Compliance Recap - December 2018

December was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world.

A U.S. District Court issued an order declaring that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove certain wellness program incentives. The Department of Labor (DOL) updated its Form M-1 filing guidance for association health plans.

UBA Updates

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

U.S. District Court Declares ACA Unconstitutional

On December 14, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Court) issued a declaratory order in ongoing litigation regarding the individual mandate and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court declared that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and declared that the rest of the ACA – including its guaranteed issue and community rating provisions – is unconstitutional.

The Court did not grant the plaintiffs’ request for a nationwide injunction to prohibit the ACA’s continued implementation and enforcement. The Court’s declaratory judgment simply defined the parties’ legal relationship and rights under the case at this relatively early stage in the case.

On December 16, 2018, the Court issued an order that requires the parties to meet and discuss the case by December 21, 2018, and to jointly submit a proposed schedule for resolving the plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

On December 30, 2018, the Court issued two orders. The first order grants a stay of its December 14 order. This means that the court’s order regarding the ACA’s unconstitutionality will not take effect while it is being appealed. The second order enters the December 14 order as a final judgment so the parties may immediately appeal the order.

On December 31, 2018, the Court issued an order that stays the remainder of the case. This means that the Court will not be proceeding with the remaining claims in the case while its December 14 order is being appealed. After the appeal process is complete, the parties are to alert the Court and submit additional court documents if they want to continue with any remaining claims in the case.

At this time, the case’s status does not impact employers’ group health plans. However, employers should stay informed for the final decision in this case.

Read more about the court case.

EEOC Issue Final Rules to Remove Wellness Program Incentive Limits Vacated by Court

On December 20, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove wellness program incentives.

As background, in August 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to allow an incentive for spousal medical history under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules and adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and GINA rules.

In December 2017, the court vacated the EEOC rules under the ADA and GINA effective January 1, 2019. The EEOC issued the following two final rules in response to the court’s order.

The first rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by the ADA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance on the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs that ask them to respond to disability-related inquiries or undergo medical examinations.

The second rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by GINA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance that addressed the extent to which an employer may offer an inducement to an employee for the employee’s spouse to provide current health status information as part of a health risk assessment (HRA) administered in connection with an employee-sponsored wellness program.

Both rules will be effective on January 1, 2019.

Read more about the EEOC’s final rules.

DOL Updates Form M-1 Filing Guidance for Association Health Plans

On December 3, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its “10 Tips for Filing Form M-1 For Association Health Plans And Other MEWAs That Provide Medical Benefits” that provides plan administrators with information on when to file and how to complete portions of Form M-1.

The DOL emphasizes that all multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) that provide medical benefits, including association health plans (AHPs) that intend to begin operating under the DOL’s new AHP rule, are required to file an initial registration Form M-1 at least 30 days before any activity including, but not limited to, marketing, soliciting, providing, or offering to provide medical care benefits to employers or employees who may participate in an AHP.

Read more about the DOL guidance.

Question of the Month

Q: If an employee must increase the hours of childcare needed because the employee changes work schedules, may the employee increase the DCAP amount that the employee elects?

A: Yes, increasing the hours of childcare is a permitted election change event that would allow an employee to increase the employee’s DCAP election amount consistent with the change in childcare cost.

**This information is general and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. You should not act on this information without consulting legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors.


New resource offers guidance on digital tools for diabetes management

Are you considering implementing digital diabetes tools or solutions in your employer-sponsored benefits? Read this blog post for the Northeast Business Group on Health’s updated guide on diabetes management tools.


The Northeast Business Group on Health has updated its “Digital Tools and Solutions for Diabetes: An Employer’s Guide,” to include both enhanced and new solutions—and promising future innovations—to help employers help their workers better manage their diabetes, lower costs and ultimately save more lives.

