ACA Revamp Odds Slip as Senate Gets New Expiration Date

Timeframe to repeal and replace has just shortened. Find out how this new timeline for the repeal of ACA will impact Senate and their plan for healthcare in this informative column by Laura Litvan from Think Advisor.

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Affordable Care Act change bill with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only overhaul of the health care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a "major victory" for those who oppose Affordable Care Act de-funding.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their ACA de-funding and change bill in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

At the same time, some senators are discussing a scaled-back, bipartisan health measure. It takes 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and Democrats are united against de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, or the kinds of Affordable Care Act program changes proposed in the bills that have reached the House or Senate floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled four hearings this month to examine bolstering the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, have pledged a bipartisan effort to shore up the exchanges, which provide consumers a place to purchase individual coverage with help from Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Affordable Care Act change effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for consideration under the budget reconciliation rules, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

Republicans can still try to use the budget reconciliation process to get an Affordable Care Act change bill through the Senate with just a 51-vote majority, rather than a 60-vote majority, during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The House Budget Committee has drafted a fiscal 2018 budget that could be used for both de-funding the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. That budget may come to the floor in mid-September, and the Senate Budget Committee hopes to release its version of the budget in the coming weeks. Still, putting a tax overhaul and Affordable Care Act de-funding in the same legislation would be time-consuming and unlikely.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Litvan L. (2017 September 1). ACA revamp odds slip as senate gets new expiration date [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2017/09/01/aca-revamp-odds-slip-as-senate-gets-new-expiration?t=health-insurance?ref=channel-top-news


Wellness Programs – Getting Started and Remaining Compliant

Are you looking to set up a wellness program at your company. Here is a great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Hope DeRocha on what you need to know when setting up your wellness program.

Where to Start?

First, expand the usual scope of wellness activity to well-BEING. Include initiatives that support more than just physical fitness, such as career growth, social needs, financial health, and community involvement. By doing this you increase your chances of seeing a return on investment (ROI) and a return on value (ROV). Qualitative results of a successful program are just as valuable as seeing a financial impact of a healthier population.

Wellness program ROI and ROV

Source: Katherine Baicker, David Cutler, and Zirui Song, “Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings,” Health Affairs, February 2010, 29(2): pp 304-311

To create a corporate culture of well-being and ensure the success of your program, there are a few important steps.

  1. Leadership Support: Programs with leadership support have the highest level of participation. Gain leadership support by having them participate in the programs, give recognition to involved employees, support employee communication, allow use of on-site space, approve of employees spending time on coordinating and facilitating initiatives, and define the budget. Even though you do not need a budget to be successful.
  2. Create a Committee or Designate a Champion: Do not take this on by yourself. Create a well-being committee, or identify a champion, to share the responsibility and necessary actions of coordinating a program.
  3. Strategic Plan: Create a three-year strategic plan with a mission statement, budget, realistic goals, and measurement tools. Creating a plan like this takes some work and coordination, but the benefits are significant. You can create a successful well-being program with little to no budget, but you need to know what your realistic goals are and have a plan to make them a reality.
  4. Tools and Resources: Gather and take advantage of available resources. Tools and resources from your broker and/or carrier can help make managing a program much easier. Additionally, an employee survey will help you focus your efforts and accommodate your employees’ immediate needs.

How to Remain Compliant?

As always, remaining compliant can be an unplanned burden on employers. Whether you have a wellness or well-being program, each has their own compliance considerations and requirements to be aware of. However, don’t let that stop your organization from taking action.

There are two types of programs – Group Health Plans (GHP) and Non-Group Health Plans (Non-GHP). The wellness regulations vary depending on the type of employer and whether the program is considered a GHP or Non-GHP.

Group health plan compliance table

Employers looking to avoid some of the compliance burden should design their well-being program to be a Non-GHP. Generally, a well-being program is Non-GHP if it is offered to all employees regardless of their enrollment in the employer’s health plan and does not provide or pay for “medical care.” For example, employees receive $100 for attending a class on nutrition. Here are some other tips to keep your well-being program Non-GHP:

  • Financial: Do not pay for medical services (e.g., flu shots, biometric screenings, etc.) or provide medical care. Financial incentives or rewards must be taxed. Do not provide premium discounts or surcharges.
  • Voluntary Participation: Include all employees, but do not mandate participation. Make activities easily accessible to those with disabilities or provide a reasonable alternative. Make the program participatory (i.e., educational, seminars, newsletters) rather than health-contingent (i.e., require participants to get BMI below 30 or keep cholesterol below 200). Do not penalize individuals for not participating.
  • Health Information: Do not collect genetic data, including family medical history. Any medical records, or information obtained, must be kept confidential. Avoid Health Risk Assessments (i.e. health surveys) that provide advice and analysis with personalized coaching or ask questions about genetics/family medical history.

