Strategic Benefits Communication: Five Key Steps to Success this Open Enrollment Season

Make sure to check out this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Kevin D. Seeker and find out the 5 key steps to having a successful open enrollment.

In previous posts, I have talked about several aspects of strategic benefits communication. Now it’s time to put those strategies into action. As we approach enrollment season, let’s look at five key steps to ensuring this year’s open enrollment is successful for you and your employees.

1. Determine your key objectives

What do employees need to know this enrollment season? As you review your benefit plan designs, think once again about your key objectives, and for each, how you will make employees aware and keep them engaged. What are the challenges employees face when making their benefits decisions?

  • Are you rolling out new medical plan options? Does this include HDHP options? An HSA? Are there changes in premiums and contribution levels?
  • Are there any changes to other lines of coverage such as dental, life insurance, disability insurance?
  • Are you adding new voluntary plans this year? How do they integrate with your medical plans? Do they plug gaps in high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses? Are there existing voluntary plans with low participation?
  • Are there other important topics to share with employees, like new wellness programs, or health-driven employee events?

Once you’ve gathered this information, you can develop a communication strategy that will better engage employees in the benefits decision-making process.

2. Perfect your script

What do you know about your employee demographics? Diversity doesn’t refer only to age or gender. It could mean family size, differences in physical demands of the job, income levels, or simply lifestyle. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. As you educate employees on benefits, you will want to give examples that fit their lives.

You will also want to keep the explanations as simple as possible. Use as much plain language as you can, as opposed to “insurance speak” and acronyms. Benefit plans are already an overwhelming decision, and as we have seen in our research, employees still don’t fully understand their options.

3. Use a multi-faceted communications strategy

Sun Life research and experience has shown that the most appreciated and effective strategies incorporate multiple methodologies. One helpful tactic is to get a jump-start on enrollment communication. As enrollment season approaches, try dynamic pre-enrollment emails to all employees, using videos or brochures. Once on-site enrollment begins, set up group meetings based on employee demographics. This will arm employees with better knowledge and prepared questions for their one-to-one meeting with a benefits counselor.

Consider hard-to-reach employees as well, and keep your websites updated with helpful links and provide contacts who are available by phone for additional support.

Also, look to open enrollment as a good time to fill any employee data gaps you may have, like beneficiaries, dependents, or emergency contacts.

4. Check your tech!

We have talked in previous posts about leveraging benefits administration technology for effective communications. For open enrollment, especially when you may be introducing new voluntary insurance plans, it is important to check your technology. I recommend this evaluation take place at least 6 to 8 weeks before open enrollment if possible.

Working with your UBA advisor, platform vendor and insurance carriers, some key considerations:

  • Provide voluntary product specifications from your carrier to your platform vendor. It is important to check up front that the platform can handle product rules such as issue age and age band pricing, age reduction, benefit/tier changes and guarantee issue rules. Also, confirm how the system will handle evidence of insurability processing, if needed.
  • Electronic Data Interface (EDI). Confirm with your platform partner as well as insurance carriers that there is an EDI set-up process that includes testing of file feeds. This is a vital step to ensure seamless integration between your benefits administration platform, payroll and the insurance carriers.
  • User Experience. Often benefits administration platforms are very effective at moving data and helping you manage your company’s benefits. As we have discussed, when it comes to your employee’s open enrollment user experience, there can be some challenges. Especially when you are offering voluntary benefits. Confirm with your vendor what, if any, decision support tools are available. Also, check with your voluntary carriers. These could range from benefit calculators, product videos, and even logic-driven presentations.

5. Keep it going

Even when enrollment season is over, ongoing benefits communications are a central tool to keeping employees informed, educated, and engaged. The small window of enrollment season may not be long enough for people to get a full grasp of their benefits needs, and often their decisions are driven by what is easily understood or what they think they need based on other people’s choices. Ongoing communications can be about specific benefits, wellness programs, or other health and benefit related items. This practice will also help new hires who need to make benefits decisions rather quickly.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Seeker K. (2017 August 16). Strategic benefits communication: Five key steps to success this open enrollment season [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/strategic-benefits-communication-five-key-steps-to-success-this-open-enrollment-season


IRS Issues Strong Warnings About ACA Compliance: Should HR be worried?

