SHRM Connect: Mental Health Issues in the Workplace - What Would You Do?

Are you a SHRM member and/or HR professional? In this article from SHRM by Mary Kaylor, she dives into what SHRM Connect is and how you can get involved!

You can read the original article here.


SHRM Connect is an online community where SHRM members can ask questions and get answers on a variety of HR topics. It’s a great place to network with other HR professionals and share solutions.

The conversation topics range from “HR Department of One” to Employment Law, are always insightful, and deal with some of the most pressing issues that HR professionals face in the workplace today.

While some of the conversations take on a more serious tone, others will deliver a bit of comic relief -- and on Fridays, I’ll be highlighting a conversation or two in hopes that you’ll take some time to visit. You may want to "lurk"… perhaps respond, but you’ll always learn something.

It’s a great community and I highly recommend checking it out.

While May is officially Mental Health Awareness month, HR must deal with employee mental health issues, and their effects on the workplace, all year long. This week’s highlighted conversations involve a few different scenarios. What would you do?

Subject: Self Harming

In the General HR area, a poster asks for advice on how to handle about a perceived case of self harming:

We have a new(er) employee that was observed by another employee to have cuts up and down her arm. The employee brought it to our attention out of concern. We thanked the employee and asked that she keep it confidential. We do not offer an EAP.

My thought is to speak with the employee that is self harming and let her know what was observed and just check in and see if she is ok. If she says everything is good, just leave it at that. If she mentions something is going on...or if she needs to seek treatment etc, go down that road.

For those of you who have experience with this, is this an ok approach? Is it best to not address it with the employee? Any other resources, since an EAP is not an option?

Thanks!

To read/respond to this conversation, please click here.

* * * * *

Subject: Alcohol and Discussion of Suicide

In the General HR area, another poster asks for advice on monitoring an employee:

Know of an employee with an alcohol problem who has gone through treatment and released to return to work by the treating facility. Prior to admittance, she talked about suicide. What follow-ups by the employer would you suggest, other than a monitoring agreement for a period of time?

To read/respond to this conversation, please click here.

* * * * *

Subject: WWYD

In the General HR area, yet another poster is wondering how others would handle a case of an employee with anxiety – and lots of absences:

I was hoping to get opinions on this situation, and I believe I know the correct way to follow up but I was interested to see what others would say.

We hired a non-exempt employee in July of this year. Since that time, this employee had 6 unexcused absences, and two preplanned days off. We accrue and allow employees to use their vacation leave from day one, and this employee essentially used all the time throughout the end of the year. Sick time is not available for employees until they've been employed for 90 days. This employee stated about a month ago after one of their absences that they has very bad anxiety, but does not have insurance they are unable to get medication or see a doctor. This employee never asked for any type of accommodation, and we actually even provided resources to assist with their anxiety. All of the times they called out after that conversation were simply because "i feel bad and can't come in". I received copies of the texts and they're pretty vague. They called out again on Tuesday after having a pre-planned half day off on Friday, and we decided to give the employee a final written warning with a 60 day timeframe to improve their attendance. Unfortunately the employee called out again yesterday with a very vague explanation and stated that 'I still feel pretty bad'.

After speaking with the managers over this department, we decided to terminate employment due to excessive absences. I explained that to the employee in the phone call and gave them an opportunity to explain themselves. I tried to create a dialogue in the event that we were missing something, but I just got 'heh. oh okay.'

Now this morning, I received a page long email stating this employee has rights under HIPAA that they didn't have to disclose the anxiety disorders that they have (we never asked, they disclosed it voluntarily). Also stated that they would have expected a written warning for their excessive absenteeism but not the fact we separated employment. They go on to blame us for other areas of lacking (training, etc) but said we amplified the anxiety problem because of the amount of training we were giving them.

I feel like this employee is looking for anyone to blame. It's an unfortunate situation but as an employer, we cannot read employees minds. If an employee needs an accommodation due to a medical condition, aren't they supposed to request it? How are we supposed to help with vague callouts?

Thoughts?

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Taylor M. (22 September 2017). "SHRM Connect: Mental Health Issues in the Workplace - What Would You Do?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/shrm-connect-mental-health-issues-in-the-workplace-what-would-you-do


What You Need to Know about Health Flexible Spending Accounts

Are you having a hard time figuring out how a FSAs works? Take a look at this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla and found out everything you need to know about FSAs.