“Employers are well aware of the costs associated with diabetes in their employee and dependent populations—they continue to indicate this is a top concern and are increasingly aware of the links between diabetes and other chronic and debilitating health conditions, including cardiovascular disease,” says Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH.

The market for digital diabetes prevention and management solutions continues to mature since the group published its first guide in 2016, Sherman says. The updated guide provides a detailed checklist of the features and functionalities of the digital tools available now to manage diabetes, as well as information on several unique and innovative digital diabetes solutions that are being targeted to employers but were not part of NEBGH’s research, including Proteus Discover, BlueLoop and do-it-yourself programs.

“Proteus Discover is comprised of ingestible sensors, a small wearable sensor patch, an application on a mobile device and a provider portal,” the guide cites the provider. “Once activated, Proteus Discover unlocks never-before-seen insight into patient health patterns and medication treatment effectiveness, leading to more informed healthcare decisions for everyone involved.”

“BlueLoop is the one and only tool that allows kids and their caregivers to log and share diabetes information—both online and with the app—in real time, via instant e-mail and text message, giving peace of mind to parents,more class time for students and fewer phone calls and paper logs for school nurses,” the provider tells NEBGH. “Online, parents can share real-time BG logs with their clinicians, who can see logs (in the format they prefer), current dosages and reports, all in one place.”

The guide also hints at promising future innovations:

“Technology is constantly evolving: by connecting sensors, wearables and apps, it is increasingly possible to pool and leverage data in innovative ways to provide timely interventions so that people with diabetes can be truly independent and effectively self-manage their care,” the authors write.

The guide lists a hypothetical scenario: A person with diabetes enters a restaurant where a GPS sensor identifies the location, reviews the menu and proposes the best choices based on caloric and carbohydrate content. The technology also proposes and delivers a rapidly acting insulin bolus dose based on the person’s exercise level that day and prior experiences when eating similar meals.

Also included are key questions for employers considering implementing digital diabetes tools or solutions, including:

  •  What does the company want to achieve with a digital tool?
  • How much is the company willing to pay?
  • How will success be measured?
  • How will digital solutions and tools be marketed to employees and their families?
  • What privacy issues need to be addressed when tools or solutions are implemented?

“Digital health tools hold the promise of improved health outcomes and reduced health care expenses through improved engagement, better collaboration and sustained behavior change,” says Mark Cunningham-Hill, NEBGH’s medical director. “However, digital diabetes solutions are not a panacea. Employers will need to address several obstacles such as the difficulty of recruitment and enrollment, lack of sustained employee engagement and the cost of deployment of digital solutions. This can be accomplished through careful planning and learning from other employers that have successfully implemented these tools.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (4 December 2018) "New resource offers guidance on digital tools for diabetes management" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/12/04/new-resource-digital-tools-for-diabetes-management/


Predictive Analytics Will Be The Silent Game-Changer In Employee Benefits

Have you heard of predictive analytics? Predictive analytics analyzes current and historical data to make predictions about unknown events. Read on to learn how this technology could be used to help fine-tune employee benefits offerings.


Last year’s World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers came down to a seven-game battle based not only on talent, athleticism and coaching but also on data. Just as Sports Illustrated suggested back in 2014 via predictive data, the Astros were the victors.

The publication of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game spurred not only Major League Baseball teams to deploy predictive analytics, but also businesses to take a harder look at what their data means. It's no longer part of the hype cycle: Statista forecasts (paywall) that the predictive analytics market worldwide will reach $6.2 billion in 2018 and $10.95 billion in 2022.

I believe we are also at a transformational point in improving corporate employee benefits and our employees’ lives by embracing predictive analytics. HR is swimming in rich data. Instead of guesstimating needs across multiple generations of employees, employers can turn to their own data to fine-tune what they are offering as benefits solutions. Companies spend 25-40% of an employee’s salary on benefits. It simply makes strategic and financial sense to get it right.