With all the confusion surrounding the ACA over the past few months, employers have been wondering if the IRS was gonna enforce the ACA reporting mandate. The IRS  has just recently released the ACA employers' and individual mandates to make sure everyone is in compliance for the healthcare reporting for 2017. Take a look at this article published by Jared Bilski from HR Morning hightlight eveything you need to know about reporting your healthcare information with the IRS.

Despite lots of warnings, the IRS has yet to impose any non-compliance penalties on employers during the two years the ACA reporting provisions have been mandatory. And with all of the efforts to kill or water down Obamacare, many employers are wondering if they should even make ACA compliance a priority at all.

Now, the agency is reminding folks that the ACA reporting mandate is still in full effect and compliance isn’t optional. It’s also assuring skeptical businesses it’s ready to start issuing penalties.

So should you believe the feds?

It sure sounds like it.

Most recently, the agency released four information letters about the ACA’s employer and individual mandates, and reminding employers exactly what they have to do to stay in compliance.

In addition, IRS sure warned employers it’s primed and ready to collect reporting penalties in a recent government report the folks at FreedomCare called a “game changer.”

Sweeping noncompliance tool

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) just released a report titled “Assessment of the Efforts to Implement the Employer Mandate under the Affordable Care Act.”

You can view the entire report here.

If you don’t have time to scour a 43-page document, here’s the one key fact: IRS has a new system in place for identifying potentially non-compliant employers, and the system has a very wide reach.

The feds’ ACA Compliance Validation System (ACV) will not only identify potentially non-compliant Applicable Large Employers, it will also calculate the “A” penalty under the Employer Mandate. Plus, the system will allow the feds to mass identify non-compliant employers and send notices to those non-compliant firms for any and all reporting years.

Questions and answers

By this point, you’ve probably got a few questions about the IRS’ new Obamacare compliance weapon, like:

When will the system be in place and ready?

Answer: According to the feds, the ACV should be ready by May 2017. Once it’s up and running, IRS should be able to start issuing large scale penalties.

Hasn’t IRS said it’s ready to start imposing ACA penalties before? Why should we believe them this time?

Answer: Granted, IRS has stated it planned to start penalizing firms before, but this seems different. Initially, the feds have been developing this ACV system since July 2015 and planned to have it ready by January 2017.

But as the report said, “the implementation of the ACV System has been delayed to May 2017.”

With the release of this detailed report, it’s clear the feds are ready to start collecting on all the noncompliance penalties that are long overdue. IRS has stated it expects to pull in $228 billion in ACA penalties.

Plus, with ACA repeal efforts currently on hold, now is a very good time for the agency to come after firms that have been pushing their compliance obligations to the back burner.

Bottom-line: Employers can’t afford to operate as if the delay in IRS reporting penalties is a permanent situation. If you’ve put this task on hold, now is the time to get everything in order.

Key correction steps

So what should employers do if they’ve already missed ACA reporting deadlines? File ASAP.

The sooner you correct an issue, the less likely you’ll wind up in a long, drawn out federal audit. Plus, as employment attorney David M. Pixley points out, IRS has a number of different penalties depending on how late the ACA reporting actually is.

For example, correcting a reporting failure within 30 days of the due date cuts the penalty to $50 per return, with a $532,000 cap.

When firms correct reporting failures after 30 days, but on or before August 1, the penalty is $100 per return, and the cap is $1,596,500.

And of course, late-filing is much safer (i.e., less costly) than not filing at all.

Reason: The standard per return penalty of $260 (max $3,193,000/year) jumps drastically for violations due to “intentional disregard” to a per-return penalty of $530 (no penalty cap).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 August 16). IRS issues strong warning about ACA compliance: should HR be worried? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/irs-issues-strong-warnings-about-aca-compliance-should-hr-be-worried/


The IRS Is Still Enforcing The Individual Mandate, Despite What Many Taxpayers Believe

Did you know that there are many people who still don't believe that they will be hit by tax penalty if they do not have health insurance? Here is an informative article by Timothy Jost from Health Affairs on why everyone should be keeping up with their health insurance in-order to avoid a tax penalty by the IRS.

There has been considerable speculation since President Trump’s Inauguration Day Affordable Care Act Executive Order as to whether the Internal Revenue Service is in fact enforcing the individual and employer mandates. The IRS website has insisted that the mandates are still in force, despite the Executive Order and despite the fact that the IRS decided not to implement for 2016 tax filings a program rejecting “silent returns” that did not indicate compliance with individual mandate requirements.