A health flexible spending account (FSA) is a pre-tax account used to pay for out-of-pocket health care costs for a participant as well as a participant's spouse and eligible dependents. Health FSAs are employer-established benefit plans and may be offered with other employer-provided benefits as part of a cafeteria plan. Self-employed individuals are not eligible for FSAs.

Even though a health FSA may be extended to any employee, employers should design their health FSAs so that participation is offered only to employees who are eligible to participate in the employer's major medical plan. Generally, health FSAs must qualify as excepted benefits, which means other nonexcepted group health plan coverage must be available to the health FSA's participants for the year through their employment. If a health FSA fails to qualify as an excepted benefit, then this could result in excise taxes of $100 per participant per day or other penalties.

Contributing to an FSA

Money is set aside from the employee's paycheck before taxes are taken out and the employee may use the money to pay for eligible health care expenses during the plan year. The employer owns the account, but the employee contributes to the account and decides which medical expenses to pay with it.

At the beginning of the plan year, a participant must designate how much to contribute so the employer can deduct an amount every pay day in accordance with the annual election. A participant may contribute with a salary reduction agreement, which is a participant election to have an amount voluntarily withheld by the employer. A participant may change or revoke an election only if there is a change in employment or family status that is specified by the plan.

Per the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), FSAs are capped at $2,600 per year per employee. However, since a plan may have a lower annual limit threshold, employees are encouraged to review their Summary Plan Description (SPD) to find out the annual limit of their plan. A participant's spouse can put $2,600 in an FSA with the spouse's own employer. This applies even if both spouses participate in the same health FSA plan sponsored by the same employer.

Generally, employees must use the money in an FSA within the plan year or they lose the money left in the FSA account. However, employers may offer either a grace period of up to two and a half months following the plan year to use the money in the FSA account or allow a carryover of up to $500 per year to use in the following year.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 29). What you need to know about health flexible spending accounts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-health-flexible-spending-accounts-1


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

Apple, Fitbit to join FDA program to speed health tech

Wondering how technology can speed the process of developing health tech? In this article from BenefitsPro written by Anna Edney, gain a close insight on how Apple and Fitbit are working together with the FDA to make your health of vital importance.

You can read the original article here.


A federal agency that regulates apples wants to make regulations on Apple Inc. a little easier.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees new drugs, medical devices and much of the U.S. food supply, said Tuesday that it had selected nine major tech companies for a pilot program that may let them avoid some regulations that have tied up developers working on health software and products.

“We need to modernize our regulatory framework so that it matches the kind of innovation we’re being asked to evaluate,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

The program is meant to let the companies get products pre-cleared rather than going through the agency’s standard application and approval process that can take months. Along with Apple, Fitbit Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Verily Life Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding AG will participate.

 

A new report and video from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) identifies six promising practices for effectively integrating wearables...
The FDA program is meant to help the companies more rapidly develop new products while maintaining some government oversight of technology that may be used by patients or their doctors to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions.

Apple is studying whether its watch can detect heart abnormalities. The process it will go through to make sure it’s using sound quality metrics and other measures won’t be as costly and time-consuming as when the government clears a new pacemaker, for example. Verily, the life sciences arm of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is working with Novartis AG to develop a contact lens that could continuously monitor the body’s blood sugar.

Faster Pace

“Historically, health care has been slow to implement disruptive technology tools that have transformed other areas of commerce and daily life,” Gottlieb said in July when he announced that digital health manufacturers could apply for the pilot program.

Officially dubbed the Pre-Cert for Software Pilot, Gottlieb at the time called it “a new and pragmatic approach to digital health technology.”

The other companies included in the pilot are Pear Therapeutics Inc., Phosphorus Inc. and Tidepool.

The program is part of a broader move at the FDA, particularly since Gottlieb took over in May, to streamline regulation and get medical products to patients faster. The commissioner said last week the agency will clarify how drugmakers might use data from treatments already approved in some disease to gain approvals for more conditions. In July, he delayed oversight of electronic cigarettes while the agency decides what information it will need from makers of the products.

