energy and feeling less stress – disappear immediately upon returning to work. Forty percent say the benefits last only a few days.

“Employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment,” says David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “Unless they address the organizational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business.”

More than a third (35 percent) of respondents say they experience chronic stress during their workday, due to low pay (49 percent), lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (46 percent), too heavy of a workload (42 percent) and unrealistic job expectations and long hours (39 percent each).

However, just half say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs. When adequate resources are provided, only 33 percent of the respondents say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday, compared to 59 percent of those who say their employer doesn’t provide sufficient mental health resources. When it comes to overall well-being, nearly three-fourths of employees supported with mental health resources (73 percent) say their employer helps them develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, compared to 14 percent who say they don’t have the resources.

“Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported – these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Ballard says. “Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”

Even in a very supportive workplace environment, encouraging vacations can boost morale and performance even more, according to the survey. Upon returning from vacation, employees who say their organization’s culture encourages time off were more likely to report having more motivation (71 percent) compared to employees who say their organization doesn’t encourage time off (45 percent). They are also more likely to say they are more productive (73 percent vs. 47 percent) and that their work quality is better (70 percent vs. 46 percent).

Overall, respondents are more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80 percent vs. 37 percent), that they are satisfied with their job (88 percent vs. 50 percent) and that the organization treats them fairly (88 percent vs. 47 percent). They are similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (81 percent vs. 39 percent).

“A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work-life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge,” Ballard says. “Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”

SOURCE:
Kuehner-Hebert, K (13 July 2018) "A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/02/a-vacation-cant-undo-the-damage-of-a-stressful-wor/


HRL - Woman - Frustrated

Addressing mental healthcare at work

Studies show that one in five adults has a mental health disorder. In this article, Olson list ways employers can address mental health within their organizations.


Nancy Spangler, senior consultant at the Center for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Foundation, says that one in five adults has a mental health disorder, and one in 10 has a substance abuse problem. In addition, major depression and its associated conditions cost the U.S. over $210 billion every year. Clearly, mental health is an issue we need to investigate both in our offices and across the country.

Many organizations have found that simply by working with employees to recognize depression, build empathy, and find resources, increased EAP utilization while claim dollars did the opposite. In most cases there was no formal program involved—leadership simply began talking about the issue, and the reduced stigma led to better health (and better offices!).

What can we do besides reducing stigma, especially from the top down? At the 2018 Health Benefits and Leadership Conference, experts listed five “buckets” of challenges in addressing mental health: access to care, cost of care, stigma, quality, and integration. Breaking these down into individual components not only helps employees find the support they need and deserve, but it further reduces stigma by refusing to separate mental health from medical coverage or wellness programs. Experts also recommend inviting EAPs to visit offices in person, instead of simply suggesting employees call when they can. Another increasingly popular technique is text-based therapy. This a great fit for many employees because someone is always available and the conversation is always private, even when the client is sitting at a desk in a shared space.

In addition to reducing stigma through transparency and access, employers can also help increase the quality of care available to employees. One key move is simply asking for data. How do vendors evaluate quality, meet standards, and screen for illness? Do health plan members have confidential ways to report their experiences? Mental health care should be seen no differently from other kinds of health care. Employees who have access to quality, destigmatized mental health care build stronger, more functional, and ever-happier workplaces.

Olson B. (17 July 2018). "Addressing Mental Health Care at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/addressing-mental-health-care-at-work.


HSA How-To

Health Savings Accounts can be tricky, employees have the control, employers and insurance companies are there to guide them in the right direction. Here is a how to helping guide to assist your customers to the right HSA plan.


If an employer wants to offer employees pretax payroll deferrals to their health savings accounts, the employer needs to first create a Section 125 plan or cafeteria plan that allows HSA deferrals.

A cafeteria plan is the only way for employers to offer employees a choice between taxable and nontaxable benefits, “without the choice causing the benefits to become taxable,” the IRS says. “A plan offering only a choice between taxable benefits is not a Section 125 plan.”

Here are five things to know about HSAs and Section 125 plans.

1. A Section 125 plan is just one of several ways for employers to help employees with funding their HSAs.

Employers offering HDHPs face the choice of whether and how to help their employees with the funding of the employees’ HSAs. The options include the following:

  • Option 1 – Employee after-tax contributions.Employers are not required to help with the employees’ HSAs and may choose not to. In this case, employees may open HSAs on their own and receive the tax deduction on their personal income tax return. This option allows for income tax savings, but not payroll taxes. A variation on this option is for employers to allow for post-tax payroll deferral (basically, direct deposit of payroll funds into an HSA without treating the deposit any differently than other payroll which may also be directly deposited into an employee’s personal checking account).This does not change the tax or legal situation, but it does provide convenience for employees and will likely increase HSA participation and satisfaction.
  • Option 2 – Employee pretax payroll deferral.Employers can help employees fund their HSAs by allowing for HSA contributions via payroll deferral. This is inexpensive and can be accomplished by adding a Section 125 cafeteria plan with HSA deferrals as an option. Employers benefit by not having to pay payroll taxes on the employees’ HSA contributions. Employees save payroll taxes as well. Plus, HSA contributions are not counted as income for federal, and in most cases, state income taxes. Setting up automatic payments generally simplifies and improves employee savings.
  • Option 3 – Employer-funded contributions.Employers may make contributions to their employees’ HSAs without a Section 125 plan if the contributions are made directly. The contributions must be “comparable,” basically made fairly (with a lot of rules to follow). This type of contribution is tax deductible by the employer and not taxable to the employee (not subject to payroll taxes or federal income taxes and in most cases, not subject to state income taxes either).
  • Option 4 – Employer and employee pretax funding.Employers can combine options 2 and 3, where the employer makes a contribution to the employees’ HSAs and the employer allows employees to participate in a Section 125 plan and enabling them to defer a portion of their pay pretax into an HSA. This is a preferred approach for a successful HDHP and HSA program, as it ensures that employees get some money into their HSA through the employer contribution and allows for the best tax treatment to allow for employees to contribute more on their own through payroll deferral.
  • Options for more tax savings.Some employers go beyond these options to increase tax savings even more. Although a number of strategies exist to increase tax savings, using a limited-purpose FSA (or HRA) is a common one. Generally, FSAs are not allowed with HSAs; however, an exception exists for limited-purpose FSAs. Limited-purpose FSAs are FSAs limited to payments for preventive care, vision and dental care. This provides more tax savings and employees use the FSA to pay for the limited-purpose expenses (dental and vision) and save the HSA for other qualified medical expenses.