There is evidence, however, that many taxpayers do not believe it. An April report from the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Services found that as of March 31, a third fewer taxpayers were paying the penalty than had been the case a year earlier. More importantly, insurers seem to believe that the IRS is not enforcing the mandate, or at least that taxpayers do not believe the IRS is enforcing the mandate, and are raising their rates for 2018 to account for the deteriorating of the risk pool that nonenforcement of the mandate will cause.

It is of note, therefore, that Robert Sheen at the ACA Times has identified several letters from the IRS reaffirming that it is still in fact enforcing the individual, and employer, mandates.

One is a letter reportedly sent in April by the IRS General Counsel to Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) in response to an inquiry as to whether the IRS could waive the employer mandate with respect to a particular employer. The IRS replied that there was no provision in the ACA for waiver of the mandate penalty when it applied and that: “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.”

In a second letter in June, responding to an individual who had written to President Trump, the IRS similarly responded:

The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.

Of course, whether taxpayers believe it, and whether insurers believe taxpayers believe it, is another question.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jost T. (2017 August 21). The IRS is still enforcing the individual mandate, despite what many taxpayers believe [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/08/21/the-irs-is-still-enforcing-the-individual-mandate-despite-what-many-taxpayers-believe/


Avoid these 12 Common Open Enrollment Mistakes

Open enrollment season is right around the corner. Check out this great column by Alan Goforth from Benefits Pro and find out the top mistakes employers and HR have made during open enrollment and what you can do to avoid them.

E very employer or human resources professional has made mistakes during open enrollment.

Trying to accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce in a short timeframe against the backdrop of increasing options and often bewildering regulations, can be a challenge even in the best-run companies.

Avoiding mistakes is impossible, but learning from them is not. Although the list may be limitless, here are a dozen of the most common pratfalls during open enrollmentand how to avoid tripping over them.

1. Failing to communicate

"What we've got here… is failure to communicate." – Cool Hand Luke

This mistake likely has topped the list since open enrollment first came into existence, and it will probably continue to do so. That's because enrollment is a complex procedure, and few challenges are greater that making sure employers, employees, brokers and carriers are on the same page.

Employers have both a stick and a carrot to encourage them to communicate as well as possible. The stick is the Affordable Care Act, which requires all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to communicate with employees about their health-care coverage, regardless of whether they offer benefits.

As a carrot, an Aflac study found that 80 percent of employees agree that a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave their jobs

2. Neglecting technology

The integration of new technology is arguably the most significant innovation in the enrollment process in recent years.

This is especially important as younger people enter the workforce. Millennialsrepeatedly express a preference for receiving and analyzing benefits information by computer, phone or other electronic devices.

The challenge is to make the use of technology as seamless as possible, both for employees who are tech-savvy and for those who are not.

Carriers and brokers are making this an emphasis, and employers should lean on them for practical advice.

See the original article Here.

3. Over-reliance on technology

At the other end of the spectrum is the temptation to rely on technology to do things it never was meant to do.

"Technology is so prevalent in the enrollment space today, but watch out for relying on technology as the one thing that will make or break enrollment," says Kathy O'Brien, vice president of voluntary benefits and nation client group services for Unum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "Technology is great for capturing data, but it won't solve every problem and doesn't change the importance of the other work you need to do."

4. Succumbing to inertia

It can be frustrating to invest substantial time and effort into employee benefit education, only to have most of the staff do nothing.

Yet that is what happens most of the time. Just 36 percent of workers make any changes from the previous enrollment, and 53 percent spend less than one hour making their selections, according to a LIMRA study.

One reason may be that employees don’t feel assured they are making the right decisions.

Only 10 percent felt confident in their enrollment choices when they were done, according to a VSP Vision Care study. One good strategy for overcoming inertia is to attach dollar values to their choices and show where their existing selections may be leaving money on the table.

5. Cutting too many corners

One of the most difficult financial decisions employers make each year is deciding how much money to allocate to employee benefits.

Spending too much goes straight to the bottom line and could result in having to lay off the very employees they are trying to help. Spending too little, however, can hurt employee retention and recruiting.

Voluntary benefits offer a win-win solution. Employees, who pick up the costs, have more options to tailor a program that meets their own needs.