Rules Uncertainty

As Silicon Valley developers have pushed into health care, the industry has been at times uncertain about when it needed the FDA’s approval. In 2013, the consumer gene-testing company 23andMe Inc. was ordered by the agency to temporarily stop selling its health analysis product until it was cleared by regulators, for example.

Under the pilot, the FDA will scrutinize digital health companies’ software and will inspect their facilities to ensure they meet quality standards and can adequately track their products once they’re on the market. If they pass the agency’s audits, the companies would be pre-certified and may face a less stringent approval process or not have to go through FDA approval at all.

More than 100 companies were interested in the pilot, according to the FDA. The agency plans to hold a public workshop on the program in January to help developers not in the pilot understand the process and four months of initial findings.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Edeny A. (27 September 2017). "Apple, Fitbit to join FDA program to speed health tech" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/27/apple-fitbit-to-join-fda-program-to-speed-health-t

Wondering how technology can speed the process of developing health tech? In this article from BenefitsPro written by Anna Edney, gain a close insight on how Apple and Fitbit are working together with the FDA to make your health of vital importance.

You can read the original article here.


A federal agency that regulates apples wants to make regulations on Apple Inc. a little easier.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees new drugs, medical devices and much of the U.S. food supply, said Tuesday that it had selected nine major tech companies for a pilot program that may let them avoid some regulations that have tied up developers working on health software and products.

“We need to modernize our regulatory framework so that it matches the kind of innovation we’re being asked to evaluate,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

The program is meant to let the companies get products pre-cleared rather than going through the agency’s standard application and approval process that can take months. Along with Apple, Fitbit Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Verily Life Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding AG will participate.

 

A new report and video from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) identifies six promising practices for effectively integrating wearables...
The FDA program is meant to help the companies more rapidly develop new products while maintaining some government oversight of technology that may be used by patients or their doctors to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions.

Apple is studying whether its watch can detect heart abnormalities. The process it will go through to make sure it’s using sound quality metrics and other measures won’t be as costly and time-consuming as when the government clears a new pacemaker, for example. Verily, the life sciences arm of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is working with Novartis AG to develop a contact lens that could continuously monitor the body’s blood sugar.

Faster Pace

“Historically, health care has been slow to implement disruptive technology tools that have transformed other areas of commerce and daily life,” Gottlieb said in July when he announced that digital health manufacturers could apply for the pilot program.

Officially dubbed the Pre-Cert for Software Pilot, Gottlieb at the time called it “a new and pragmatic approach to digital health technology.”

The other companies included in the pilot are Pear Therapeutics Inc., Phosphorus Inc. and Tidepool.

The program is part of a broader move at the FDA, particularly since Gottlieb took over in May, to streamline regulation and get medical products to patients faster. The commissioner said last week the agency will clarify how drugmakers might use data from treatments already approved in some disease to gain approvals for more conditions. In July, he delayed oversight of electronic cigarettes while the agency decides what information it will need from makers of the products.

Rules Uncertainty

As Silicon Valley developers have pushed into health care, the industry has been at times uncertain about when it needed the FDA’s approval. In 2013, the consumer gene-testing company 23andMe Inc. was ordered by the agency to temporarily stop selling its health analysis product until it was cleared by regulators, for example.

Under the pilot, the FDA will scrutinize digital health companies’ software and will inspect their facilities to ensure they meet quality standards and can adequately track their products once they’re on the market. If they pass the agency’s audits, the companies would be pre-certified and may face a less stringent approval process or not have to go through FDA approval at all.

More than 100 companies were interested in the pilot, according to the FDA. The agency plans to hold a public workshop on the program in January to help developers not in the pilot understand the process and four months of initial findings.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Edeny A. (27 September 2017). "Apple, Fitbit to join FDA program to speed health tech" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/27/apple-fitbit-to-join-fda-program-to-speed-health-t


Absent federal action, states take the lead on curbing drug costs

What's your state's stance on the cost of prescription drugs? See how Maryland has moved forward in their decision making for drug prices, giving themselves the ability to say "no" in this article from Benefits Pro written by Shefali Luthra.

You can read the original article here.


Lawmakers in Maryland are daring to legislate where their federal counterparts have not: As of Oct. 1, the state will be able to say “no” to some pharmaceutical price spikes.