Bring Employee Benefits Out Of The Dark Ages

Hiring and retaining great talent is at the very soul of almost every company’s strategy. Not surprisingly, more companies have turned to predictive analytics to give them a leg up in recruitment. However, HR benefits have lagged behind. As John Greenwood reported to Corporate Adviser, “More than half of reward and employee benefits professionals see predictive analytics as a game-changer, but 90 percent are still using spreadsheets to manage data, research from the Reward & Employee Benefits Association shows.”

One reason for benefits lagging behind recruitment in adopting predictive analytics is that the way companies choose new benefits varies greatly from business to business. Given that the majority of HR departments keep data in disparate spreadsheets, even if some HR departments conduct employee surveys or historical cost analyses, they often do not integrate the data about their workforce. If a new benefit offering is chosen based on a needs analysis, only some know the “why” behind a request from the workforce. Knowing how many employees are logging into a benefits platform is helpful; market standard benefit utilization reports provide this level of information. Yet they do not give insight into the underlying reason for an employee to utilize a benefit. The user of deeper analytics is required to look deeper into employees' behavior.

We have found firsthand that many HR departments do not have a full understanding of how their employees are utilizing their benefits across the entire offering suite. A one-size-fits-all or a one-off strategy no longer is effective. Companies must understand not only their employees’ needs but also the underlying data related to these needs to provide a valuable benefits offering.

Put Your Existing Data To Use

For the past five years, I have watched our clients glean valuable insights into what the real underlying issues are for their employees and what must be done to address these pressing needs. I also have been watching companies realize that what they thought were the core problems at hand sometimes were not.

For example, one of our national high-tech clients, with over 50,000 benefit-eligible employees, believed that a high number of their employees had children struggling with autism. This belief was initially based on input from some of their employees. After approximately 16 months, the client reviewed the masked utilization data from their benefit platform. The data illustrated that the overwhelming majority of employee families (tenfold) in fact faced challenges associated with youth anxiety, a concern that had never been expressed to HR previously. Once they reviewed what employees were doing within our platform, their results mirrored the National Institute of Mental Health’s report that approximately 31.9% of U.S. children ages 13-18 struggle with anxiety disorders.

Their own data helped them understand much more specifically where their employees’ stress lay, and their HR department was able to focus communications around it.

Getting Started

Mining and viewing use data across all benefits is ideal. This enables an employer to determine if the benefit suite is serving employees effectively. We have found that as quickly as year over year, users' behaviors shift. If a company solely chooses a benefit based on what they saw as most heavily utilized the previous year, they are not being strategic.

For that reason, HR should utilize past and current data to better predict future patterns of need for a truly strategic approach to benefit choice. With this insight, they can make better choices and serve their workforce more effectively.

Given the limitations across many employee benefit vendors today, to start initially:

1. Embrace KPIs. Agree upon them internally, and measure benefit vendors on them.

2. Work with your current vendors to determine what data they provide to support your internal analysis. Ensure you have access to all the data you need, and if not, consider a vendor change.

3. Hold possible new vendors to similar data standards, and create a transparent relationship from the start.

4. Collect current and historical data. Existing vendors can provide this history, so make sure to collect at least 2-3 years of information.

These analytics need to go deeper than basic demographics to show patterns of activity. In order to understand the benefit needs of your workforce, you'll want to analyze trends across multiple data sets: medical, pharmacy, worker's compensation, biometric screenings, utilization patterns, FMLA requests and demographic trends. From there, you can start to pinpoint what your employees need -- and the “whys” behind the needs -- in order to make a measurable impact.

While predictive analytics is still in the nascent phase in the benefits and vendor worlds, the easiest and most proactive thing any employer can do is to focus on other insights vendors can provide related to the workforce and benefit use beyond simple utilization. In doing so, you will be able to support your employees both in their work lives and their personal lives by providing them with the benefits they need to be at their best.

