3 HSA Facts Employers Need to Know

With the passing of the AHCA, HSAs are on the verge of changing as we know it. Take a look at this informative article from Benefits Pro about what changes to HSAs means for employers by Whitney Richard Johnson.

Health Savings Accounts offer employers a way to help employees with health care costs without being as involved as they might be with, say, a Flexible Saving Account. But what are some other advantages?

And what are employers' responsibilities? Although employers will want to research more indepth about HSAs, here is a quick look at some basic HSA questions and answers:

#1: What are the advantages to an employer of offering an HDHP and HSA combination?

The benefits of offering employees an HDHP and HSA vary dramatically depending upon the circumstances. A major strength of offering an HSA program is flexibility.

Employers can be very generous and fully fund an HSA and also pay for the HDHP coverage. Alternatively, employers can also use the flexibility of the HSA to allow for the employer to reduce its involvement in benefits and put more responsibility onto the employee.

Generally, employers switch to HDHPs and HSAs to save money on the health insurance premiums (or to reduce the rate of increase) and to embrace the concept of consumer driven healthcare. The list below elaborates on strengths of HDHPs and HSAs.

Lower Premiums. HDHPs, with their high deductibles, are usually less expensive than traditional insurance.

Consumer-driven health care. Many employers believe in the concept of consumer-driven healthcare. If an employer makes employees responsible for the relatively high deductible, the employees may be more careful and inquisitive into their health care purchases. Combining this with an HSA where employees can keep unused money increases employees’ desire to use health care dollars as if they were their own money – because it is their own money.

Lower administration burden. Given the individual account nature of HSAs, much of the administrative burden for HSAs is switched from the employer (or paid third-party administrator) to the employee and the HSA custodian as compared to health FSAs and HRAs. This increased burden on the employee comes with significant perks: more control over how and when the money is spent, increased privacy, and better ability to add money to the HSA outside of the employer.

Tax deductibility at employee level. The ability of employees to make their own HSA contributions directly and still get a tax deduction is advantageous. Although it is better for employees to contribute through an employer, an employee can make contributions directly. An employer may not offer pretax payroll deferral or it may be too late for an employee to defer. For example, an employee that decides to maximize his prior year HSA contribution in April as he is filing his taxes can still do so by making an HSA contribution directly with the HSA custodian.

HSA eligibility. Becoming eligible for an HSA is a benefit that also stands on its own. Although not all employees will embrace HSAs, savvy employees that understand the benefits of HSAs will value a program that enables them to have an HSA.

#2: What are the employer responsibilities regarding employee HSAs?

If an employer offers pretax employer contributions, then the employer has the following responsibilities:

Make comparable contributions. If the employer is making a pretax employer contribution (nonpayroll deferral), it must do so on a comparable basis.

Maintain Section 125 plan for payroll deferral. If the employer allows pretax payroll deferral, then the employer must adopt and maintain a Section 125 plan that provides for HSA deferrals. This includes collecting employee deferral elections, sending the deferred amount directly to the HSA custodian, and accounting for the money for tax-reporting purposes.

HSA eligibility and contribution limits. Employers should work with employees to determine eligibility for an HSA and the employee’s HSA contribution limit. Although it is legally the employee’s responsibility to determine his or her eligibility and contribution limit, a mistake in these areas generally involves work by both the employer and the employee to correct. Mistakes are best avoided by upfront communication. Also, the employer does have some responsibility not to exceed the known federal limits. An employer may not know if a particular employee is ineligible for an HSA due to other health coverage but an employer is expected to know the current HSA limits for the year and not exceed those limits.

Tax reporting. The employer needs to properly complete employees’ W-2 forms and its own tax-filing regarding HSAs (HSA employer contributions are generally deductible as a benefit under IRC Section 106).

Business owner rules. Business owners generally are not treated as employees and employers need to review HSA contributions for business owners for proper tax reporting.

Detailed rules. There are various detailed rules that fall within the responsibility of the employer that are too numerous to list here but include items such as: (1) holding employer contributions for an employee that fails to open an HSA, (2) not being able to “recoup” money mistakenly made to an employee’s HSA, (3) actually making employer HSA contributions into employees HSAs on a timely basis, and (4) other detailed rules.

#3: How do employers switching from traditional insurance to HDHPs explain the change to employees?

Although there is no certain answer to this question, a straight-forward and honest approach to the change will likely work best.

Changing from traditional insurance to a high deductible plan with an HSA can be significant because employees likely face a higher deductible (although traditional health plan deductibles have been increasing to the point they are close to HDHPs).

Often the largest obstacle to the change is that employees feel something is being taken away from them. An employer that can show that the actual dollars contributed by the employer are level, or increased, versus the previous year helps a lot – especially if the employer makes a substantial HSA contribution for employees.

If the employer is making the change to reduce its health care expenses, then the employer will have to explain and justify that change to employees to get employees’ support for the change (e.g., the business is in a tough spot due to a difficult economy, etc.).

Depending on the facts, the change will likely be an improvement for some employees and HSA eligibility provides benefits to all employees. Some specific benefits include the following:

Saving money. The HDHP is generally significantly less expensive. Depending upon the circumstances, this fact often saves not only the employer money but also the employee. Highlighting the savings will help convince employees the change is positive. Although an actual reduction of the employee’s portion of the premium expense may be unlikely given increasing health insurance premiums, explaining that without the change the employee’s portion of the premium would have increased by more will help reduce tension.

Tax savings. The HSA enables tax savings. For some employees these tax savings are significant.

Control. HSAs give individuals control over their money and accordingly their doctor and treatment choices.

Flexibility. An HSA is very flexible and allows for some employees to put aside a large amount and get a large tax benefit. For those that prefer not to do so, the HSA allows that as well. Plus, even better, the HSA allows employees to change their mind mid-year. If an employee believes they are not going to need any medical services, the employee needs to contribute only a minimum deposit to an HSA. If it turns out that the employee does incur some medical treatment, the employee can contribute at that time and still get the tax benefits. Employees are often frustrated by HSA rules because of some confusion, but when explained that the rules are very flexible they appreciate HSAs more.

Distribution reasons. HSAs allow for more distribution reasons than FSAs: namely to pay for health insurance premiums if unemployed and receiving COBRA, to pay for some health insurance premiums after age sixty-five, to use for any purpose penalty-free after age sixty-five, to carry forward a large balance, and more.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Johnson W. (2017 May 11). 3 HSA facts employers need to know [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/11/3-hsa-facts-employers-need-to-know?kw=3+HSA+facts+employers+need+to+know&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170514&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Benefits+Weekend+PRO&page_all=1


Why Technology is Key to Financial Wellness Success

Are you trying to help your employees become successful and financial stable? Here is a great article from Employee Benefits News on how employers are figuring out that technology is key to helping their employees achieve success in their financial well-being by Kathryn Mayer.

Financial literacy is an increasingly desirable benefit for employees. But many employers don’t offer budgeting assistance, and a majority of workers are reluctant to let their company get involved in their financial business.

Dean Harris realized that in order to make financial wellness appealing to both employers and employees, he had to design technology that delivered flexible, multi-layered and comprehensive financial education in a way that’s enjoyable for the user — and ensures privacy. The chief technology officer of iGrad — a technology-driven financial wellness education company — created and maintains the iGrad and Enrich platforms, which deliver choices to make financial wellness the backbone of any benefit program. The product aims to offer financial wellness benefits with minimal cost and time to the employer.

“Financial literacy empowers workers to take control of something they feel is out of their control,” says Harris, a 2017 recipient of an EBN Benefits Technology Innovator Award. “By offering more information and knowledge, they are better equipped to make the right financial choices that promise to have far-reaching positive effects.”

By applying data analysis on the behavior of the user both within the platform and with regard to his approach to money, the platforms offer responsive content and recommendations. As the user’s skills and knowledge increase, the algorithm adjusts accordingly to provide newer and more relevant content leading to increased engagement and learning possibilities.

Technology is vital in achieving financial goals, Harris says, in part because it provides employees the privacy they desire.