In a recent study of small businesses, 85 percent of workers consider voluntary benefits to be part of a comprehensive benefits package, and 62 percent see a need for voluntary benefits.

6. Not taking a holistic approach

"Holistic" is not just a description of an employee wellness program; it also describes how employers should think about employee benefit packages.

The bread-and-butter benefits of life and health insurance now may include such voluntary options as dental, vision and critical illness. Employers and workers alike need to understand how all of the benefits mesh for each individual.

Businesses also need to think broadly about their approach to enrollment

"Overall, we take a holistic approach to the customer’s enrollment program, from benefits communication to personalized benefits education and counseling, as well as ongoing, dedicated service," says Heather Lozynski, assistant vice president of premier client management for Colonial Life in Columbia, South Carolina. "This allows the employer to then focus on other aspects of their benefits process."

7. Unbalanced benefits mix

Employee benefits have evolved from plain vanilla to 31 (or more) flavors.

As the job market rebounds and competition for talented employees increases, workers will demand more from their employers.

Benefits that were once considered add-ons are now considered mandatory.

Round out the benefits package with an appealing mix of standard features and voluntary options with the objective of attracting, retaining and protecting top-tier employees.

8. Incomplete documentation

Employee satisfaction is a worthy objective — and so is keeping government regulators happy.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers who self-fund employee health care to report information about minimum essential coverage to the IRS, at the risk of penalties.

Even if a company is not required by law to offer compliant coverage to part-time employees, it still is responsible for keeping detailed records of their employment status and hours worked.

As the old saying goes, the job is not over until the paperwork is done.

9. Forgetting the family

The Affordable Care Act has affected the options available to employers, workers and their families.

Many businesses are dropping spousal health insurance coverage or adding surcharges for spouses who have access to employer-provided insurance at their own jobs.

Also, adult children can now remain on their parents' health policies until they are 26.

Clearly communicate company policies regarding family coverage, and try to include affected family members in informational meetings.

Get to know more about employees' families — it will pay dividends long after open enrollment.

10. Limiting enrollment options

Carriers make no secret about their emphasis on electronic benefits education and enrollment.

All things considered, it is simpler and less prone to copying and data-entry errors.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the high-tech option is the first choice of every employee.

Be sure to offer the options of old-fashioned paper documents, phone registration and face-to-face meetings. One good compromise is an on-site enrollment kiosk where a real person provides electronic enrollment assistance.

11. Letting benefits go unused

A benefit is beneficial only if the employee uses it. Too many employees will sign up for benefits this fall, forget about them and miss out on the advantages they offer.

Periodically remind employees to review and evaluate their available benefits throughout the year so they can take advantage of ones that work and drop those that do not.

In addition to health and wellness benefits, also make sure they are taking advantage of accrued vacation and personal days.

Besides maximizing the return on their benefit investment, it will periodically remind them that the employer is looking out for their best interests.

12. Prematurely closing the 'OODA' loop

Col. John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force was an ace fighter pilot. He summarized his success with the acronym OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Many successful businesses are adopting his approach.

After the stress of open enrollment, it's tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on something else until next fall.

However, the close of enrollment is a critical time to observe by soliciting feedback from employees, brokers and carriers.

What worked this year, and what didn't? What types of communications were most effective? And how can the process be improves in 2017?

"Make sure you know what is working and what is not," said Linda Garcia, vice president for human resources at Rooms to Go, a furniture retailer based just outside Tampa. "We are doing a communications survey right now to find out the best way to reach each of our 7,500 employees. We also conduct quarterly benefits surveys and ask for their actual comments instead of just checking a box."

Source:

Goforth A. (2017 Aug 22). Avoid these 12 common open enrollment mistakes [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/08/22/avoid-these-12-common-open-enrollment-mistakes?ref=hp-in-depth&page_all=1


How Voluntary Benefits Options are Changing

The market for voluntary benefits has seen substantial growth over the last few years with the rise of health care cost. Find out how you can prepare for the changes coming to the voluntary benefits market thanks to this great article by Keith Franklin from Benefits Pro.

As health care insurance deductibles continue to rise, interest in voluntary benefits are growing. This trend supports another growth area that we’re seeing: companies are looking for innovative, cost-effective ways to enhance their compensation packages and are finding that voluntary health benefits are the solution. We’ve seen a significant rise in sales for dental discount plans that offer additional benefits over the past six months.