SOURCE: Goldberg, A. (2 October 2018) "Predictive Analytics Will Be The Silent Game-Changer In Employee Benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/10/02/predictive-analytics-will-be-the-silent-game-changer-in-employee-benefits/#26648166e182


Tri-Agency Proposed Rule on Health Reimbursement Arrangements

The DOL, Department of Treasury and Department of Health and Human Services recently proposed a rule with the intention of expanding the flexibility and use of HRAs. Continue reading to learn more.


The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) released their proposed rule regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other account-based group health plans. The DOL also issued a news release and fact sheet on the proposed rule.

The proposed rule’s goal is to expand the flexibility and use of HRAs to provide individuals with additional options to obtain quality, affordable healthcare. According to the Departments, these changes will facilitate a more efficient healthcare system by increasing employees’ consumer choice and promoting healthcare market competition by adding employer options.

To do so, the proposed rules would expand the use of HRAs by:

  • Removing the current prohibition against integrating an HRA with individual health insurance coverage (individual coverage)
  • Expanding the definition of limited excepted benefits to recognize certain HRAs as limited excepted benefits if certain conditions are met (excepted benefit HRA)
  • Providing premium tax credit (PTC) eligibility rules for people who are offered an HRA integrated with individual coverage
  • Assuring HRA and Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) plan sponsors that reimbursement of individual coverage by the HRA or QSEHRA does not become part of an ERISA plan when certain conditions are met
  • Changing individual market special enrollment periods for individuals who gain access to HRAs integrated with individual coverage or who are provided QSEHRAs

Public comments are due by December 28, 2018. If the proposed rule is finalized, it will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

For more information on ways this proposed rule will affect HRAs, request the full Compliance Advisor from your local UBA Partner Firm.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (1 November 2018) "Tri-Agency Proposed Rule on Health Reimbursement Arrangements" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.ubabenefits.com/tri-agency-proposed-rule-on-health-reimbursement-arrangements


Why You Should Be Benchmarking (and How Hierl Can Help)

As an employer, you have more than likely heard the term ‘benchmarking’ thrown around. It is becoming a critical tool in the development of competitive benefits programs, often helping drive down costs. At Hierl, we are strong advocates for benchmarking. Why? We believe good business decisions can only be made with accurate, meaningful information. Benchmarking is a fantastic way for us – and you – to measure where you stand in all aspects of your benefits against your industry’s standards and competitors. That’s why, in this installment of CenterStage, we interviewed our Executive Vice President, Scott Smeaton.

From an Employer's Eyes - The 3 Scenarios

“When we meet with a business that has not done benchmarking, we are sure to complete that process for them, showing them where they stand in their marketplace,” explained Scott. He emphasized that there are three scenarios that can happen once great advisors, such as those at Hierl, step in and get those results for the employer:

(1)The employer sees that everything around them has changed, they haven’t kept up with the times, and they’ve left money on the table.

(2)The employer is having a difficult time attracting and retaining key employees. With benchmarking, they can view where they should enhance their benefits to be more competitive in their marketplace.

With unemployment as low as it is, many businesses we meet with come from a third, different mindset:

(3) They want to look at their benefits from a total reward or total compensation strategy, where the benefits and the costs of providing benefits become part of a larger picture – time off, vacation, wages, etc.

These three approaches to benefits strategy are why, at Hierl, we strive to blend any and all concerns into a benefits plan strategically designed to get our clients where they need to be to compete for labor. “With a recent client of ours, they were specific about wanting their plans to be in the top 25% of all the plans out there – from a plan design perspective and from a premium cost-share perspective. Using benchmark, we were able to illustrate to this client what they needed to do to accomplish that goal specific to their industry and geographic location,” Scott explained. Benchmark is a powerful tool that can be in any employer’s toolbox, if only you partner with someone like Hierl.

He continued, “When we do our clients’ benchmarks, we take the results further than simply a generic comparison against their competitors. We look at our clients’ specific plan designs, analyzing their deductibles, their coinsurance, their out-of-pocket maximums, their prescription drug copays, and other specifics, as well as how much of the premium the employees must pay out of their paycheck to have coverage. We break down each into five competitive areas: national, regional, state, industry, and employers of similar size.”