“Financial literacy is a delicate subject. Most people are not comfortable discussing their finances —especially not with their employer,” Harris explains. “The online financial literacy platform offers the personalized and self-guided learning that will help them without exposing their personal financial information to their employer.”

Furthermore, topics addressed through the platform provide “interest, engagement and learning” for employees, Harris says. And employers “gain the benefit of a newly focused and re-energized workforce without having to drill down into areas that are too personal.”

“Ultimately, technology has made it possible for everyone to gain access to the help they need while maintaining privacy and discretion,” Harris says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Mayer K. (2017 May 9). Why technology is key to financial wellness success [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/why-technology-is-key-to-financial-wellness-success


6 Actions Employers Can Take to Boost Retirement Savings

Preparing your employees for their retirement has become a major responsibility for employers. From education to offering the right program for your employees to start saving, employers now more than ever must be prepared for everything involved with retirement. Take a look at this great article from Benefits Pro on what you can do to prepare yourself and your employees for retirement by Marlene Y. Satter.

Lots of people point to self-indulgent millennials or debt-beleaguered GenXers or negligent boomers as the reason for the retirement crisis and the cause of their own hardships.

But a Morningstar study instead points the finger at employers, and their disinterest in working harder to improve retirement plans so that they elicit the best response from employees.

A blog post from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College highlights the study and points out that employers could improve retirement outcomes for their workers—if they were sufficiently interested in doing so—based on research already in hand.

Employers who offer 401(k)s to their workers made some progress, mostly, along the path of automatic enrollment, the blog post notes, during the early 2000s, with notable success: “Today,” it says, “nearly 90 percent of automatically enrolled employees stay where they are put, while only about half of workers sign up to save when 401(k) enrollment is strictly voluntary.”

But progress along those lines has ground to a halt, it points out, and because of the huge variations among 401(k) plans there are plenty of cracks in the private system through which employees are all too ready to fall—and employers apparently too ready to let them.

The Morningstar report points out that even when companies do use auto-enrollment, plans aren’t designed well enough to encourage an adequate level of savings—or, in fact, actually discourage it.

The report, titled “Save More Today: Improving Retirement Savings Rates with Carrots, Sticks, and Nudges,” highlights a number of ways in which plan features actually work against employees saving enough to actually retire on—but the flip side of that is that those features can be tweaked so that they work for the employee’s benefit, and turned into those carrots, sticks and nudges.

And it doesn’t even have to be expensive, since many employers are concerned about the outlay for a retirement plan and are often reluctant, at best, to add to it.

Here are 6 ways employers can encourage their employees to save more for retirement—and at limited, or no, additional cost.

6. Auto-enrollment.

If a company’s plan doesn’t have automatic enrollment, it should, since the results are so outstanding.

Lots of people fail to sign up, if “voluntary” enrollment is required, due to procrastination, preoccupation or other human failings—but if it’s an automatic feature, they get swept up and are saving for retirement almost before they know it.

Says the report: “[P]articipation rates are significantly higher in plans with automatic enrollment (compared to voluntary enrollment schemes).” It adds, “[E]arly research by Madrian and Shea (2001) noted a 48-percentage-point increase in 401(k) participation among new employees after the adoption of automatic enrollment.”

That’s a small action to have such a large effect.

5. Automatic reenrollment.

The marked effect of auto-enrollment on participation has a corollary: existing eligible employees aren’t usually included when the feature is added to a plan.

And this is not unusual.

In fact, the study cites two others that find the inclusion of “reenrollment”—adding existing employees to a plan—is “relatively uncommon,” with the studies finding only 15 percent or 12 percent of plans offering that opportunity.

However, adding “reenrollment” when an auto-enrollment feature is added can significantly boost the participation of existing employees.

4. Higher default savings rate.

An aggressive default savings rate will get employees saving more from the very beginning—and although employers say that workers will be reluctant to accept a rate of anywhere from 6–8–10 percent rather than the more common 3 percent, that’s contrary to study findings.

In fact, says the study, “Roughly half of investors tend to accept the initial default savings rate regardless of level, up to 6 percent using empirical data and up to 12 percent based on the online survey.”

And that’s not all: it adds that “Participants who reject the default rate tend to select higher savings rates, on average, as default rates rise,” which means they are saving even more.

This can be particularly important since, the report says, many employers are more concerned with the participation rate than the savings rate—but the savings rate is what will save employees come retirement.

3. Mandatory auto-escalation.

Automatic escalation, the study reports, “is commonly offered in conjunction with automatic enrollment (e.g., 62 percent of plans offering automatic enrollment also offered automatic escalation according to Aon.”

But only a third to a half of plans actually offer it, despite its benefits—and 62 percent of those who do provide it on an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, basis.

That design is poor on two counts: not only does it not “sweep” everyone into an automatic increase in savings, people who have to opt in don’t always keep doing so.

Just 11 percent, the report says, stay in the plan when it is opt-in, compared with 68 percent who do so when it is opt-out.”

And then there’s the issue of whether the auto-escalation rate is set high enough. Since workers will often accept whatever the default is, setting the rate higher rather than lower would push them to save more and better prepare them for retirement.

2. Matching contributions.

Matching contributions are a thorny issue, since driving up the participation rate will require more in contributions.

As a result, employers might not only be reluctant to boost the participation rate too much, they’re not all that anxious to increase their matching contributions either.

But again, a tweak can change employee behavior without a large increase in cost.

One option is to stretch the match out further; for instance, matching 25 percent of the first 8 percent of employee deferrals instead of matching 50 percent of the first 4 percent employee deferrals. Another option is moving to a discretionary match approach.

1. In-plan advice.

Plans that provide employees with advice can also have a marked effect on savings behavior, with higher recommended savings levels from in-plan financial advisors.

In fact, 90 percent of participants who engaged an in-plan advice solution increasing their savings rates—by about 2 percentage points on average.

“Additionally,” the report says, “higher savings recommendations result in higher implemented savings levels (i.e., more is better).”

This is one area in which it’s not clear whether opting in or having to opt out is more effective.

Perhaps it’s that those who are willing to save more seek out guidance on how much to save.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 15). 6 actions employers can take to boost retirement savings [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/15/6-actions-employers-can-take-to-boost-retirement-s?ref=hp-top-stories&page_all=1


Ten Ways That the House American Health Care Act Could Affect Women

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) will bring a lot of changes to many people and their healthcare. Find out how women's healthcare will be affected by the new legislation in this great article by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Women have much at stake as the nation debates the future of coverage in the United States. Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made fundamental changes to women’s health coverage and benefits, changes to the law and the regulations that stem from it would have a direct impact on millions of women with private insurance and Medicaid. On May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), to repeal and replace elements of the ACA (Appendix Table 1). It would eliminate individual and employer insurance mandates, effectively end the ACA Medicaid expansion, cap federal funds for the Medicaid program, make major changes to the federal tax subsidies available to assist individuals who purchase private insurance, and ban federal Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood. It would also allow states to waive the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits requirements and permit health status as a factor in insurance rating for individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage with the goal of reducing insurance costs.1 The Senate will now take up legislation to repeal and replace the ACA and may consider several elements that the House has approved in the AHCA. This brief reviews the implications of the AHCA for women’s access to care and coverage.

ACA’s Impact on Coverage and Access for Women

Since the ACA’s passage, the uninsured rate has declined to record low levels. Between 2013 and 2015, the uninsured rate among women ages 19 to 64 fell from 17% to 11% (Figure 1). This drop was due in large part to the Medicaid expansion that was adopted by 31 states and DC, and the availability of federal tax credits to subsidize premium costs for many low and modest-income women and men. In addition to coverage improvements, fewer women face affordability barriers since the ACA was enacted. Women have consistently been more likely than men to report that they delay or go without needed care because of costs. The ACA addressed some of these financial barriers by providing subsidies for premiums and cost sharing, eliminating out of pocket costs for preventive services, lifting the lifetime limits on expenses insurance will cover, and requiring minimum levels of coverage for ten Essential Health Benefit categories. Since its passage, the share of women who report that they delayed or went without care due to costs has fallen (Figure 2). This drop has been particularly marked among low-income women, although costs continue to be a greater challenge for this group as well.

1. MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY: EXPANSION AND WORK REQUIREMENTS

Medicaid has been the foundation of coverage gains under the ACA. Eliminating federal funds for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion could leave many of the nation’s poorest women without a pathway to coverage.

Women comprise the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries—before the passage of the ACA and today. Prior to the ACA, compared to men, women were more likely to qualify for Medicaid because of their lower incomes and because they were more likely to meet one of the program’s eligibility categories: pregnancy, parent of a dependent child, over 65, or disability. The ACA eliminates the program’s “categorical” requirements, allowing states to extend Medicaid eligibility to all individuals based solely on income. In the 31 states and DC that have chosen to expand Medicaid, individuals with household incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) qualify, and the federal government finances 95% of the costs.2

It is estimated that by 2015, 11 million adults had gained coverage as a result of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. This opened the door for continuous coverage to pregnant women who often became ineligible for coverage 60 days after the birth of their baby and had no other pathway to coverage as new mothers. The Medicaid expansion has also helped women who do not have children gain access to coverage, since before the expansion they were ineligible for coverage in most states. If passed, the AHCA bill would withdraw the enhanced federal funds for the Medicaid expansion except for beneficiaries enrolled as of December 31, 2019 who do not have a break in eligibility for more than 1 month. This loss of federal financing would leave states without the funds needed to continue supporting this expansion, potentially forcing some states to roll back eligibility for parents to the very low levels that were in place before the ACA (Figure 3). For example, a single mother of two living in Louisiana or Indiana would not have qualified for Medicaid if her income exceeded $4,687. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, under the House AHCA bill, some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would not continue that coverage (some states might also begin to reduce coverage prior to 2020), and that no new states will adopt the expansion.

The AHCA bill would also amend the federal Medicaid statute to allow states to require some beneficiaries, including parents of children 6 and older and adults without disabilities, to show proof of employment. States would have flexibility to design the details of the work requirement within federal guidelines and would receive additional federal support to help cover the administrative costs of this change.

2. CAPPING FEDERAL MEDICAID SPENDING

Medicaid provides health coverage to nearly one in five women in the U.S. Capping the program would limit the federal dollars that states would receive for a program that pays for half of births, three-quarters of all public family planning, and provides supplemental coverage for nearly 1 in 5 senior women on Medicare.

Since its inception in 1965, Medicaid has evolved to become a leading source of coverage for low-income women of all ages (Figure 4). The program provides health coverage to one in five women of reproductive age and one in four Latinas and African American women. Over the years, the program has also expanded to be the largest payor of maternity care and publicly-funded family planning in the U.S.

Medicaid is financed by a combination of federal and state dollars. For most beneficiaries, the federal government pays a percentage of costs, ranging between 50-75% depending on the state. Beginning in 2020, the AHCA would convert federal Medicaid funding from an open-ended matching system to an annual fixed amount of federal dollars. States could choose a “block grant” (for payment of services for children under 18 and poor parents of dependent children) or a “per capita cap” approach for five enrollment groups (the elderly, individuals with disabilities, children, newly eligible adults, and all other adults). While a capped approach would reduce federal spending, it would also shift more responsibility to states to pay more of their own dollars if they want to sustain the program at current levels.

While fixed federal financing would affect all individuals insured by Medicaid, one area that is particularly important for women is the program’s coverage of family planning services. Currently, the federal government requires coverage of family planning services and supplies and pays for 90% of the cost of these services, a higher match than for all other services.3 This higher federal payment rate provides states with an incentive to cover the full range of contraceptive methods. Under a per capita cap structure, states will still be required to cover family planning services, but there will no longer be an enhanced federal matching rate for family planning services provided to most beneficiaries. As a result, there may be less up-front financial incentive for states to cover the more expensive methods of contraception like IUDs, even though they are highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. Should states select a block grant option, family planning services would no longer be a mandatory benefit for non-disabled women on Medicaid.

If a state chooses a per capita cap structure, the AHCA would not change the financing structure for stand-alone family planning expansions that are currently in place in over half the states. These limited scope programs have allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage for family planning services to low-income women and men who do not have other family planning coverage. Since the AHCA’s per capita cap does not apply to these programs, states could continue to receive a 90% federal matching rate for them. These programs may become increasingly important to women because the CBO predicts that under this bill the number of uninsured would rise by 24 million over the next 10 years, and these Medicaid family planning programs are often an important source of reproductive care for uninsured women.

Both capped financing approaches would limit states’ ability to respond to rising costs, new and costly treatments, or public health emergencies such as the opioid epidemic or Zika. States may decide to make programmatic cuts such as cutting provider payments, particularly when facing fiscal pressures. For example, on average, Medicaid pays ob-gyns 76% of the Medicare rate4 and a smaller share of the commercial rate. If states were to make further cuts to provider payments or to plans, the pool of participating providers could shrink in response to reduced rates, which could make it harder for many women enrollees to find a participating ob-gyn or cause delays in scheduling appointments.
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3. MEDICAID AND PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services for many low-income women across the nation. Cutting off federal Medicaid payments to the organization could limit the availability of the most effective contraceptives, as well as STI and cancer screenings for many women on Medicaid.

Many low–income women obtain reproductive care at safety-net clinics that receive public funds to pay for the care they provide. The network includes a range of clinics that provide a broad range of primary care services, such as community health centers (CHCs) and health departments as well as specialized clinics that focus on providing family planning services. The largest organization of specialized family planning clinics is Planned Parenthood, which receives federal support through reimbursement for care delivered to women and men on Medicaid, as well as grant funds from the federal Title X family planning program. Despite comprising only 6% of the safety-net clinics that provided subsidized family planning services in 2015, Planned Parenthood clinics served 32% of women (nearly 2 million women) seeking contraceptive care at these centers (Figure 5).

Should it become law, the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year, even though federal law already prohibits federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions other than those to terminate pregnancies that are a result of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. The AHCA bill would provide additional funds to CHCs, presumably to compensate for loss of a major provider of care to women, but there are no specifics in the bill that would require the health centers to use these funds to provide services to women. There is also concern that CHCs do not currently have the capacity to fill the gap in care that would arise if Planned Parenthood were no longer a participating Medicaid provider.5 Not all CHCs provide the same range of services as Planned Parenthood, and care at CHCs could be more costly than that provided by specialized family planning providers like Planned Parenthood.6 The CBO’s March 13, 2017 analysis of the AHCA stated that cutting off Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year would result in loss of access to services in some low-income communities because it is the only public provider in some regions. The report also stated that the policy would result in thousands of additional unintended pregnancies that would be financed by Medicaid.7

4. ABORTION COVERAGE

Private and public coverage of abortion is currently limited in many states through the federal Hyde Amendment and state laws. The AHCA would go further than the ACA to restrict the availability of abortion coverage through private insurance policies.

Since 1976, the federal Hyde Amendment has limited the use of federal funds for abortion only to cases when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or is a threat to the woman’s life. Since its first passage over 40 years ago, the amendment has dramatically limited coverage of abortion under Medicaid, as well as other federal programs.8

In private insurance, the ACA explicitly bars abortion from being included as part of the Essential Health Benefit package defined by states and allows states to ban all plans in their Marketplaces from covering abortion. States can also ban abortion coverage in all state regulated private plans.9 As of March 2017, 25 states have laws limiting or banning coverage of abortion in ACA Marketplaces, and of these, 10 states ban abortion coverage in both the Marketplaces and in the private insurance market.

To ensure no federal dollars are used to subsidize abortion coverage, the AHCA bill would no longer make this a state option, rather it would ban abortion coverage in all Marketplace plans as well as prohibit the use of federal tax credits to purchase any plans that cover abortion that are available outside the Marketplace. The bill would limit employer coverage of abortion by disqualifying small employers from receiving tax credits if their plans cover abortion beyond Hyde limitations.