A new law, which focuses on generic and off-patent drugs, empowers the state’s attorney general to step in if a drug’s price climbs 50 percent or more in a single year. The company must justify the hike. If the attorney general still finds the increase unwarranted, he or she can file suit in state court. Manufacturers face a fine of up to $10,000 for price gouging.

As Congress stalls on what voters say is a top health concern — high pharmaceutical costs — states increasingly are tackling the issue. Despite often-fierce industry opposition, a variety of bills are working their way through state governments. California, Nevada and New York are among those joining Maryland in passing legislation meant to undercut skyrocketing drug prices.

Maryland, though, is the first to penalize drugmakers for price hikes. Its law passed May 26 without the governor’s signature.

The state-level momentum raises the possibility that — as happened with hot-button issues such as gay marriage and smoke-free buildings — a patchwork of bills across the country could pave the way for more comprehensive national action. States feel the squeeze of these steep price tags in Medicaid and state employee benefit programs, and that applies pressure to find solutions.

“There is a noticeable uptick among state legislatures and state governments in terms of what kind of role states can play in addressing the cost of prescription drugs and access,” said Richard Cauchi, health program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many experts frame Maryland’s law as a test case that could help define what powers states have and what limits they face in doing battle with the pharmaceutical industry.

The generic-drug industry has already filed a lawsuit to block the law, arguing it’s unconstitutionally vague and an overreach of state powers. A district court is expected to rule soon.

The state-level actions focus on a variety of tactics:

“Transparency bills” would require pharmaceutical companies to detail a drug’s production and advertising costs when they raise prices over certain thresholds. Cost-limit measures would cap drug prices charged by drugmakers to Medicaid or other state-run programs, or limit what the state will pay for drugs. Supply-chain restrictions include regulating the roles of pharmacy benefit managers or limiting a consumer’s out-of-pocket costs.

A New York law on the books since spring allows officials to cap what its Medicaid program will pay for medications. If companies don’t sufficiently discount a drug, a state review will assess whether the price is out of step with medical value.

Maryland’s measure goes further — treating price gouging as a civil offense and taking alleged violators to court.

“It’s a really innovative approach. States are looking at how to replicate it, and how to expand on it,” said Ellen Albritton, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Families USA, which has consulted with states including Maryland on such policies.

Lawmakers have introduced similar legislation in states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Montana. And in Ohio voters are weighing a ballot initiative in November that would limit what the state pays for prescription drugs in its Medicaid program and other state health plans.

Meanwhile, the California legislature passed a bill earlier in September that would require drugmakers to disclose when they are about to raise a price more than 16 percent over two years and justify the hike. It awaits Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

In June, Nevada lawmakers approved a law similar to California’s but limited to insulin prices. Vermont passed a transparency law in 2016 that would scrutinize up to 15 drugs for which the state spends “significant health care dollars” and prices had climbed by set amounts in recent years.

But states face a steep uphill climb in passing pricing legislation given the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical industry, which can finance strong opposition, whether through lobbying, legal action or advertising campaigns.

Last fall, voters rejected a California initiative that would have capped what the state pays for drugs — much like the Ohio measure under consideration. Industry groups spent more than $100 million to defeat it, putting it among California’s all-time most expensive ballot fights. Ohio’s measure is attracting similar heat, with drug companies outspending opponents about 5-to-1.

States also face policy challenges and limits to their statutory authority, which is why several have focused their efforts on specific parts of the drug-pricing pipeline.

Critics see these tailored initiatives as falling short or opening other loopholes. Requiring companies to report prices past a certain threshold, for example, might encourage them to consistently set prices just below that level.

Maryland’s law is noteworthy because it includes a fine for drugmakers if price increases are deemed excessive — though in the industry that $10,000 fine is likely nominal, suggested Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who researches drug regulations.

This law also doesn’t address the trickier policy question: a drug’s initial price tag, noted Rena Conti, an assistant professor in the University of Chicago who studies pharmaceutical economics.

And its focus on generics means that branded drugs, such as Mylan’s Epi-Pen or Kaleo’s overdose-reversing Evzio, wouldn’t be affected.

Yet there’s a good reason for this, noted Jeremy Greene, a professor of medicine and the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who is in favor of Maryland’s law.

Current interpretation of federal patent law suggests that the issues related to the development and affordability of on-patent drugs are under federal jurisdiction, outside the purview of states, he explained.