See the original article Here.

Source:

DeRocha H. (2017 Aug 15). Wellness programs-getting started and remaining compliant ik[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/wellness-programs-getting-started-and-remaining-compliant


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


Risk Insights: Donating to Disasters and Avoiding Scams

Hurricane Harvey is the strongest storm to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. News of the damage it has caused to southeastern Texas is prompting people to help in whatever ways they can. Unfortunately, there are dishonest people who prey upon people’s good intentions, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.

How to Avoid Scams

Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it is important to do some research before donating. Consider the following best practices to ensure that your resources go to a legitimate charity with experience in disaster relief:

  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers. Once you wire the money, you’ll probably never get it back.
  • Be cautious about bloggers and social media posts that provide charity suggestions. Don’t assume that the person recommending the charity has fully researched the organization’s credibility.
  • Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through emails. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate.
  • Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.
  • Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. That is often a false claim, as well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
  • Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your driver’s license. However, it is common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address, and it is safe for you to provide it.

How to Choose a Charity

Even legitimate charities need to be considered with care. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not have the resources needed to get your money to its intended recipients.

Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on a website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support.

Gaining popularity for charitable donations is a crowdfunding website called GoFundMe, which allows people to raise money for a wide variety of circumstances. Despite its popularity, visitors to the site should be cautious about the campaigns to which they donate. Visitors can report suspicious campaigns directly to GoFundMe via its official website or to their state’s consumer protection hotline.

National Organizations

The following national organizations have long-standing reputations for providing disaster relief and accepting donations:

  • The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to people affected by disasters.
  • AmeriCares takes medicine and supplies to survivors.
  • Catholic Charities USA supports disaster response and recovery efforts that include direct assistance, rebuilding and health care services.
  • The Salvation Army provides shelter and emergency services to displaced individuals.

Remember that there are other ways to provide disaster relief that don’t involve monetary donations, especially if you live near the affected area. Local food banks and blood centers commonly ask for donations during relief efforts.

To download the full article click here.


Employers Broadening Health Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


How Health Coaching can Revitalize a Workforce

Do you need help revitalizing your workforce? Check out this great column by Paul Turner from Employee Benefit Advisor and see how health coaching can be a great way to increase engagement and productivity among your employees.

Nearly 50% of Americans live with at least one chronic illness, and millions more have lifestyle habits that increase their risk of health problems in the future, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pulmonary disease and other conditions account for more than 75% of the $2 trillion spent annually on medical care in the U.S.

Employers have a stake in improving on these discouraging statistics. People spend a good portion of their lives at work, where good health habits can be cultivated and then integrated into their personal lives. While chronic diseases often can’t be cured, many risk factors can be mitigated with good health behaviors, positive and consistent lifestyle habits and adherence to medication and treatment plans. Moreover, healthy behaviors — like smoking cessation, weight management, and exercise — can help prevent people from developing a chronic disease in the first place.

Companies that sponsor well-being programs realize the benefits of a healthier and more vital employee population, with lower rates of absenteeism and improved productivity. Investing in such programs can yield a significant return — particularly from condition management programs for costly chronic diseases.

Digitally-based well-being programs in particular are powerful motivators to adopt healthy behaviors. Yet for many employees, dealing with difficult health challenges can be daunting and digital wellness tools may not offer them sufficient support. Combining these health technologies with the skill and support of a health coach, however, can be a winning approach for greater workplace well-being. The benefits of coaching can also extend to employees that are currently healthy. People without a known condition may still struggle with stress, sleep issues, and lack of exercise, and the guidance of a coach can address risk factors and help prevent future health problems.