This provision would be in direct conflict with existing state policies in California and New York that require plans to cover abortion. Furthermore, no off market plans in these states would be able to enroll individuals who receive tax credits. Therefore, if enacted, the AHCA’s abortion coverage ban would likely face legal challenges.

5. TAX CREDITS, PREMIUM AND COST-SHARING SUBSIDIES

The AHCA would set the level of tax credit assistance using primarily age, and would repeal the ACA’s cost-sharing protections for low-income individuals. Because women have a lower income than men at all ages, this approach could place women at a disadvantage compared to men.

Women comprise more than half (54%) of ACA marketplace enrollees in the 34 states that use the federally facilitated marketplace, healthcare.gov. Approximately eight in ten (81%) Marketplace beneficiaries receive a premium tax credit, which offsets premium costs and makes them more affordable. In 2015, more than one-third (37%) of women who purchased insurance on their own were low-income ($23,540 for a single person) compared to 31% of men. 10 The current subsidy structure under the ACA provides higher levels of subsidies to those who are low-income, older, and who live in areas with more expensive coverage.

The AHCA, in contrast, would take a very different approach and reduce the amount that the federal government would contribute to subsidies with the goal of reducing federal spending. The AHCA would provide a flat tax credit based on age only up until an income of $75,000 for a single individual, and phases out at higher incomes. This would result in a large decrease in tax subsidies to older Marketplace enrollees compared to what is available to them today.

The AHCA would set aside additional federal funds to assist older enrollees as well as services for pregnant women and newborns and individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, but how those funds would be allocated is still to be determined. Nonetheless, under the AHCA’s tax credit methodology, people with lower incomes would receive significantly less than they do under current law. A higher share of women is poor or low-income than men, because women are more likely than men to head single parent households, work part-year or part-time, are paid less than men for similar work, and take breaks from the workforce to stay home and care for children and aging parents. As a result, this approach could disproportionately disadvantage women. In addition, the AHCA proposes to repeal the cost-sharing subsides available today under the ACA that provide additional protection from the high costs of deductibles, cost-sharing, and co-insurance to individuals with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level.

6. INSURANCE REFORMS

The ACA banned many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women. While the AHCA maintains the gender-rating ban and the dependent coverage expansion, it could allow states to permit insurers to charge higher premiums to individuals with health problems if they have a lapse in coverage.
DEPENDENT COVERAGE

A popular element of the ACA is the provision that requires private health insurers that offer dependent coverage to children to allow young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance plans. This provision was the first in the ACA to take effect, and it increased the availability of insurance to an age group that historically had a high uninsured rate (Table 1). In 2015, 39% of women ages 19 to 25 reported that they were covered as a dependent.

GENDER RATING

Prior to the ACA, non-group insurers in many states charged women who purchase individual insurance more than men for the same coverage, a practice called gender rating.12 Yet, plans sold on the individual market often did not cover many important services for women, such as maternity care, mental health services, and prescription drugs.13 An estimated 6.5 million women purchased coverage on the individual insurance market in 2011, and many of these women paid higher rates than men. Prior to the ACA, most of the women in this market were of reproductive age, working, and had incomes below 250% FPL.14 The ACA bans gender rating and the AHCA would not change this.

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

One of the most popular provisions of the ACA has been the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions. In the years before the ACA was passed, insurance companies often denied or would not renew coverage to individuals with a “preexisting condition,” which included several conditions common among women such as pregnancy, breast cancer, or a prior C-section. The AHCA would not re-instate this practice, but individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage would be charged a penalty when they try to obtain health insurance after having a coverage gap. The penalty could be in the form of higher premium rates (30%) for one year. Alternatively, states could obtain a waiver to allow insurers to again engage in medical underwriting for one year, charging people with health problems higher rates. This would have the effect of raising premiums for people with pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy, prior C-section, or clinical depression.
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7. ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS

The ACA instituted new rules that require all plans in the individual market as well as Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of benefits. Of particular importance to women has been the inclusion of maternity care, preventive services, and mental health.

The ACA requires all Marketplace plans and Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of “essential health benefits” (EHB). Each state chooses a benchmark benefit plan, which sets the floor for services that plans in that state must cover within each EHB category.15
The AHCA would allow states to apply for a waiver to define their own EHBs beginning in 2020. Waivers would be automatically approved unless the HHS Secretary issues a denial within 60 days of submission. This means states could choose to exclude mental health or maternity care (see pregnancy-related care section below) from their EHB requirements. While the idea of choice sounds appealing to some, it is antithetical to how insurance operates ─ by spreading the costs and risks across the pool of insured individuals. Plans that include a broader range of benefits would be considerably more expensive than they are today. In addition to state-level waivers, the AHCA bill would rescind the EHB requirement for Medicaid expansion programs, meaning that beneficiaries in this group would not be entitled to coverage for all ten categories. Existing Medicaid rules require states to cover some of the categories, such as hospitalization and maternity and newborn care, but others such as substance abuse treatment and prescription drugs are optional and offered at state discretion.Prior to the ACA, there were few federal requirements on what private plans in the individual market had to cover. The ACA established a floor for benefits that individual market plans must cover with the goal of reducing variation and adverse selection by standardizing “meaningful coverage.” This is particularly important for women, as they are the exclusive users of maternity care and more frequent users of services in some other EHB categories, such as prescription drugs and mental health. Mental health services in particular were routinely excluded in individual plans prior to the ACA. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are all more common among women than men.

8. PREVENTIVE SERVICES

Currently, all private plans, Medicaid expansion programs, and Medicare must cover recommended preventive services without cost sharing. Important services for women include: breast and cervical cancer screening, osteoporosis screening, pregnancy related services, well woman visits, and contraception.

In addition to EHBs, the ACA included a related requirement that all private plans cover federally-recommended preventive services without charging cost-sharing. In contrast to EHBs, which apply to individually purchased plans and Medicaid expansion only, the preventive services requirement applies to all forms of private insurance, including employer-sponsored and individual market plans. Prior to the ACA, the only federal–level requirements that applied to group plans were for coverage of a minimum length of stay after a delivery, availability of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, and parity for mental health services. The preventive services coverage requirement also applies to the Medicaid expansion and Medicare programs. This means that most adults with some form of private or public insurance now have coverage without cost-sharing for all of the services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), immunizations recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and services for women recommended by the Health Resources and Services Administration.16

Among the slate of services covered, many are exclusively for women or address conditions that have a disproportionate impact on women (Figure 6). These services address some of the most common conditions for women, including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. For older women, the preventive services policy means that Medicare now covers the full cost of mammograms and bone density screenings, which were previously subject to 20% co-insurance before passage of the ACA.

The AHCA would maintain preventive services requirements for private plans, but would repeal the requirements for the Medicaid expansion population. Preventive services for adults are covered at state option for other Medicaid beneficiaries. States could opt to roll back coverage of preventive services for this group.

9. CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE

Today, the majority of women with private insurance have no cost contraceptive coverage. This preventive benefit has reduced women’s out-of-pocket spending on birth control and made the most effective, but often costly, contraceptive methods affordable for most insured women. This provision could be eliminated or modified through regulatory changes without the need for Congressional action.

Current law requires that most private plans include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods for women at no additional cost. Research has found that the requirement has had a large impact in a short amount of time. For example, in the first two years that the policy was in effect, the share of women with any out of pocket spending on oral contraceptives fell sharply to just 3.0% of women with employer-sponsored insurance (Figure 7).17 Similar effects have been documented for other contraceptives, including IUDs.18

The AHCA bill does not specifically address the contraceptive coverage requirement. However, President Trump and Secretary Price have expressed support for advancing “religious freedom,”19 and this provision has been at the heart of two cases that have reached the Supreme Court where employers have claimed that the requirement violates their religious beliefs. The contraceptive coverage requirement was implemented through a series of agency regulations that included contraception in the package of women’s preventive services, defined the religious exemption and accommodation available to houses of worship and faith-based nonprofits respectively, and clarified that plans must cover 18 contraceptive methods. Since these requirements are in regulations, the Trump Administration can issue new regulations and guidance to permit employers and insurers to cover fewer methods, or to exempt more employers with religious objections without the need for congressional action.20President Trump’s Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty specifically calls on the Secretaries of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services to amend regulations to protect conscience-based objections to the ACA’s preventive-care mandate.21 The goal of this is to exempt any employer with a religious or moral objection from the contraceptive coverage requirement, even though current regulations already relieve employers from paying for such coverage while assuring that women have coverage for contraceptives.