HRAs can also be used creatively in connection with HSA programs. The HRA cannot be a general account for reimbursement of qualified medical expenses, but careful planning can allow for a limited-purpose HRA, a postdeductible HRA, or other special types of HRAs.

2. There are several benefits for an employer using a Section 125 plan combined with an HSA.

  • Employees can make HSA contributions through payroll deferral on a pretax basis.
  • Employees may pay for their share of insurance premiums on a pretax basis.
  • Employers and employees save payroll taxes (7.65 percent each on FICA and FUTA for contributions).
  • Employers avoid the “comparability” rules for HSA contributions although employers are subject to the Section 125 plan rules.

3. The employer is responsible for administering the Section 125 plan.

For payroll deferral into an HSA through a Section 125 plan, the employer must reduce the employees’ pay by the amount of the deferral and contribute that money directly into the employees’ HSA.

The employer may do this administration itself or it may use a payroll service or another type of third-party administrator. In any case, the cost of the Section 125 plan itself and the ongoing administration are generally small and offset, if not entirely eliminated, by employer savings through reduced payroll taxes.

Another administrative element is the collection of Section 125/HSA payroll deferral election forms from employees. Employers that have offered Section 125 plans prior to introducing an HSA program are familiar with this process.

Unlike other Section 125 plan deferral elections, which only allow annual changes, the law allows for changes to the HSA deferral election as frequently as monthly.

Although frequent changes to the elections create a small administrative burden on the employer, the benefit to employees is significant. Employers are not required to offer changes more frequently than annually.

The full extent of the administrative rules for Section 125 plans is beyond the scope of this discussion.

4. Contributions to HSAs under Section 125 plans are subject to nondiscrimination rules.

A cafeteria plan must meet nondiscrimination rules. The rules are designed to ensure that the plan is not discriminatory in favor of highly compensated or key employees.

For example, contributions under a cafeteria plan to employee HSAs cannot be greater for higher-paid employees than they are for lower-paid employees. Contributions that favor lower-paid employees are not prohibited.

The cafeteria plan must not: (1) discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees as to the ability to participate (eligibility test), (2) discriminate in favor of HCEs as to contributions or benefits paid (contributions and benefits test), and (3) discriminate in favor of HCEs as measured through a concentration test that looks at the contributions made by key employees (key employee concentration test). Violations generally do not result in plan disqualification, but instead may cause the value of the benefit to become taxable for the highly compensated employees or key employees.

The nondiscrimination rules predate the creation of HSAs and how the rules apply to HSA contributions is an area where additional government guidance would be welcome.

5. An employer needs a Section 125 plan to allow for HSA contributions through payroll deferral.

Can an employer allow for HSA contributions through payroll deferral without a Section 125 plan? No, not if the goal is to save payroll taxes. Employers can offer HSA payroll deferral on an after-tax basis without concern over the comparability rules or the Section 125 plan rules. Amounts contributed under this method are treated as income to the employee and are deductible on the employee’s personal income tax return. The lack of any special tax treatment for this approach makes it unattractive for most employers and with just a small additional investment of money and time, a Section 125 plan could be added allowing for pretax deferrals.

Here is an example: Waving Flags, Inc. does not offer health insurance or a Section 125 plan to its employees. Waving Flags does provide direct deposit services to its employees that provide it with their personal checking account number and bank routing number. Maggie, an employee of Waving Flags, Inc., approaches the human resources person and asks to have her direct deposit split into two payment streams with $100 per month being directly deposited to her HSA and the balance of her pay being deposited into her personal checking account. She provides Waving Flags the appropriate account and routing numbers and signs the proper election forms.

Waving Flags is not subject to the Section 125 nondiscrimination rules for pretax payroll deferral, nor is Waving Flags subject to the HSA comparability rules. Waving Flags is simply paying Maggie by making a direct deposit into her HSA. The $1,200 Maggie elects to have directly deposited to her HSA in this manner will be reflected in Box 1 of her IRS Form W-2 from Waving Flags as ordinary income. She will be subject to payroll taxes on the amount. She can claim an HSA deduction on line 25 of her IRS Form 1040 when she files her tax return.

Maggie benefits from this approach by setting up an automatic contribution to her HSA, which often improves the commitment to savings. Most HSA custodians will offer a similar system that HSA owners can set up on their own by having their HSA custodian automatically draw a certain amount from a personal checking account at periodic intervals. Employer involvement is not necessary. Individuals with online banking tools available to them may be able to set it from their personal checking account as well to push money periodically to an HSA.

SOURCE:
Westerman, P (2 July 2018) "HSA How-To" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/01/01/hsa-how-to/


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/