The most popular dental plans that we offer to groups and individuals now include telemedicine, medical bill negotiation and health advocacy services — along with our more typical dental care, vision, hearing, and prescription savings plans.

But, no matter how popular they are, these plans still do not sell themselves. The key to success in the group voluntary benefits marketplace is clearly communicating the business return on investment that can be expected from offering voluntary benefits to employees.

Voluntary benefits refresher

Of course, you know employers use voluntary programs to offer ancillary benefits, or supplementary benefits, that help fill in the holes in major medical coverage.

If you have not had much direct involvement in voluntary benefits, you may be surprised by how much the menus have grown.

Many of the newest voluntary benefits provide discounted or free access to services that were not typically associated with health care plans. These offerings tend to address concerns related to security, financial management, health care that may not covered by primary insurance (such as dental) and personal improvement.

Today, voluntary benefits may include:

  • Automobile, homeowners, or pet insurance
  • Concierge services
  • Critical illness
  • Cybersecurity/Identify theft protection
  • Dental
  • Education
  • Financial counseling
  • Financial planning
  • Fitness
  • Healthcare advocacy
  • Life insurance
  • Medical bill negotiation
  • Telemedicine/Telehealth
  • Vision

Voluntary benefits are typically offered to employees as an optional add-on to their benefits package. While the benefits may be paid for in part by the employer, these are more typically payroll-deducted benefits.

When sold directly to individuals, voluntary benefit offerings are often described as “discount,” or “additional benefit” plans. Target markets in the business-to-consumer space would include self-employed people and owners of very small businesses. Typically, businesses can qualify as a “group” for voluntary benefits purposes if the business employs three to five people.

When sold to groups, these plans offer savings by tapping into discounts for group rates, and discounts pre-negotiated by the plans’ providers. The savings are passed on to plan members, giving the cost-savings of group coverage to individuals. Brokers and agents can tap into this market effectively by working with trade groups, chambers of commerce, and other associations that serve small businesses, contactors and the self-employed.

It is important to note that many voluntary benefits offerings are not insurance. They are intended to complement existing insurance coverage, make health care such as dental and vision more affordable, or provide discounted access to a broad variety of supplementary services.

There are exceptions, of course. Some voluntary plans offer supplementary health coverage, or other types of insurance.

How to communicate advantages

Financial benefits are the most obvious advantage to businesses. Adding desirable benefits at no additional (or low) cost to the company is obviously an appealing proposition. But that’s not the whole picture.

Businesses considering offering voluntary benefits plans to their employees will also want to ensure that any solution that they buy into fully delivers on its promises and doesn’t add new complications.

Provider reliability: Who is offering the benefit, who is the provider or underwriter? Voluntary benefits can be backed by a provider, such as a health insurance company that offers both dental insurance and dental discount plans. The benefit may be offered directly by the providing company or by another company that they have partnered with. Look for a proven track record of trustworthiness and experience within the voluntary benefits space by all companies involved in providing the benefit.

Easy deployment and administration: What is involved in offering the benefit to employees? What information will be required, how long will it take to on-board people? Will proprietary software need to be installed, or are benefits managed through a platform-generic, online portal? Is there an automatic payroll deduction feature? Obviously, the easier a solution is to set up and use, the more attractive it is. Know the back-end as well as you know the benefits.

Data security: Securing information is an ever-growing concern. Not all companies will ask about data security when evaluating a benefits plan, but an increasing number are vitally concerned about protecting personnel information – both as a service to employees and as a way of warding off digital crime. Cyber criminals can use information about employees to impersonate them and gain access to company networks and data. It is best to be prepared with answers to these questions: How is sensitive information on employees kept secure and private when it is captured, in use, and in storage? If data is stored in the cloud, does the storage solution used meet the organization’s compliance and regulatory obligations?

Education/engagement: Well-designed, informative, and customizable materials that help employees get excited, understand, and use their voluntary benefits are a highly valuable add-on to any offering. Companies expect to see quantifiable results from their benefits packages, and limited adoption reduces return on investment. Keeping employees engaged is central to a company’s happiness with their voluntary benefits plan. Get samples of the employee training material from providers.