Choosing a health coach

Coaching is an investment, and the more rigor that employers put into the selection of a coaching team, the better the results. Coaches should be a credentialed Certified Health Education Specialist or a healthcare professional, such as a registered nurse or dietician, who is extensively trained in motivational interviewing. It also helps when a coach has a specialty accreditation in an area such as nutrition, exercise physiology, mental health or diabetes management. Such training allows the coach to respond effectively to highly individualized needs.

This sort of personalization is essential. A good coach will recognize that each wellness program participant is motivated by a different set of desires and rewards and is undermined by their own unique combination of doubts, fears and temptations. They build trust and confidence by helping employees identify the emotional triggers that may lead them to overeat, smoke or fail to stick with their treatment plans and healthy lifestyle behaviors.

What works for one employee, does not work for another. A 50-year-old trying to quit smoking may need the personal touch of a meeting or phone conversation to connect with her coach; a 30-year-old focused on stress management might prefer email or texting. It’s important for the coaching team to accommodate these preferences.

Working with our employer clients, WebMD has seen what rigorous coaching can achieve:
· A 54% quit rate for participants in a 12-week smoking-cessation program
· Successful weight loss for 68% of those who joined a weight-management program
· A nearly 33% reduction in known health risks for relatively healthy employees in a lifestyle coaching program
· A corresponding 28% health risk reduction for employees with a known condition who received condition management coaching.

Coaching is more likely to succeed when it is part of a comprehensive wellness program carried out in an environment where employee well-being is clearly emphasized by the employer and its managers. WebMD popularizes the saying that ‘When the coach is in, everybody wins.’ Qualified health coaching may be the missing ingredient that helps an employer achieve its well-being goals and energize its workforce.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Turner P. (2017 July 27). How health coaching can revitalize a workforce [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-health-coaching-can-revitalize-a-workforce?feed=00000152-1387-d1cc-a5fa-7fffaf8f0000


CenterStage...Assure Elite: Could You Better Control Your Healthcare Renewal Costs?

Assure Elite is a partnership between Hierl Insurance, Network Health, and Agnesian Healthcare. It was specifically designed for employers in Fond du Lac, Dodge, and Green Lake counties. Assure Elite is a level-funded product, which means you benefit from the predictable, fixed monthly costs of a fully insured plan, but only pay for the health care your employees actually receive. Rates are underwritten so your premiums are based only on your employee’s (and their dependents) health status rather than being pooled with other employer groups that may not be as healthy. No more paying more due to the unhealthy conditions of others, which drives up the cost.

The Assure Elite plan allows employers to pay a flat rate each month to cover employees. If actual medical expenses are less than what the employer paid in a year, they'll get 50 percent of the difference back. If costs are higher, they won't be required to pay more. Level-funded plans can save eligible groups up to 30 percent versus a fully insured ACA plan. This type of plan design lacks the volatility often associated with self-insured plans that can cripple small businesses. Additionally, level funding is another way small businesses can get around ACA requirements such as state mandated benefits and premium taxes.

So, for small groups, the question is why not explore a level-funded plan?  With savings up to 30 percent, there is very little reason not to consider a quote!

"Every group with 2+ employees should be looking at these plan offerings! We’ve seen premiums reduce significantly with these plans. Companies can’t continue to take the financial burden of year-over-year increases on their medical premiums. We found a way, through Assure Elite, to solve the problem plaguing business owners. Assure Elite offers the same, if not better, coverage options with deep discounts that lower premiums. It’s a win-win."

 - Tonya Bahr, Employee Benefits Advisor at Hierl.

 

UNIQUELY DESIGNED PLANS

Q: While uniquely designed for 2-100 employees, tell me how larger organizations can also benefit from this plan?

A: As groups increase in size, we have more flexibility in how we finance health plans as well as with plan design. The provider discounts available through Assure Elite are also available for groups with 100+ employees.

Q: What are some of the main advantages of gaining access to Agnesian's Know & Go program?

A: For companies that already have a wellness program in place, this is a great added value. There is no additional charge for the Know & Go program. It includes a health risk assessment questionnaire, biometric screenings, one-on-one wellness coaching, and an employee portal with educational materials, food and exercise trackers, online workshops, and more.

Agnesian’s Know & Go program, which provides education and other services aimed at promoting healthy living, serves as a wellness benefit for Assure Elite plans.

“Agnesian HealthCare is excited to partner with Network Health and Hierl Insurance to offer an employer-sponsored health plan that provides cost certainty and improves the well-being of the citizens in the communities we serve,” said Steve Little, Agnesian HealthCare president, and CEO.