Addressing Employers’ Fear of Cost

Some employers may not want to see the results because their current offering isn’t competitive, and it would cost money to adjust their programs to be closer to market. If getting closer to market to compete for labor is their goal, we work with them to create a three- to five-year plan to get there, making incremental adjustments each year. Another common finding is that employers are paying more of the premium than their competitors. Some acknowledge that’s what they want to be doing; others appreciate the information and adjust their cost share so they can reallocate those premium dollars to other benefits, wages, or expenses. This can be an eye-opener, and they likely would not have realized the difference without doing a benchmark test.

Another benefit of benchmarking is how we use the information to educate and engage employees, helping them understand the effort their employer is making to be competitive in the market and how fortunate they are to have the benefits they do compared to others. We use the data during employee meetings to drive the point home. The response is often amazing. We’ve had employees go to their employers and thank them after the employee meetings admitting that they didn’t realize how competitive their benefits are. This also highlights that their employer cares about its employees’ needs and wishes with their benefits, helping the employer retain their key talent.

Partner with Advisors that Listen

If your benefits program isn’t up-to-par – or you’re not even sure where it stands against others in your marketplace – then benchmarking is something you should seriously consider. Even more so, partner with advisors that will want to improve employee perception of your benefits as much as you do. Everyone at Hierl is extremely passionate about helping employers – large or small – identify what it takes to build a successful employee benefits program. To do that, we use the data and listen to the direction the employer wants to go, while also keeping in mind what the employees are looking for. Something we offer to our clients is to survey not only their company through benchmark but to also survey their employees, regarding how they feel and engage with their benefits. Every other year, we go in and do this test with our clients’ employees to ensure the benefits plans we design for our clients are fully comprehensive and hitting every mark. We’re not your traditional broker. We bring tools and resources to the conversation that make a difference. We’re driven to educate and improve both the employer and employee experience, driving down the overall cost of benefits at the same time.

To learn more about Hierl’s services or to begin your benchmark process, please contact our Executive Vice President, Scott Smeaton, at 920.921.5921 or ssmeaton@hierl.com.


Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide

Switching to a self-funded plan can seem like a daunting prospect to many HR directors, but there are also many significant benefits to switching. Read on for three tools to help you decide if you’re ready to switch.


When your health plan is fully insured, it’s easy for your finance department to budget for the cost — you just pass on the health insurer’s annual renewal premium amount to them and that becomes the annual budget number. But you and your broker may have come to suspect that you are leaving money on the table by continuing on a fully insured basis, and you may want to test the self-funded waters.

By now, you may already know there are significant benefits to self-funding, but actually making the switch is a scary prospect for HR directors.

Before you can transition to a self-funded plan, you need to be financially stable and willing to take a bit of a risk. As a safeguard, you also need to familiarize yourself with the two forms of stop-loss insurance. One caps the impact on any one covered member’s claims (individual or specific stop loss), and the other caps your total annual claim liability (aggregate stop loss). Your broker can guide you on which stop loss levels and which stop-loss coverage periods are right for your population when transitioning from fully insured to self-funding.

Beyond these stop-loss safeguards, size will dictate how you pay. If you have fewer than 100 covered employees, you may be able to pay the same amount monthly, just as you do with your fully insured premium. This monthly payment equals projected claims plus an aggregate margin, a monthly administration fee and the stop loss charge. This eliminates unpredictable monthly payments for a small self-funded group.

However, for larger groups of over 100 employees, moving to self-funding will mean paying claims as they are processed (which means uneven claim payments), plus stop loss and administration.

To help you determine if you’re ready for self-funding, you may want to analyze your plan in a few different ways.