Metrics: While many companies will rely on their own data-led decision making tools to measure a program’s success, it’s helpful to point out the ROI voluntary benefits can deliver. Overall, the data points that can be used to gauge the success of a voluntary benefits offering will include an ability to attract and retain top talent, reduced medical absenteeism/presenteeism, increased productivity, and employee interest and usage of the benefits.

Customer care: If employees have problems using their benefits, who provides support? The provider or service partner should offer a single-point-of-contact tasked with solving problems, and a dedicated customer support team that employees can access with questions or concerns.

Interest in voluntary growing

Voluntary benefits aren’t new, but the interest in these offerings is strong – particularly for money-and-time saving services such as telemedicine. As the marketplace grows, businesses and brokers need to understand how to evaluate these offerings and select the best options.

There are advantages to offering a tightly curated bundle of benefits, or providing a broad variety of options that businesses can mix and match. When offering the latter, it’s important to ensure that administration and access are streamlined as much as possible. What seems simple in isolation – you manage and access your benefits though this app or portal – can quickly become wildly complex when the burden grows to a dozen or more apps and portals. Partnering with service providers who focus on delivering a quality experience end-to-end provides significant advantages to brokers and businesses.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Franklin K. (2017 July 13). How voluntary benefits options are changing [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/07/13/how-voluntary-benefits-options-are-changing?t=innovation&page_all=1


Employers Broadening Health Programs

Employers are starting to change their approach on how they look at their employee benefits program. Take a look at this great article by Nick Otto from Employee Benefit Adviser and find out how employers are reclassifying their employee benefits program in order to expand their employees' well-being.

The siloed approach to retirement, healthcare and wellness is a thing of the past as employers are increasingly taking a holistic approach to addressing their employees’ health and wealth.

Employers are expanding their view of employee overall well-being, according to a new report from Optum, a technology-enabled health services company. That means that, while employers are still offering traditional wellness programs, there has been a significant shift in the last three years to those programs addressing workers’ financial, behavioral and social health.

“For example, we see increased interest among companies in developing new programs around mindfulness, positivity and creativity, which can reduce stress, improve eating and sleeping habits, and stimulate innovative thinking,” says Seth Serxner, Optum’s chief health officer.

While physical health still remains a significant focus for employee wellness programs, other dimensions are tracking with higher importance among large employers:

· 51% of such programs now address financial health, up from 38% in 2015;
· 47% address employees’ social health by using strategies like team-based activities to increase feelings of connectedness and a sense of belonging, compared to 37% in 2015; and
· 68% address behavioral health, up from 65% in 2015

And technology is helping employers to better engage these programs to workers. Since 2014, there has been a significant increase in the use of a variety of innovations, including online competitions, activity tracking devices, social networks, mobile apps and mobile messaging to help engage employees, the study notes.

Additionally, incentive strategies are helping to get workers in the wellness game.

Use of incentives is at an all-time high, Optum notes, with 95% of employer respondents offering incentives to their employees. Recognizing that workers can be highly influenced by their family members, 74% of employers also are offering incentives to family members. According to Optum, average incentives per participant per year equate to $532.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 August 15). Employers broadening health programs [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-broadening-health-programs


ERISA's "Church Plan" Exception

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed in 1974. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the agency responsible for administering and enforcing this law. For many years, most of ERISA's requirements applied to pension plans. However, in recent years that has changed, and group plans (called "welfare benefit plans" by ERISA and the DOL) now must meet a number of requirements. Government and church plans do not need to comply with ERISA.

However, some employers are unsure if they meet ERISA's "church plan" exception. Entities associated with churches such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and charities are often unclear about whether they meet the exception. Under ERISA, a church plan is "any employee benefit plan established and maintained by a church or by a convention or association of churches that is exempt from tax under IRS Code Section 501 with respect to which no election has been made under IRS Code Section 410(d). The plan must be established and maintained primarily for benefit of the employees of a church or convention or association of churches. Substantially all the covered individuals under the plan must be employees of the church or the convention or association of churches.

Although this might seem straightforward at first glance, determining whether a church or convention or association of churches exists is dependent on the facts and circumstances of an organization. Organizations may request a DOL opinion letter, or an IRS private letter ruling (although the DOL reserves the right to review IRS determinations via private letter) to determine if they meet the definition. To add another layer of uncertainty, courts are not bound by either DOL or IRS determinations.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 3). ERISA's "church plan" exception [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/erisas-church-plan-exception-1


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