AFFORDABLE AND COST EFFECTIVE 

Q: How does this program provide the security of a fully insured plan with the advantages of a self-funded plan?

A: An employer experiences the convenience of predictable, fixed monthly costs just like a fully insured plan, but only pay for the care their employees/dependents receive through claim costs. The result - the elimination of cash flow concerns some businesses have regarding self-funding. If claims are less than the amount funded at the end of the policy year, employers get 50% of the funding surplus back. If claims are over the funded amount, the company is protected by stop loss coverage. Unlike traditional self-funding, an employer will never pay more than the maximum claim cost, which is the premium due each month.

Q: How does Assure Elite help control renewal costs?

A: Assure Elite offers deep discounts at Agnesian Healthcare and within Network Health’s footprint in Fond du Lac, Dodge, and Green Lake counties. These discounts are only available through this product offering and there’s potential for some groups to receive a 2-year rate guarantee.

IMMEDIATE ACCESS

You don’t have to wait until your next renewal to get a quote. There’s no reason to not look at the options and rates available now so you can reap the financial rewards sooner.

Q: How long does it take to get a quote?

A: The turnaround time for an initial/base quote is quick. To secure final rates, members need to go through the underwriting process, which can be done through paper applications or online.

For more information about level funding or the Assure Elite plans, please contact us at 920-921-5921 or hierlquotes@hierl.com.

To download the full article click here.


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


Benefits Technology: What do Employers Want?

Do you know which technology will be the most beneficial for your employee benefits program? Take a look at this article by Kimberly Landry from Benefits Pro on what employers should be looking for when searching for the right technology for the benefits program.

It’s no secret that we are in the midst of a revolution in how employers manage their insurance benefits. Enrolling and administering benefits was once a manual process involving plenty of paperwork, but much of this work has now shifted to electronic benefits platforms. A recent LIMRA survey, Convenient and Connected: How Are Employers Using Technology Today?, found that 59 percent of employers are now using a technology platform for insurance benefit enrollment, administration, or both. In addition, more than 1 in 3 firms that do not use technology are currently looking for a platform.

Brokers can provide value to their clients by helping them find a technology system that meets their needs. In fact, over one quarter of employers say their broker should have primary responsibility for researching and evaluating possible technology solutions. However, to do this successfully, it is necessary to understand what problems employers are trying to solve with technology.

The advantages of benefits technology tend to fall into two categories: improving the experience for HR/benefits staff and improving the experience for employees. While employers see the value of both aspects, it is clear that the desire for technology is driven more by HR needs such as reducing costs, improving management of benefits data, and reducing the time and resources needed to administer benefits, rather than employee needs (Figure X). In seeking technology, employers are, first and foremost, trying to make their own lives easier.

This provides insight into some of the key features employers are seeking in technology, many of which revolve around greater convenience in managing benefits. For example, 80 percent of employers say it is important for a technology platform to be accessible all year so they can use it for ongoing administration and updates, rather than a “one-and-done” enrollment system. Ongoing access is one of the top features employers look for in a platform, with sizable portions also specifying that they want a system that can enroll new hires and support ongoing life event and coverage changes.

I would love to find a product … that would allow us to reduce the amount of time that we spend during the enrollment process and also during the course of a year, adding employees or terminating employees.

—Employer with 65 employees (Voice of the Employer,LIMRA, 2016)

Similarly, 77 percent of employers want a technology system that can manage all of their benefits on the same platform, regardless of which carriers are providing the products. Consolidating benefits on one platform helps employers save time and allows them to quickly get a complete view of their overall benefits package in one place. In fact, employers that currently manage all of their benefits on one platform are more satisfied with their technology than those that don’t have this capability. Moreover, roughly 1 in 6 employers say the ability to handle all benefits in one place would motivate them to switch technology platforms.

Employers also want the convenience of a platform that integrates smoothly with other technology systems, including carrier, payroll, and HRIS systems. When it comes to carrier systems, employers want to feel confident that no errors are occurring in the data transfer and don’t want to spend a lot of time checking for mistakes.

Our HR benefits administrator has spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to, literally person by person, dependent by dependent, go through each little piece and figure out why somebody's kid is getting dropped…So I think I'd like to see those communications [work] a little bit better.