If the federal requirement is eliminated or scaled back, the scope of contraceptive coverage would again be shaped by employers, insurance plans, and state policy. More than half (28) of states have laws requiring plans in their states to cover contraceptives, but these are more limited than the ACA. Only five of the 28 states require coverage of the full range of contraceptives without cost sharing, but these state-level mandates do not apply to self-funded plans, which cover most insured workers.22

10. PREGNANCY-RELATED CARE

Today, pregnant and postpartum women have a greater range of protections and benefits than they did prior to the ACA. These range from mandatory maternity and newborn coverage, to no-cost prenatal screening, and breastfeeding supports. The AHCA would allow states to define the Essential Health Benefits requirements with a waiver, potentially excluding coverage for maternity care.

Before the ACA, pregnant women seeking insurance in the individual market were routinely turned away as having a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, many individual plans did not cover maternity services because it was not required in this market. Some individual plans offered separate maternity coverage as a rider which could be costly, ranging from roughly $15 to $1600 a month.23 Some plans also imposed a waiting period before the rider took effect. These discriminatory practices were limited to the individual market because coverage for maternity services has been required for decades both under Medicaid and in most employer-sponsored plans due to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The ACA changed this by including maternity and newborn care as part of the EHB package that must be included in individual private plans as well as under Medicaid expansion. While some states had required individual plans in their states to cover maternity services to varying degrees prior to the ACA, most did not.24 In addition, the ACA made other improvements through coverage of preventive services such as no-cost prenatal screenings and breastfeeding supports.

The AHCA would weaken some of the protections for pregnant women that are currently in place. By halting funds for Medicaid expansion, some new mothers would lose coverage once the 60-day postpartum period ends and become uninsured. Furthermore, it would permit states to waive the current federal EHB standards, potentially allowing states to remove or scale back maternity services as a required benefit. The bill would also allot funds to the Patient and State Stability Fund for pregnancy and newborn care, but there are no details on how it will be used.

Some have touted the benefits of excluding maternity coverage for those who will not need it such as men and older women as a way of giving policyholders more flexibility to choose their own coverage and purchase less expensive plans. However, this also means that the risk pool for plans that include maternity services would primarily be comprised of women who anticipate using maternity care, and would likely greatly increase costs for women who sought such coverage. Furthermore, given that nearly half of pregnancies are unintended some women would buy coverage that does not include maternity care thinking they won’t need it, only to find out their coverage falls short when they are pregnant.

Conclusion

Today, women’s health coverage levels are at an all-time high. In addition to the coverage gains in the Marketplaces and Medicaid, many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women have been banned. Minimum standards for benefits that individual plans must cover through the EHB and the preventive services requirements for all private plans have assured that most insured women have coverage for a broad range of recommended services that they need such as maternity care, mental health services, and preventive services such as mammograms, pap smears, and contraceptives. Recent polling shows that the American public values these protections, including those for poorer women (Figure 8). In addition, while the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood for one year, 75% of Americans say they favor continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

If enacted, the AHCA would alter subsidies for private insurance, eliminate the Medicaid expansion, ban Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, place a cap on Medicaid spending, and turn EHB standards over to the states. This legislation would have considerable impact on women, particularly low-income women who rely on subsidies and those who are on Medicaid. The Senate will now take up their own debate about the future of the ACA. In addition to legislation, many of the ACA’s other provisions could be amended through federal-level administrative actions. Given the gains that women have made in access to meaningful and affordable coverage, they have much at stake in the current debate over the future of our nation’s private and public insurance programs.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Ranji U., Salganicoff A., Sobel L., Rosenzweig C. (2017 May 8). Ten ways that the house american health care act could affect women [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/ten-ways-that-the-house-american-health-care-act-could-affect-women/


The Pitfalls of Online Enrollment Systems

Are you using an online system to enroll your clients into their employee benefits? Check out this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about the risk associated with online enrollment by Elizabeth Kay.

Online enrollment platforms are great, but communication and understanding are terribly important for the end-user.

I always say, "technology is great, when it works." Online enrollment platforms have been around for years, and the technology that powers them has grown and advanced at an exponential rate. Who would have guessed that we would be enrolling in our employee benefits directly from our own phones and tablets, without being given the huge enrollment packets from HR?

In this virtual communication age, you can't take the “human” out of Human Resources, and you can't take the confusion out of insurance benefits just because you wrap it in a nice, pretty website with fancy graphics and videos.

An employee's health concerns and needs are as diverse and different as hair colors are at Comic Con, so while a brief overview of plan details is fine for one person, someone else wants to know how many physical therapy visits they can have in a year, or if their child's insulin pump will be covered on their plan.

A simple online enrollment platform does not always meet the needs of all employees, and not all platforms will offer the level of detail some will require. Aside from posting the evidence of coverage, or insurance contract, at a place that is easily found on the portal, there may not be a way to achieve that level of detail. However, even for those that don't need that level of detail, critical information must be communicated easily and effectively.

Costly mistakes can be made when benefits are not communicated effectively, or when important information is simply omitted. For example, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented, some employers have opted to offer minimum value plans (MVPs), or plans that cover very few procedures such as office visits, preventive care, and hospital room and board, but they do not cover a wide range of other services such as ambulance, surgery, medical devices, physical or occupational therapy, etc.

When an employee sees a number of choices or plans from which to choose, they will likely compare the various plan options by looking at the carrier, if the plans are HMOs or PPOs, and the cost. From there, an employee may look at the office copays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and coinsurance.

If the comparison shows MVP plans as well as traditional health plans, but does not call out in big, bold letters, all of the items the MVP plan does not cover, one could come away with the understanding that if they choose the MVP plan, they are selecting a plan that is a comprehensive insurance plan just like the other plans shown, or like they have had in the past.

Most of us don't read our car insurance policy in detail until we get in an accident and the insurance adjustor says, "sorry, your policy does not cover that." The same is usually true for our health insurance plans.

You could argue that it is the responsibility of the employee to verify that the plan they are choosing meets all of their needs, certainly. But if that information is not easy to locate, you could find fault with the employer, or insurance carrier, if there were to be a problem. Furthermore, an employer would want to show their employees that they want to take care of them, and not set them up for failure in the event of a crisis.

Let's walk through a scenario. An employee named "Joe" is 28, and is enrolling in his company's health plans during open enrollment. His company recently merged with another larger company, and so the benefits being offered are slightly different, but look pretty close to what they had been last year. There are four plans offered, two that are HMO plans with Kaiser and two that are PPO plans, one is labeled Silver, the other Gold.

Joe is young and single, and when he was living at home with his parents, he had never had Kaiser and always traditionally had PPO coverage. Last year, Joe enrolled in the Silver PPO plan so he could continue to see the doctors that had been managing his care for all of his adult life, so he elects the same plan this year. The online system shows a $250 deductible, $40 office visit copay, and 30% coinsurance. In addition, the Kaiser premiums have gone up considerably from what he remembered them to be last year, and are higher than the PPO plan options, so he feels comfortable that he has made the choice that is best for him.

Later in the year, he comes down with a bad cold. The pressure in his head that is caused by the cold is so severe that when he sneezed, he blew out his right ear drum. He goes to the doctor, and his doctor orders a CT scan of his ear. The CT scan shows he has perforated his ear drum and will need surgery to repair it. The surgery is scheduled for two weeks after that. He contacts the hospital and surgeon to confirm they are contracted, in-network providers under his health plan, and asks them to do a pre-determination of benefits so he will know up front how much he should expect to pay as his 30% of the cost of the procedure.

