5 tips to make this the best open enrollment ever

Open enrollment season is right around the corner. Did you know that most people find open enrollment season more burdensome than tax season? As employers begin engaging their employees on healthcare offerings, check out these great tips by Kim Buckey from Benefits Pro on how you can make this year the best open enrollment yet.

Learn from last year’s enrollment

Look back on how your company fared during last year’s open enrollment period.

What were the most time-consuming tasks, and how can they be streamlined this year? What were the top questions asked by employees? Did you achieve your enrollment goals?

Hold a meeting with key internal and external stakeholders on the team and review what worked and what didn’t work last year. Knowing where you are, what your challenges are and will be, and where you’re on the right track will enable you to create a meaningful plan for this year.

Start with strategy

Once you know where you are, figure out where you want to be, how you’re going to get there, and how you’ll determine if you’ve achieved your goals. Make sure your strategy includes:

  • An assessment of all of your audiences. Remember, you’re not just communicating to employees, you’re reaching out to family members and to managers as well. Keep in mind that not every audience member has the same education level or understanding of even the most basic benefits concepts.
  • What’s changing. Are you adding or eliminating plans? Is cost-sharing changing? Is there a new vendor? Having a thorough understanding of what’s changing will help determine what your messaging should be.
  • Defining your corporate objectives. Are you looking to increase participation in a particular plan option, or shift a percentage of your population to a new plan offering? Increase participation in a wellness plan? What percentage? Define your objectives and how you plan on measuring success.
  • Your overall messages — and any specific messages targeted to your audiences. You may communicate differently to people already in the plan in which you want to increase participation, for example.
  • A schedule. People need to hear messages multiple times before they “register.” Make sure you’re communicating regularly — and thoughtfully — in the weeks leading up to, and during, the enrollment period.
  • Media. What messages will you deliver in print (newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides)? What should be communicated in person, through managers or one-on-one enrollment support?

Make this year’s enrollment more active

Eighty percent of Americans spend less than an hour researching benefit options, and 90 percent keep the same plan from year to year. Yet for most employees, their circumstances change annually — whether it be the number of their dependents, their overall health and health care usage or their pay.

Active enrollment — where an employee must proactively choose a plan or go without coverage — can be an important step in getting employees more engaged in their benefits.

Active enrollment has benefits for the employer as well — it provides an opportunity to collect key data (such as current dependent information) and to direct employees to the most cost-effective plans for them.

But helping employees choose the “right” plan requires a robust communication plan, combining basic information about plan options, decision-making tools that address the total cost of coverage (both premium and point-of-service costs) and even one-one-one enrollment support.

Many employees don’t have the information they need to make good decisions, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own — it must be ‘pushed’ to them.

Take demographics into consideration

When engaging employees around their benefits options, consider the wants, needs, and communication preferences of each demographic. Employees just starting their careers are the most underinsured (and generally least informed) group, often seeing student debt rather than health coverage as a more pressing priority.

Harris/Accolade poll reveals that when results are broken out by age cohort, workers under 30 are having the greatest difficulty finding their way through the healthcare labyrinth.

Only 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so, compared to 76 percent of retirees. They also report more challenges in making the best care decisions, including understanding cost, coordinating care, choosing and understanding benefits, and finding a doctor they can relate to.

Understand the limitations of decision support tools

Decision support tools enable people to take an active role in managing their health care. While they can certainly help, remember that employees must seek them out and use them, and these tools often assume a level of benefits knowledge your employees might not have.

And, these tools recently have come under scrutiny for their ultimate lack of measurable results. To see the return on investment and value, you must also provide education and communications to provide some context for, and drive usage of, these tools.

By applying these five steps along with setting your team up with designated roles, responsibilities, and deadlines, you’re well on your way toward a more seamless, efficient and effective open enrollment period and to saving both your organization and your coworkers time and money.

But remember, benefits communication isn’t “one and done” at enrollment. You’ll need a year-round plan to help employees make good decisions about their care once they’ve chosen their coverage.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Buckey K. (2017 Aug 25). 5 tips to make this the best open enrollment ever [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/08/25/5-tips-to-make-this-the-best-open-enrollment-ever?page_all=1


Preparing for 2018 Open Enrollment

As open enrollment season nears, make sure you are staying compliant and up-to-date with everything that is happening in ACA. Here are some great tips by Carl C. Lammers from Benefit News on what you need to know to prepare yourself for open enrollment this upcoming year.