—Employer with 320 employees

Employers also want technology to integrate with their payroll and other HRIS systems so they do not have to make changes in multiple systems, which is perceived as time-consuming and inefficient.

And those two systems...they don't communicate with each other... Without that communication, it's almost like double work because if there's an address change or anything like that, you have to go to one system, then go to another, and that just seems broken to me.

—Employer with 32 employees

While employers are primarily seeking convenience for their own HR staff, it is important to note that they would like this value to extend to their employees as well. Overall, 85 percent of employers think it’s important that an enrollment platform be easy and intuitive for their employees to use. In fact, user-friendliness is often one of the first priorities that comes to mind when employers describe their ideal platform.

I want to make sure it's easy, as simple as possible, as fast as possible, and I don't want it to be a burden every year.

—Employer with 30,000 employees 

When it comes to selecting benefits technology, it is clear that convenience is key. By guiding employers to technology solutions that will make it quicker and easier to administer benefits, brokers can improve the experience for everyone involved and help the industry move into the future.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Landry K. (2017 July 21). Benefits technology: what do employers want? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/07/21/benefits-technology-what-do-employers-want?kw=Benefits+technology%3A+What+do+employers+want%3F&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170721&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Daily&page_all=1


How to Meet Growing Demands for Bigger, Better Voluntary Plans

Has there been an increase in demand from your employees to offer more voluntary benefits? Check out this great article by Whitney Ehret from Employee Benefits Adviser on what you can do to meet your employees' demand for more voluntary benefits.

Over the years, voluntary benefits or worksite products have unfortunately earned a negative reputation in the marketplace. This is largely due to overzealous carriers with aggressive sales tactics and brokers purely seeking higher commissions.

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, employers began to shift more of the benefits cost to employees via high-deductible health plans, increased coinsurance costs and copays. The majority of today’s workforce is comprised of millennials, coupled with Generation Z quickly entering the workforce. There’s no question: traditional employer benefit offerings are about to undergo some major changes.

With a new administration in place and increasing generational challenges, employers are becoming more open to creative ideas to improve their total benefits offering. Today’s voluntary benefits market isn’t shy of options, which in turn makes things quite confusing. Companies will need to shift focus from traditional offerings and begin to get more resourceful — not only with the products they offer, but also with their entire strategy. Communications, enrollment and marketing will all become especially critical in retaining and attracting top talent in the coming months and years.

For the most part, the majority of brokers and employers are somewhat familiar with the top voluntary products in the market: dental, vision, accident, critical illness, cancer, hospital indemnity, disability and life insurance. Those are traditionally the products that spark initial voluntary benefit conversations, although there are many more — including legal, identity theft, auto/home, pet, employee purchasing programs, unemployment gap, tuition and loan assistance programs.

For the remainder of 2017, the conversation is predicted to still involve the top voluntary products, but shift to a new focus. Nearly two thirds of employers are looking to voluntary benefits to reduce overall financial stress on employees, the 2016 Xerox HR Services Financial Wellbeing & Voluntary Benefits Survey found. Integrating voluntary benefits with core benefits may reduce financial stress that ultimately leads to health issues and higher overall benefit costs.

The main goal of these products is to provide employees with cash resources, paid directly to the insured, should they experience an unexpected life event. Insureds can use these payments for anything they choose: mortgage, rent, groceries, deductibles, coinsurance payments, copays and more. Compared to state disability programs, these payments are generally made more quickly and offer a simpler claim filing process. If an employee is faced with a difficult situation, these conveniences can greatly reduce stress during a highly sensitive and vulnerable time.

Financial wellbeing is the focus
A recent Employee Benefit News article found 89% of millennials are interested in receiving financial advice, yet only 58% have been offered this type of assistance. With the majority of the workforce now comprised of millennials, employers will need to offer more diverse benefit options that are tailored to this population.

Millennials aren’t the only ones who are concerned about their financial wellbeing. The MetLife’s U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study found 49% of employees are concerned, anxious, or fearful about their current financial situation, 72% said that a customized benefits package increases loyalty and only 27% are satisfied with their progress toward paying down student loans. These statistics demonstrate the immediate need for a comprehensive voluntary benefit offering.