1. Look back: A look back analysis is just what it sounds like — a view of how your plan would have performed over the last couple years had you been self-funded, compared to how it did perform under a fully insured model. This should be an easy enough task for your broker to take on, especially if they have sought out self-funded quotes from claim administrators and stop-loss carriers on your behalf. In addition, they should know what your actual claims costs were. The result is that you’ll know whether you would have saved money or not.

2. Look forward: You may already know what your upcoming fully insured renewal looks like. But even if you don’t have hard numbers yet, you can work with your broker to determine a strong estimate of what your proposed premiums will be. Then, your broker should get a self-funded quote, which includes the expected and maximum claims, plus the administrative fees and stop-loss premiums. This is your expected self-funded costs for the upcoming policy period. Compare that estimate to your fully insured renewal costs. (Make sure the self-funded costs are on the same “incurred claims with runout” basis that the fully insured costs would be, for a fair apples-to-apples comparison.)
3. Probability. While the “look forward” analysis compares your fully insured costs to your expected self-funded costs, it is based on “expected” claims. The risky part of self-funding is that your actual claims will not ultimately materialize exactly as expected. There are some more sophisticated tools that combine group-specific data (such as your claims history, demographics and the proposed fixed costs) with a fairly large actuarial database to come up with thousands of possible outcomes.

By charting all of these outcomes, you can produce likelihood percentages of where your actual claims will come in at — versus the “expected” level, and versus the fully insured renewal rate. Not all brokers have this tool on hand, and as a result, there may be a cost associated with producing one. The output from this tool may appeal to your colleagues in the finance department.

Other considerations

During your analysis, you may want to set your self-funded policy year liability based on incurred claims (plus fixed costs), even though your actual paid claims within that policy year may be less due to the lag between when provider services occur and when you actually fund them. The lag is a cash-flow advantage but it does not represent a reduced claim liability.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the cost of high claimants, an important part of planning if you choose the self-funding route. Will your past high claimants continue into your renewal period? Are you aware of new high claimants on the horizon? Stop-loss carriers generally insure only “unknown risks,” not “known risks.” If a plan member has an expensive chronic condition, such as kidney failure, a stop loss carrier may “laser” that individual and set a higher individual stop-loss threshold. It’s important that you know what’s excluded and factor in any uncovered catastrophic claimants into your analysis.

In the end, it may turn out that self-funding is not a good fit, or possibly that this year is just not the year for it. But whether it is, or it isn’t, it is comforting to know that you’ve done your due diligence and have documentation supporting the decision you’ve reached.

SOURCE: DePaola, Raymond (5 October 2018) "Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/ready-for-self-funding-three-tools-to-help-you-decide


How employers can support employees during cancer treatment

The number of cancer survivors in the United States has grown to 15.5 million and is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. Read on to learn how employers can support their employees during their cancer treatment.


Thanks to more sensitive diagnostic testing, earlier diagnosis and new treatments, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has grown to 15.5 million, and that number is projected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. In addition, about 1.7 million Americans are projected to be diagnosed with cancer this year. A large percentage of these cancer patients and survivors are still active members of the workforce and the numbers have the potential to increase even more as people remain in the workforce beyond age 65.

Some people with cancer choose to continue working during treatment. Reasons for continuing to work can be psychological as well as financial. For some, their job or career is a big part of the foundation of their identity. A survey conducted by the non-profit Cancer and Careers found that 48% of those surveyed said they continued to work during treatment because they wanted to keep their lives as normal as possible, and 38% said they worked so that they felt productive. Being in the workforce also provides a connection to a supportive social system for many people and boosts their self-esteem and quality of life.

There also are financial benefits to the employer when employees continue to work during cancer treatment. Turnover costs, including hiring temporary employees and training replacement employees, are high. The cost of turnover for employees who earn $50,000 per year or less (which is approximately 75% of U.S. workers) average 20% of salary. For senior and executive level employees, that cost can reach 213% of salary. In addition, it can be costly to lose the experience, expertise, contacts and customer relationships employees have built.