While waiting for the surgeon and hospital to get back to him regarding the out-of-pocket costs, he receives the bill for the CT scan and explanation of benefits from his doctor for the office visit and CT scan. They show his office copayment that he paid at the time of service, and his $250 deductible, plus 30% of the remaining cost of the CT scan, which came out to a total of $500. He pays the bills and continues to work even though he is in extreme discomfort from his right ear.

The surgeon and hospital both get back to him and let him know the surgery itself will cost approximately $20,000 because his plan does not cover surgery, period. Joe is not an executive in a large company; he does not have the money to pay for a $20,000 surgery and also afford to take three weeks off of work in order for him to recover. So, what is he to do?

He can't enroll in another plan offered by his employer for another nine months when they go through open enrollment again. It is March, so he has missed the state Exchange open enrollment window, and he has not experienced an involuntary loss of coverage that would enable him to enroll in a state Exchange plan. If he were to purchase a short-term, comprehensive medical plan it won't cover any pre-existing conditions, which his perforated ear drum would certainly be considered. So, unless he gets married and enrolls on his new spouse's plan if they were offered one by their employer, he is out of options. He will simply have to wait until open enrollment next year.

How do you think Joe is feeling about his employer right now? Do you think he is counting his blessings that he only ruptured his ear drum and was not diagnosed with cancer that needed to be removed before it spread any further? Or is he going to be using a few choice words to describe an employer that offers a medical plan to its employees that has a longer list of services not covered than are covered? I can't say that I know for sure, but I can guess.

Now, the question becomes how does an employer prevent their employees from running into these kinds of pitfalls? It comes down to clear communication—multiple forms of communication that are easily accessible to employees and their family members that may also play a role in making plan decisions. Having someone to partner with your company, such as a UBA Partner Firm that will not only help you develop long-term plan strategies for your employee benefits package, but can be an integral part of developing and implementing online systems, hard copy communications, and give you access to tools such as smartphone applications that not only give employees access to essential information, but also push out important communications that contain relevant information at the appropriate times like open enrollment. Making plan details easily accessible in the online platform, with clear and bold statements if there are essential benefits that are not covered on the plan such as a warning, should be clearly stated so that employees are well informed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insurance is a complicated business and you, as an employer, would not want to make decisions about the health care you offer your employees without someone to guide you through the various options and possibilities. As responsible employers, our employees should not have to either.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kay E. (2017 May 2). The pitfalls of online enrollment systems [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/the-pitfalls-of-online-enrollment-systems


Is Social Media Putting Employees’ Health, Safety at Risk?

Do your employees know about all of the risks that can come from their social media? Find out how social media can affect your employee's safety and health in this article from Employee Benefit News by Jill Hazan.

The issue of personal online safety has finally crossed over into the healthcare arena — and employers need to step up and learn to best educate employees about keeping them safe.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, “Parental Sharing on the Internet: Child Privacy in the Age of Social Media and the Pediatrician’s Role,” highlights how parents who post information about their children on social media put them at greater risk for identity theft. In addition, this trend toward oversharing compromises a child’s protected health information. What might happen when that child applies for a job in the future and a simple internet search reveals health information she would not want an employer to know?

While HIPAA protects the confidentiality of an individual’s medical records, it doesn’t provide comprehensive protections outside the healthcare environment. The laws around the privacy rights of children relative to their parents’ online disclosures are still evolving. The article recommends that pediatricians ask parents about their social media habits to help keep children safe and their data private. It is a natural extension that all primary care providers should be asking patients about social media behaviors, as the issues of identity theft and data privacy are relevant to children and adults alike.
This recommendation is increasingly significant from an employee benefit perspective.

So what should employers do?

Employers routinely provide healthcare benefits to employees. If health plans and physicians are acknowledging and addressing the risks of social media from a privacy and security perspective, shouldn’t employers extend that focus into the workplace? With the continued employer emphasis on wellness, it is incumbent on health plans and employers alike to educate employees on online security and the risks of identity theft.

 

There are a variety of resources and benefits that employers can access to assist employees in navigating the online world safely. A series of well-structured, engaging seminars on identity theft and online security that combine real-life stories with actionable advice are effective in educating employees and changing behaviors. Online tutorials, like those provided by the Center for Identity at the University of Texas, Austin, can guide employees on setting proper privacy settings on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Identity theft protection plans provide monitoring and restoration services, as well as education to help keep employees and their families secure. EAPs may provide guidance on identity theft and counseling for victims. Comprehensive legal benefit plans provide legal advice and representation for victims of identity theft. Employers may also provide employees access to online data protection tools for use at work and home with features that encrypt communication and block malware and phishing attempts.

Employees need to understand how to navigate the social media and online environment to keep their families safe. Identity theft of a family member affects more than just one person. It can register an emotional, physical and financial toll on the entire family. Employers need to structure a comprehensive approach to managing the health and wellness of employees as it relates to their online behaviors. A program with a combination of employee benefits, from healthcare to identity theft protection benefits, supplemented by onsite employee education, will support the goals of the health plan and, ultimately, the organization’s overall business objectives.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Hazan J. (2017 May 1). Is social media putting employees' health, safety at risk? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/is-social-media-putting-employees-health-safety-at-risk?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


Employee Expectations Changing the Workplace

Do you know what benefits your employees are looking for? Take a peek at this great article from Employee Benefits Adviser about how employers are starting to customize their employee benefits programs to fit each individual employee by Nick Otto.

If employers want to retain and attract talent, they’ve got to start thinking about one big benefit trend: Customization.

“It’s not about just medical, dental and vision anymore,” Todd Katz, executive vice president, MetLife said Monday following the release of MetLife’s 15th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trends Study.

Nearly three-fourths (74%) of employees say that having benefits customized to meet their needs is important when considering taking a new job, and 72% say that having the ability to customize their benefits would increase their loyalty to their current employer.

Workers say benefits customization is even more important than the ability to work remotely. In fact, more than three-fourths (76%) of millennials say benefits customization is important for increasing their loyalty to their employers, compared to two-thirds (67%) of baby boomers.

“Today, our lives reflect our preferences,” Katz says. “We choose how our coffee is made, create personalized playlists and decide which apps we have on our phones. In all aspects of our lives, we can make choices to meet our unique needs. The same should apply when it comes to benefits.”

That’s particularly important for driving engagement and loyalty among millennials, he said, who comprise the largest generation in the workplace today. “Customization for them is inherent, and they want to know that their employers understand and are willing to address their specific needs.”

Not only is benefits customization important for employee satisfaction and retention, but so is helping employees with their holistic wellness — both health and financial — needs.

Nearly two-thirds of employees say that health and wellness benefits are important for increasing loyalty to their employer and 53% say the same about financial planning programs.

Every day, employees come to work with financial concerns, and in larger businesses, employees acknowledge that they sacrifice their health and are less productive. Close to a third of workers (30%) say they lay awake at night worrying about money, and 23% admit to being less productive at work because of financial stress.

“Looking across the work force, when you understand what’s on the minds of employees it’d be wonderful if the set of benefits is matched to address what is a drag on the minds of workers and their worries back at home,” Ida Rademacher, executive director, financial security program at The Aspen Institute, noted at MetLife’s symposium in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

She notes there are four elements to helping workers achieve financial well-being:

Financial security in the present: Employees having control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances
Financial security in the future: The ability to absorb a financial shock
Freedom of choice in the present: Financial freedoms to make choices and enjoy life
Freedom of choice in the future: The ability to be on track to meet financial goals

Despite the need for wellness education, many employers are falling short in their offerings.

Only a third of employers (33%) say they are very likely to offer wellness benefits and just 18% currently offer financial planning programs. At the same time, only 36% of employers say wellness benefits and financial planning programs are valuable to their employees, according to the study.

“Employees are looking to their employers to help them with their overall wellness needs, whether it’s through gym memberships to stay healthy or financial education programs to plan for their futures,” says MetLife’s Katz. “As employees have more non-traditional workplace options available to them, it will become increasingly important that employers prioritize holistic wellness to drive employee engagement and loyalty in this new era.”