In Maryland, “the law was drafted narrowly to address specifically a problem we’ve only become aware of in recent years,” he said. That’s the high cost of older, off-patent drugs that face little market competition. “Here’s where the state of Maryland is trying to do something,” he said.

Still, a ruling against the state in the pending court case could have a chilling effect for other states, Sachs said, although it would be unlikely to quash their efforts.

“This is continuing to be a topic of discussion, and a problem for consumers,” said Sachs.

“At some point, some of these laws are going to go into effect — or the federal government is going to do something,” she added.

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation. KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Source:

Luther S. (29 September 2017). "Absent federal action, states take the lead on curbing drug costs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/29/absent-federal-action-states-take-the-lead-on-curb?page=2


VR headset at DrupalCon LA by pdjohnson from Flickr

VR for HR

Have you always wanted to see the world? May VR technology is a way to incorporate the world into your business. Check out this article from our partner, UBA, written by Geoff Mukhtar, and discover what the world's latest technology can offer your company.

You can read the original article here.


No matter how well traveled you are, or how busy your lifestyle may be, you likely haven’t been everywhere in the world, or done everything there is to do. There is technology out there, however, that can bring the world to you. That technology is called “virtual reality,” or VR for short, and it’s changing the way that people experience life. VR provides a simulated environment that mimics a real one.

Whether you want to climb a mountain, dive deep underwater, or even go on a top-secret military mission, VR can bring all this to you in the comfort of your own home. So, what does all this have to do with human resources? In an article titled, “Virtual Reality Gives Job Candidates a Vivid Big Picture” on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website, there are numerous, maybe even limitless, uses for VR. The U.S. Navy uses VR in its recruiting and so, too, are many companies.

Not only does VR simulate what it’s like to work at a particular company, but it also highlights that a company is on the cutting edge in terms of technology and is using VR to differentiate itself from other companies. Just like Pink Floyd’s song, “Wish you were here,” VR can bring you to any location, whether it’s a city or a corporate headquarters. The latter being especially relevant with recruiting because a company doesn’t have to spend the money to fly job candidates to their office.

Plus, once these job candidates “see” what it would be like to work at a particular company in a particular city, they may even decide that it’s not what they want and retract their application. Thus, not wasting their time, or a company’s time, during the interview process.

Another benefit of VR recruiting is the undivided attention of the wearer. While a job candidate explores the company’s campus, offices, surroundings, etc., messages can be presented that include information about a company’s health plan, employee benefits, and other opportunities.

VR technology is just another tool that recruiters can use, but it’s definitely one of the more powerful ones. No other tool, not even video conferencing, can immerse someone so deeply into an environment so that he or she can seemingly blend into the workplace culture without actually stepping foot through the door.

 

Mukhtar G. (26 September 2017). "VR for HR" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/vr-for-hr


Center Stage...Do You Have an Employer Return to Work Program?

A proven strategy to reduce workers compensation cost and shorten the length of a worker’s compensation time is a return to work (RTW) program.

Loss reduction overall can be greatly improved by an effective RTW program.

 

“Before RTW programs evolved, the role of an employee was a passive one. If an employee was injured and was unable to work, they ended up sitting at home and it became the doctor’s responsibility to decide when they were cleared for work. Hierl takes a proactive approach to getting these workers back on the job.” -Cathleen Christenson

Today, most disability or worker’s compensation insurers enact RTW programs to help facilitate injured workers return to work in a timely manner. Hierl recommends a policy where employers are more actively involved with the doctor and employee throughout the worker’s compensation claim. These policies clarify the employee’s late duty work, alternative job duties to keep workers engaged when they are on a leave, and any other expectations up front.

A study by the Department of Labor and Industry, produced that the chances of returning to any type of work drastically reduced the longer they are away from work. At just six months away from work, the employee only stands a fifty percent chance of getting back to any type of work. At twenty-four months, the study found the worker will most likely never return to productive work.

Key Points to a Successful Return to Work Program

  1. Have a dedicated person responsible

Having a dedicated return to work coordinator or specialist to facilitate the return to work process and provide individualized planning that adapts to the worker’s initial and ongoing needs shows that you care as an employer. This role will also be in charge of assigning modified work duties for the employee. Be sure to make sure the employee knows who they can contact if they have any questions or need help through the return to work process.