This raises the question for employers: How can I support employees who choose to work while undergoing cancer treatment? Providing that support can be complex as employers work to balance their legal responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities and Family and Medical Leave Acts with the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

When an employee chooses to share his or her diagnosis with a supervisor or HR representative, employers should view this disclosure as the beginning of a conversation with the employee taking the lead. (It’s up to the employee what information he or she wants to disclose about the diagnosis and treatment and with whom the information can be shared within the organization.) Here are four ways employers can support employees who are getting cancer treatment.

Help employees understand what benefits are available

The first step an employer should take is to refer the employee to the organization’s human resources manager (or someone who handles HR matters if the organization is smaller and does not have a human resources department) so that person can share information about all available benefits and pertinent policies. Provide details on:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverages, including deductibles, co-pays, precertification requirements, network healthcare providers and plan and lifetime maximums
  • Leave policies
  • Flexible scheduling and remote work options, if available
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Community resources and support groups

Offer professional guidance

Offering patient navigator or case management services can also be beneficial. Navigators and case managers can provide a range of services including:

  • Connecting employees with healthcare providers
  • Arranging second opinions
  • Providing evidence-based information on the type of cancer the employee has been diagnosed with and options for treatments
  • Help filing health insurance claims, reviewing medical bills and handling medical paperwork
  • Coordinating communication and medical records among members of the treatment team
  • Attending appointments with employees
  • Answering employee questions about treatments and managing side effects

Make accommodations

Workplace accommodations are another key pillar of support for employees working during cancer treatment. In addition to flexible scheduling, to accommodate medical appointments and help employees manage side effects like fatigue and nausea, and the option of working from home, workplace accommodations can include:

  • Temporary assignment to a less physically taxing job
  • Substituting video conferencing or online meetings for travel, which can be difficult for employees dealing with fatigue or a suppressed immune system, and can make it hard to attend needed medical appointments
  • Leave sharing for employees who have used all their paid time off and can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Some organizations offer leave banks or pools where employees can “deposit” or donate some of their vacation days for employees dealing with a serious illness to use.

Employees may continue to need accommodations after treatment ends if they face late side effects such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, numbness caused by nerve damage or heart or lung problems. Continuing job and schedule modifications can help mitigate the situation.

Ask for employee input

An often overlooked part of supporting employees who are working during cancer treatment is asking the employee what types of support he or she needs and prefers. Employees can share any medical restrictions related to their condition, what types of accommodations or equipment will help them do their job, and what schedule changes will allow them to attend needed appointments and recover from treatment. This should be an ongoing conversation because the employee’s needs are likely to change over the course of treatment and recovery.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (21 September 2018) "How employers can support employees during cancer treatment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-support-employees-during-cancer-treatment?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


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


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


15 employee benefits on the rise

Retirement plans and employer-sponsored health insurance are two vital employee benefits, but there are numerous others that are on the rise. Continue reading to learn more.


Employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement plans are always a vital part of the employee benefits conversation. But a number of other benefits — think wellness and perks that promote work-life balance — are becoming table stakes as employers look to attract and retain talent in a tightened labor market. Here are 15 of the employee benefits that are on the rise, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s recently released annual benefits survey.

Health savings accounts

Health savings accounts continue to rise in popularity. The number of employers offering HSAs — which offer triple tax benefits for employees — rose just one percentage point from 2017 to 2018 (from 55% to 56%), but has increased by 11% in the last five years.

Paid parental leave

The availability of paid parental leave increased significantly between 2016 and 2018 for every type of parental leave, according to SHRM. Paid maternity leave increased from 26% in 2016 to 35% in 2018, and paid paternity increased from 21% to 29%. Meanwhile, adoption (20% to 28%), foster child (13% to 21%) and surrogacy (6% to 12%) leave also increased in the last two years.