Student loan debt is an issue for all generations in the workforce. Whether the individual is a millennial trying to get established and create wealth, a Gen X employee who is struggling with existing student loan debt family debt and saving for retirement, or a baby boomer who is trying to help support the family’s educational needs — namely children and grandchildren — everyone, at some level, has a need for student loan assistance.

Additionally, most voluntary products offer wellness benefits, which is a direct payment to the individual for completing an annual wellness exam. With amounts ranging between $50-$200 (employer selected), this is pure profit to the individual, since ACA requires preventative exams to be covered 100% by insurance carriers.

In addition, this benefit helps to subsidize the actual cost of the product annually. There are carriers in the market that will pay this benefit multiple times in a single year for a single insured.

Increasingly, companies are getting involved with wellness specific initiatives and incentives for their employees to hopefully drive healthy habits that will, in turn, lower healthcare costs and increase workplace satisfaction. To promote these wellness programs, employers offer reduced pricing on their medical plans or make contributions into a medical savings account if employees complete their annual exams or participate in various wellness activities. Offering voluntary products with a wellness benefit is another way to enhance a company’s total health portfolio at no cost to the employer.

Carrier selection Is key
Like many other industries, this business is all about relationships. Brokers and employers need to be able to trust and rely on their voluntary benefits carriers. As HR staffing has shrunk and brokers are required to provide more services with the same resources, it’s imperative that the appropriate carrier is selected for each unique case.

Voluntary benefits, as “cookie-cutter” as we may perceive them to be, are just not that. Since their onset, voluntary benefits have come with administrative obstacles that have historically taken up too much of HR’s time.

Unfortunately, while these products do provide a valuable benefit to employees, they are not the priority for most employers. Employers don’t often care about how many products they are offering as long as the plans aren’t administrative-heavy, the 2016 Employee Benefit News annual survey found. Carriers recognize this issue, and have steadily made improvements to these processes over recent years.

There are carriers in the marketplace today that allow clients to self-bill and self-pay, which is essentially what employers are already used to doing on their basic and supplemental group life and AD&D plans. For claims issues, they have also made this process easier by making it electronic and not requiring extensive information from the employees in the claims-filing process.

Core carriers (traditional medical carriers) are also beginning to get into the worksite market and are further simplifying the claims process by linking their medical system with their voluntary system. This allows the carrier to proactively initiate claims and file complete claims for the insured since the majority of the claims information is already within the single carrier system.

The other benefit to offering voluntary plans with the core medical carrier is that often some products may provide additional benefits if employees have a certain medical condition. For example, voluntary dental plans will provide more cleaning exams per year if an insured is pregnant. Most insureds would not realize they have this benefit, but by linking these systems with a core carrier, the insured makes sure to get the most out of their plan.

Communication style and strategy are imperative 
Not only is it important to consider the products and carriers that are offered, but also how they are enrolled and communicated. From the voluntary benefits perspective, these products have typically been enrolled face to face with employees. While this may be the best way to fully educate employees on their benefit options, that is no longer the future of employee benefits enrollment.

ACA has also helped enrollment move to the electronic platform because of the requirements made on employers for reporting. Millennials are the technology generation, making them naturally comfortable using technology to enroll and learn about benefits and even be treated by a virtual doctor.

Employers are trending toward a more self-service enrollment environment, which brings its own challenges. Most of these systems are built with decision tools that allow for the enrollment experience to be customized to the employee. These tools will make plan recommendations for the employees based on the answers to health and financial questions. Often, videos within the enrollment site are used to further enhance the educational experience.

Some of the main problems with electronic enrollments include keeping employees engaged, offering voluntary benefit products and carriers that work with the system, keeping costs low or free for the employer and ensuring data accuracy and security.

A company’s overall benefits package is becoming increasingly important in the decision-making process for prospective employees, as well as to retain top industry talent. Employers, rightfully so, are concerned about cost and maintaining this delicate balance while still attempting to manage the complex administration of these plans.

More and more, employers are looking for voluntary benefits to solve this need by offering “free” technology and enrollment solutions to their groups. There is no doubt that if employers want to retain and attract top talent, they are going to have to adapt with the market and offer their employees a wide array of benefit options and new technology that is tailored to their employee needs.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Ehret W. (2017 July 24). How to meet growing demands for bigger, better voluntary plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-meet-growing-demands-for-bigger-better-voluntary-plans