 

  1. Maintain active communication

An essential requirement for a successful early return to work program is good communication between the employer, the employee and the medical care provider. It can be very beneficial for employers to be able to develop a relationship with medical providers in their community to allow the medical provider to understand what the company does and accurately determine when an employee can return to their workplace.

  1. Actively engage employee in the return to work program

Often employees are injured and left to stay at home without work and they suffer a serious change to their normal routine. By spending time away from the office, it causes a disconnect from the human element that exists in the office. In order to ensure employees stay involved and return to work, it is crucial to keep them engaged usually through late duty work. Ensure that all employees know the company return to work policy and that they understand the company is committed to keeping them engaged in late duty work.

The key in successful return to work programs is making sure that any of your efforts aren’t perceived as punitive but instead convey to your employees that you care about them. Make sure that all levels of employees recognize that early return to work after an injury speeds up the recovery process and reduces the likelihood of a permanent disability. Studies clearly demonstrate that employees who are off work because of an injury for more than 16 weeks seldom return to the workforce, costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Overall, workplace return to work policies have positive impacts on duration and costs of worker compensation.

Contact Hierl for guidance in enacting a return to work program or general employee safety practices. A good return to work program should be set up before it is needed.


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

Find out how small businesses compare to major corporations when it comes to their healthcare benefits in this informative article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bill Olson.

Small employers, those with fewer than 100 employees, have a reputation for not offering health insurance benefits that are competitive with larger employers, but new survey data from UBA’s Health Plan Survey reveals they are keeping pace with the average employer and, in fact, doing a better job of containing costs.

According to our new special report: “Small Businesses Keeping Pace with Nationwide Health Trends,” employees across all plan types pay an average of $3,378 toward annual health insurance benefits, with their employer picking up the rest of the total cost of $9,727. Among small groups, employees pay $3,557, with their employer picking up the balance of $9,474 – only a 5.3 percent difference.

When looking at total average annual cost per employees for PPO plans, small businesses actually cut a better deal even compared to their largest counterparts—their costs are generally below average—and the same holds true for small businesses offering HMO and CDHP plans. (Keep in mind that relief such as grandmothering and the PACE Act helped many of these small groups stay in pre-ACA plans at better rates, unlike their larger counterparts.)

PPO Plan Average Annual Cost per Employee

Think small businesses are cutting coverage to drive these bargains? Compared to the nations very largest groups, that may be true, but compared to average employers, small groups are highly competitive

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olson B. (2017 August 24). Survey: small business keeping pace with health benefits offered by employers nationwide [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/survey-small-businesses-keeping-pace-with-health-benefits-offered-by-employers-nationwide


6 employee benefits trends in 2017

2018 is almost upon us. More employers are beginning to start their search for new talent next year. If you are in the process of hiring check out this great article put together by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro and find out the top employee benefit trends for attracting new talent in 2017.

Employers looking to attract the best new employees need to look closely at their benefits offerings.

That’s according to a CBS report that highlights the six trends in benefits that are of the most interest to prospective employees. With millennials having outpaced GenXers as the largest demographic in the workplace, the report says, “it has become abundantly clear over the course of the last half decade that millennials have very different career priorities than their predecessors.”

With that in mind, here are six types of benefits employers might want to consider, if they’re not already on offer.

Flex hours are high on the list for millennials, who regard life/work balance as very important. In fact, according to a PwC study, it’s more important to them than financial compensation. Flexible schedules provide a way for employers to give that balance to employees, allowing them to work hours other than 9-to-5, or from home part of the week. As a result, the report says, employees will have better job satisfaction and be more likely to stay.

Workplace wellness programs are another way to provide a perk that pays off for both employer and employee — and not necessarily at a high cost, the report says. Not only do such programs foster a strong sense of team unity that will help drive job satisfaction and productivity, they also cut health care costs.

Continuing education not only gives employees a leg up, but also provides employers with better-trained staff who are able to cope with modern challenges and less likely to jump ship in search of a more congenial workplace. While the report concedes that most small and midsize businesses don’t have the budget to provide postgrad tuition to employees, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t focus on such investments in language and software certification classes.