Open enrollment for employer-sponsored health and welfare benefits comes every year; usually with little fanfare as employers generally have a system in place to seamlessly handle enrollments.

This changed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but now seven years later, employers again mostly have open enrollment standardized. This year brings a new challenge – the Summary of Benefits and Coverage document that was created by the ACA has undergone its first major restructuring since 2012 when employers were first required to provide the SBC.

The new SBC template must be used for open enrollments that occur on or after April 1, 2017. For calendar year plans, the upcoming 2018 open enrollment is the first open enrollment where the new SBC templates must be used.

If you need a quick refresher, the SBC summarizes group health plan coverage for employees, describing many important plan features, such as deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, and services covered, so that employees can better understand and make more informed choices about the available coverage options.

SBCs have a required uniform format and must contain certain information and examples, so that employees can compare an employer’s coverage options and options from more than one employer.

The uniform standard definitions of medical and health coverage terms and the required SBC template are distributed by the IRS, DOL, and HHS.

While the insurance carrier or third party administrator normally provides the SBC to an employer for distribution with open enrollment materials, employers are ultimately responsible for the SBC’s accuracy and distribution and for the recently increased penalties – of $1,087 per failure – for failure to distribute the SBC.

Employers should review the SBC’s provided for the upcoming open enrollment to be sure they have changed to reflect the new rules. Employers should also distribute the Section 1557 nondiscrimination notice with the SBC to avoid potential penalties.

The new finalized guidance on SBCs was issued by the Departments in April of 2016. The guidance states that while all prior formatting must still generally be complied with; SBCs can now have certain language and formatting alterations, such as differing font styles and margins in order to maintain the four page requirement. Definitions were also added to the Uniform Glossary, and the Departments state that SBCs may hyperlink the terms to a micro-site that HHS will maintain.

The required content of the SBC has also changed, with some of the most significant changes being:
A description of what an SBC is and where consumers can find more information, located at the beginning of the SBC.

A description of how family members must meet their own individual deductibles before the overall family deductible is met, and what services are covered.

  • Changing of the term "person" to "individual."
  • A statement that copays may not be included in out-of-pocket limits.
  • The removal of the definitions of copayments and coinsurance.
  • Change of the "Limitations & Exceptions" column to "Limitations, Exceptions, & Other Important Information" which must now include:
  • When the plan does not cover a certain service category, or a substantial portion of a service category.
  • When cost sharing for covered in-network services does not factor into the out-of-pocket limit.
  • Visit and/or dollar limits.
  • When services require preauthorization.
  • Note: cross-referencing is allowed if including all information in this section would cause the SBC to exceed four pages.
  • New language about minimum essential coverage, minimum value, and language access services.
  • The addition of a third Coverage Example about costs for a fracture, and slightly altered formatting to the Coverage Examples section.
  • A statement regarding whether abortions are covered by the plan.

One thing that is not part of the new SBC guidance is also important for employers: SBCs are likely considered "significant communications" for purposes of the nondiscrimination rules found in Section 1557 of the ACA, and the notice required by Section 1557 should be included with the SBC.

The Section 1557 notice must be included with all “significant communications” involving the medical plan. It is not clear whether the Departments have considered the addition of the Section 1557 language and its impact on the four page SBC limit.

We suggest including the 1557 notice with the new SBCs, but not as part of the new SBCs, in order to maintain the four-page length. Be sure to review any draft SBCs prepared by your insurer or TPA before distribution to ensure they meet the new formatting requirements.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Lammers C. (2017 July 31). Preparing for 2018 open enrollment [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/preparing-for-2018-open-enrollment


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/


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fully Insured Health Plans

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Importantly, most tax software walks employees through these steps.

Dispel myths

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

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

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

Help employees understand they’re in control

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

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

Resist ‘insurance speak’

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


Government and Education Employers Offer Richest HSA Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

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