A number of large employers have added or enhanced paid parental leave programs in the last year. Dollar GeneralTD Bank and Unum are among the companies that added parental leave benefits for employees, while IBMTIAA and Walmart are among those that expanded their programs.

Company-organized fitness competitions/challenges

The last year has seen a substantial uptick in employers targeting employee wellness through company-organized fitness competitions and challenges. The percentage of employers offering the perk increased from 28% in 2017 to 38% in 2018.

Standing desks

Standing desks are one of the fastest-growing employee benefits: The percentage of employers offering standing desks to workers increased from 20% in 2014 to 53% in 2018. In the last year alone, the benefit increased 8 percentage points.

Research indicates long hours of sitting are linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, so employers are looking for benefits to help combat the problem.

Critical illness insurance

One in four employers now offer critical illness insurance to their employees, according to SHRM. That’s an 8% increase from 2017 and a 10% increase from 2014. As healthcare costs continue to mount for both employers and employees, voluntary benefits offer workers some additional protections for financial emergencies at a low cost, benefit experts say.

Telecommuting

Flexible working benefits, such as telecommuting, flextime and compressed workweeks, encourage work-life balance and can result in higher productivity and more engaged employees, SHRM reports. That’s likely the reason that more than two-thirds (70%) of organizations offer some type of telecommuting, either on a full-time, part-time or ad-hoc basis, up from 62% last year and 59% in 2014.

CPR/first aid training

A growing number of employers are getting serious about safety: The prevalence of CPR/first aid training increased 7 percentage points (47% to 54%) in the past year.

Acupressure/acupuncture medical coverage

Nearly half of employers (47%) now provide acupressure/acupuncture medical coverage, according to SHRM. The benefit experienced significant growth over just the last year: 38% of employers offered the coverage in 2017.

Onsite stress management programs

A growing number of employees report they are stressed out — and the effects are showing at work. So employers are increasingly taking action. The number of employers offering workplace stress management programs is on the rise, with 12% of companies offering these programs. That’s up from 7% last year, and just 3% in 2014.

Lactation rooms

More employers are offering benefits that help new mothers adjust to getting back to work after having a baby. Nearly half (49%) of organizations now offer onsite lactation rooms, according to SHRM, up seven percentage points since 2017 and almost doubling since 2014 (28%).

Casual dress benefits

Dressing down is going up: More employers are embracing casual dress benefits, according to SHRM statistics. The most common practice is to allow employees to “dress down” one day per week, up six percentage points since 2014 (to 62%) and three percentage points since 2017. Half of employers say they allow casual dress every day, up six percentage points since 2017 and 18 percentage points since 2014. And about one-third (34%) of organizations offer the perk on a seasonal basis, up seven percentage points since 2017 and 15 percentage points since 2014.

Service anniversary awards

The percentage of employers offering service anniversary awards, the most common type of compensation benefit, rose by nine percentage points — to 63% — since 2017, SHRM reports.

Spot bonuses

Nearly half (48%) of employers told SHRM they offer employees spot bonuses/awards. That’s a 3% increase from 2017 and a 7% increase since 2014. A number of employers, including Comerica BankHostessLowe’s and McCormick, have announced bonuses for employees in the last six months as a result of financial savings from the GOP tax law.

Life insurance

Company-paid group life insurance is offered by 85% of organizations, and 80% of organizations offer supplemental life insurance for employees, a four-percentage-point increase from 2017, SHRM reports. A substantial increase was seen for life insurance for dependents with more than two-thirds of organizations (70%) offering this benefit in 2018, an increase of 13 percentage points since 2017 and 16 percentage points since 2014.

Paid time off to volunteer

An increasing number of employees are interested in volunteer opportunities — and employers are listening. SHRM reports that 24% of employers now offer employees paid time off to volunteer, up from 22% in 2017 and 16% in 2014.
SOURCE: Mayer, K (6 August 2018) "15 employee benefits on the rise" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/slideshow/telecommuting-life-insurance-trending-employee-benefits