This may be why retention is the top priority among employers. When asked to rank their top benefits priorities, more employers (83%) chose retaining employees as an important benefits objective than increasing employee productivity (80%) and controlling health and welfare benefit costs (79%). More so, over half of employers (51%) say that retaining employees through benefits will become even more important in the next three to five years.

“Benefits historically were used for attraction and retention, but there now much more strategically important than they have ever been,” added Randy Stram, senior vice president, group, voluntary & worksite benefits at MetLife. “A diverse employee base, uncertainty regulatory environment and the changing digital landscape are adding to the increase complexity of managing benefits for employers.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 April 19). Employee expectations changing the workplace [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employee-expectations-changing-the-workplace?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


7 Questions to Ensure Successful Benefit Technology Purchases

Do you need help figuring out your technology needs for an employee benefits program? Check out this interesting article from Employee Benefit Adviser about which technology you will need for your employee benefits program by Veer Gidwaney.

From quality to data integration, there are many factors to consider when purchasing benefit administration technology. With employers increasing turning to their adviser for guidance, here are some key questions advisers should make sure their client’s tech acquisition teams can answer:

1) How will you ensure data quality is maintained during the migration to the new system? Be it a mistyped entry, or incomplete form, errors are bound to happen in open enrollment, and if they’re not caught during implementation process, errors can go unnoticed for months or longer. This means inaccuracies in carrier files, delays in enrollment processing, and additional back-and-forth between you and your client or the carrier.

Don’t rely on human eyes to scan spreadsheets for potential errors, it’s 2017. Before you take the plunge with a technology partner, understand their data validation and backup data quality check processes to catch and correct errors before they’re entered into your system of record.

2) Will this technology require a printer or a fax machine for my team or my clients?

No benefits or HR platform should require any manual paperwork. It’s time-consuming, and more prone to human error, yet many benefits systems still rely on paper-based processes to run an enrollment or onboard an employee. Take a stand, for your team, your clients, and their employees.

Make sure you see a demo of the onboarding and enrollment process from start to finish before partnering with a technology platform, and expect employees and HR to demand the same expectations based on interacting with any other technology experience in their lives, at home or work. Does it look and feel like a modern experience? Is buying insurance as intuitive as any e-commerce experience an employee would be used to? If not, keep looking.

3) Is EDI with insurance carriers “full-service” or “self-service”?

Managing electronic data integrations (EDI) with carriers is complex and time-consuming, but something that many employers expect to have up and running smoothly to manage eligibility and enrollment ongoing. Any benefits administration technology that requires your team to set up their own EDI files, or interface directly with the carrier is sucking up unnecessary time and resources, and you must factor that time into the cost of partnership.

4) How does the platform partner with insurance carriers and other third-party vendors to make offering and managing benefits easier?

Insurance carriers aren’t going anywhere, so choosing a system that has advantageous relationships and deep integrations with your favorite carriers will save time and money in the long run, for both you and your clients.

Depending on the type of relationship a technology vendor has with the carriers you work with, that could mean internal efficiencies and cost savings like free EDI, automated eligibility management, and low minimum participation requirements on voluntary benefit products. Montoya & Associates has actually been able to streamline standard benefit offerings based on the Maxwell Health Marketplace, which makes implementations faster and easier for their team. Don’t take my word for it: check out a case study, in their own words.

5) How does the platform make it more efficient to manage ongoing employee changes throughout the year?

Routine qualifying life events such as marriage or birth of a child shouldn’t require hours of administrative work for you or your clients. While it’s tempting to ‘check the box’ with low-cost point solutions that handle only eligibility, or quoting, or enrollment, it’s important to consider the cost of wasted hours and the impact that disjointed processes will have on your clients’ experience.

Solving interconnected problems with disparate point solutions will result in disjointed processes, multiple data entry points, and client frustration. Look for solutions that manage all of that data in one place, both during enrollment and year-round.

6) How many team members are typically dedicated full-time to making the platform work at scale? If you have to hire additional full-time team members to complete tasks that could (and should) be automated or streamlined with technology (like EDI, enrollment paperwork, etc.), you should factor that into your decision from a financial perspective.

Implementing technology should streamline processes for your team in addition to your clients. Ask for references on how current clients have made the tool successful, and dig into the processes that any potential technology partner might help you solve to uncover the manual work that might hide below the surface.

7) What sort of technical and implementation support is available? Training on any new process is a time-consuming process that may require some hand-holding. Your technology partner is an extension of your brand and your company, so you need to make sure that they set up both you and your clients for success, initially and throughout the year. Ask about their support structure, and what resources are available to both you and your clients.

Both HR teams and employees should have tools to solve problems on their own, with the ability to get in touch with a live person for technical questions if needed. Certain technology platforms prioritize broker support at the expense of support for HR and employees, or might provide support during initial setup, and charge for support throughout the year. This often results in more time-consuming implementations than necessary and frustration at being unsure of what to do next or how to resolve any issues.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gidwaney V. (Date). 7 questions to ensure successful benefit technology purchases [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/6-questions-to-ask-to-avoid-hidden-benefit-technology-costs


10 Misconceptions About Saving for Medical Care in Retirement

Are you properly prepared for your medical costs during retirement? Take a look at this great article from Employee Benefits Advisors to find out what are the top misconceptions people have about medical costs when planning for their retirement by Marlene Y. Satter.

Retirement isn’t the only thing workers have trouble saving for; the other big gap in planning is health care.

According to a Voya Financial survey, Americans just aren’t ready to pay for the health care they might need in retirement. Their estimates of what they might need are low—when they estimate them at all, that is—and their savings are even lower.

With worries over money woes keeping people up at night—so says a CreditCards.com poll—the only worry that surpassed “having enough saved for retirement” was “health care and insurance.”

And consider, if you will, all the turmoil in the health insurance market these days, what with potential changes to—or an outright repeal of—the Affordable Care Act waiting in the wings, not to mention the skyrocketing costs of both care and coverage.

Americans seem to have a lot to worry about when it comes to their finances.

In light of all this uncertainty, it’s no wonder that the little matter of paying for health care is keeping people awake.

But, considering all that, it’s even more surprising that there are so many common misconceptions about health care, its cost and how to pay for it at large in the general population.

American workers are not just ill prepared for retirement, they’re even more ill prepared for any illness or infirmity that may come along with it.

According to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), a 65-year-old man would need $127,000 in savings while a 65-year-old woman would need $143,000—thanks to a longer projected lifespan—to give each of them a 90 percent chance of having enough savings to cover health care expenses in retirement.

But that doesn’t appear to have filtered its way down to U.S. workers, who are blissfully (well, maybe not so blissfully) ignorant of the mountain of bills that probably lies ahead.

While demographics play a role, there are smaller differences among some groups than one might otherwise expect. In addition, it’s also rather surprising where Americans plan to get the money to pay for whatever care they receive, and how far they think that money will stretch when it also has to pay for food, clothing, shelter and any activities or other necessities that come along with retirement.

Read on to see 10 misconceptions workers have about how and how much they think they’ll pay for medical care in retirement. As you’ll see, some generations are more prone to certain errors than others.

10. Workers just aren’t estimating how much health care will cost them in retirement.

Perhaps they’d rather not know—but according to the poll, 81 percent of Americans have not estimated the total amount health care will cost them in retirement; among them are 77 percent of boomers. Retirees haven’t estimated those costs, either; in fact, just 21 percent of them have. But that’s actually not that bad, when considering that among Americans overall, only 14 percent have actually done—or tried to do—the math.

And among those who have tried to calculate the cost, 66 percent put them at $100,000 or less while an astonishing 31 percent estimated just $25,000 or less.

9. People with just a high school education or less, and whites, are slightly more likely than those who went to college, and blacks, to have attempted to figure it out.

The great majority among all those demographic groups just aren’t looking at the numbers, with 88 percent of black respondents and 79 percent of white respondents saying they have not estimated how much money it will take to pay their medical costs throughout retirement.

And while 80 percent of those with a high school diploma or less say they haven’t run the numbers, those who spent more time in school have spent even less time doing the calculations—with 81 percent of those with some college and 82 percent of those who graduated college saying they have not estimated medical costs.

8. Millennials are the most likely to underestimate health care costs in retirement.

A whopping 74 percent of millennials are among those lowballing what they expect to spend on health care once they retire, figuring they won’t need more than $100,000—and possibly less.

Not that they really know; 85 percent haven’t actually tried to calculate their total health care expenses for retirement. But they must be believers in the amazing stretching dollar, with 42 percent planning to use general retirement savings as the primary means of paying for health expenses in retirement, excluding Medicare.

GenXers, by the way, were the most likely to guess correctly that the bill will probably be higher than $100,000—but even there, only 28 percent said so.

7. They have surprisingly unrealistic expectations about where they’ll get the money to pay for medical care.

Excluding Medicare, 34 percent intend to use their general retirement savings, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, pensions and IRAs, as the primary means of paying for care, while 25 percent are banking on their Social Security income, 7 percent would use health savings accounts (HSAs) and 6 percent would use emergency savings.

That last is particularly interesting, since so few people have successfully managed to set aside a sizeable emergency fund in the first place.

6. Despite their potential, HSAs just aren’t feasible for many because of their income.

HSAs do offer ways to set aside more money not just for medical bills in retirement but also to boost retirement savings overall, and come with fairly generous contribution limits. But people with lower incomes often can’t even hit the maximum for retirement accounts—so relying on an HSA might not be realistic for all but those with the highest incomes.

Yet people with lower incomes were more likely than those who made more to say HSAs would be the main way they’d pay for medical expenses. Among those who said they’d be relying on HSAs to pay for care in retirement, 5 percent of those with incomes less than $35,000 and 14 percent of those with incomes between $35,000–$50,000 said that would be the way they’d go.

Just 9 percent of those with incomes between $50,000–$75,000, 7 percent of those with incomes between $75,000–$100,000 and 9 percent of those with incomes above $100,000 chose them.

5. A few are planning on using an inheritance to pay for medical bills in retirement.

It’s probably not realistic, and there aren’t all that many, but some respondents are actually planning on an inheritance being the chief way they’ll pay for their medical expenses during retirement.

Millennials and GenXers were the most likely to say that, at 2 percent each—but they may not have considered that the money originally intended for an inheritance might end up going to pay for other things, such as caregiving or child care, and indeed much of their own retirement money could end up paying for care for elderly parents. A lot more people end up acting as caregivers—especially among the sandwich generation—and may find that relying on inheriting money from the people they’re caring for was not a realistic expectation.

4. Women don’t know, guess low.

Just 13 percent of women have gone to the trouble of estimating how much health care will cost them during retirement, but that didn’t stop 32 percent from putting that figure at $25,000 or less.

And that’s really bad news. It’s particularly important for women to be aware of the cost of health care, since not only do they not save enough for retirement to begin with—42 percent only contribute between 1–5 percent, the lowest level, compared with 34 percent of men, often thanks to lower salaries and absences from the workplace to raise children or act as caregivers—but their longer lifespans mean they’ll have more years in which to need health care and fewer options to obtain it other than by paying for it.

Men are frequently cared for by (predominantly female) caregivers at home, while women tend to outlive any family members who might be willing or able to do the same for them.

3. Men don’t know, but guess higher.

While the same percentage of women and men have not estimated their retirement health care expenses (81 percent), men were more likely than women (24 percent, compared with 15 percent) to come up with an estimate higher than $100,000.

2. The highest-income households are most likely to have tried to estimate medical cost needs during retirement.

Probably not surprisingly, households with an income of $100,000 or more were the most likely to have tried to pin a dollar figure to health care needs, with 21 percent saying they’d done so.

Households with incomes between $50,000–$75,000 were least likely to have done so, with just 11 percent of them trying to anticipate how much they’ll need.

And just because they have more money doesn’t mean their estimates were a whole lot more accurate—only 38 percent of those $100,000+ households thought they’d need more than $100,000 to see them through any needed medical care during retirement, while 59 percent—the great majority—figured they could get by on $100,000 or even less.

1. Where they live doesn’t seriously affect their estimates, although it will seriously affect their cost of care.

Among those who have tried to anticipate how much they’ll need in retirement for medical care, there’s not a huge difference among how many guessed too low—even though where they live can have a huge effect on how much they’ll end up paying, particularly for long-term care.

While the most expensive regions for LTC tend to be the northeast and the west coast, and the cheapest are the south and midwest, there’s not a great deal of variance among those who estimate they can get by on care for $100,000 or less—even if people live in one of the most expensive regions. Sixty-seven percent of those in the northeast said care wouldn’t cost more than that, while 63 percent of those in the midwest, 71 percent of those in the south and 61 percent of those in the west said the same thing.

When it came to those who said they’d need more than $100,000, 24 percent of those in the west thought they’d need that much; so did 20 percent of those in the midwest, just 18 percent of those in the northeast and 17 percent of those in the south.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 April 24). 10 misconceptions about saving for medical care in retirement [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/04/24/10-misconceptions-about-saving-for-medical-care-in?ref=hp-news&page_all=1


Employees Want Money More than Perks

Have you been trying to leverage your employee benefits as a way to attract and retain talent? Take a look at this great article from Benefits Pro about how employees still value money over the perks of employee benefits  Marlene Y. Satter.

There’s plenty of talk these days about all sorts of employee benefits that might help to attract and retain top talent — but when push comes to shove, it’s the dollar sign that has the most influence.

That’s according to a Paychex.com survey, which finds that in the employment conversation, money still talks the loudest. It’s not that people don’t want or like other benefits, such as health insurance, vacations and 401(k)s, but what they really want, what they really, really want is cold hard cash in the form of bonuses and raises. Regular bonuses, they say, are the most important job incentive.

However, asked about the benefits they do receive, survey respondents list a range of benefits, including health care, dental insurance, 401(k)s, casual dress days and free snacks, but bonuses only come in at eighth place. Least important to them of all are “nomadic days” — days on which they can work away from the office at the location of their choice.

Asked their salaries and which benefits they’d gladly give up in exchange for more money, there are quite a few — with low-cost benefits the most disposable. Millennials, perhaps unsurprisingly, make the least money at less than $47,000 a year, while boomers come in second (despite their longevity on the job) at just over $49,000 annually; GenXers are the best paid, at an average of more than $53,000.

And they all know the value of a buck. The top five most expendable benefits named are free coffee or snacks; casual dress days; company events or outings; discounts on company products; and discounts on other products. In fact, such “benefits” may actually backfire if companies think offering them instead of merit-based compensation or bonuses to induce greater productivity.

There’s certainly a disconnect between what employees say they value most and what employers believe are the most valuable options, with employees saying the most important to them are monetary bonuses, additional paid vacation time, and health and dental insurance.

Bosses, on the other hand, think employee morale benefits more from paid vacations, bonuses and finally paid maternity leave and vision and dental insurance.

To show how out of touch employers can be, employers rate health care just above lunch breaks in terms of morale-boosting importance, despite its value to employees.

Considering that low-wage jobs are associated with higher rates of employee turnover, the study points out that providing employees with a salary increase could cut the costs associated with recruitment and training.

Of course, smaller companies tend to offer fewer, and less expansive, benefits than larger companies, with employers of fewer than 100 more likely to offer employees casual dress days or free snacks than they are to provide them with the considerably more important benefit of health insurance. But on the flip side, smaller companies are also more likely to offer bonuses than are larger companies, and indeed employees rank those bonuses above health care, dental insurance, and 401(k) plans in importance.

And the benefits on offer could depend on the age of the boss, with millennials more willing to offer employees commission and sales bonuses, paid gym memberships and student loan reimbursement while Gen Xers hit on all cylinders in offering bonuses, paid maternity leave and on-site health and wellness services.

Boomers, alas, seem stuck in the dark ages when it comes to modern benefit offerings, reluctant to see the benefit of such perks as bonuses, nomadic days and paid maternity leave; in addition, they’re really resistant to such things as student loan reimbursement and paid professional development.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 April 28). Employees want money more than perks [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/04/28/employees-want-money-more-than-perks?ref=hp-news&page_all=1