Digital health care solutions enable masters of the cyber world in the workforce to reach out to health practitioners via mobile devices and computers, resulting in faster and more personalized treatment. In addition, the report says, “digital health programs are also incredibly cost effective and are estimated to save billions in medical costs over the next four years.”

Fringe benefits and perks — even if not on the scale of big-budget Silicon Valley companies — are another way to woo millennial employees. Public transportation passes, reimbursing employees for yoga classes and massage sessions and providing free lunches or snacks, can give recruiting an edge over companies that do nothing along these lines, the report points out.

Last but not least, there’s a bigger budget of vacation days. Employers may think that’s too expensive, but employee burnout is responsible for 50 percent of employee churn— and the cost of replacing even an entry-level employee can cost a company up to 50 percent of his or her annual salary. The money spent on extra vacation to avoid burnout could be more than offset by the losses of not doing so. Plus, the knowledge that well-rested employees are more productive will also help to counter the down time that might be caused by those additional days off.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 September 5 ). 6 employee benefits trends in 2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/09/05/6-employee-benefits-trends-in-2017?page=2&page_all=1


Closing the execution continuum on employee benefit cost savings

Are you using big data to reduce your employee benefits costs? As more employers switch their employee benefits to a digital platform, big data can be a great tool for employers looking to reduce the costs associated with their benefits program. Check out this great article by Eric Helman from Employee Benefit Advisor and found out how you can leverage your data to reduce to cost of an employee benefit program.

A revolution in employee benefits is on the horizon, and 21st century analytics is at the core. Big data holds the promise to scan huge amounts of information in a near real-time environment for insights that will impact the current and future trajectory for a given area. The advancement of true cross-vendor analytics, prescription, engagement and measurement brought on by the democratization of big data is enabling employers, brokers and consultants to improve the performance of their employee benefits plans like never before.

Two decades ago, I had the opportunity to hear Chris Sullivan, one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse, speak to a group of executives about customer research. His sentiments: “We don’t do focus groups. People don’t know what they want. Who would say they would like to stand in line for 30 minutes to eat salty food in a very loud restaurant? But that is exactly what they wanted. And that is what made Outback a success. Instead of focus groups, we place very talented and engaged proprietors in our stores and teach them to observe what people want. Then, we replicate that experience.”

In the realm of employee benefits, surveys, focus groups and anecdotes about specific employee encounters with the benefits program typically drive the discussions about how that program should evolve in the future. Unlike the situation at Outback, it is difficult to “observe” how people actually consume benefits and tailor a program that is attractive to them.

Analytics drive strategy 
Fortunately, recent developments in data analytics have unlocked the potential of using consumer behavior insights to drive employee benefits strategy. Leading practitioners are beginning to leverage these developments to change the annual renewal process. The technologies that support data aggregation, normalization and reporting have been aggressively developed to support the provider and payer communities. Only now have these advancements been made available to employers and their advisers.

The most successful practitioners point to the value of standardized claims reporting based upon credible data. By combining current claims data with industry benchmarks and predictive analytics, employers gain insight into the ongoing performance of their benefit plans. They “see” for themselves what industry professionals have been telling them for years. Plan performance is based upon claims, both in terms of the number of units of healthcare consumed and the price of those units. In recent surveys, benefit professionals report the difficulty they have in convincing CFOs and CEOs to make the necessary changes to benefit programs. Standardized reporting from a credible analytics platform can greatly enhance the ability for benefit professionals to communicate their agenda.

But standardized reporting is not the panacea. Benefits are complex. And the relationship between risk and consumption of healthcare add to the complexity. Even in the best reporting environments where executives are well informed about the performance of their plans and how the key metrics compare to industry norms, they are often perplexed about what to do with the information. Advancements in the realm of “actionable analytics” are beginning to address this problem as well.

While artificial intelligence or AI is all the rage, the underlying concept of having a computer suggest a course of action based upon data is not a new idea. The new application to employee benefits is the ability to provide “suggestions” in the context of standardized financial reporting. The number of ideas to bend the cost curve are numerous. The challenge is matching these ideas with the appropriate populations, convincing decision makers to invest and engaging the appropriate cohorts of employees to take specific actions necessary to realize the return on investment for these initiatives.

New systems are now available to close the gaps on this execution continuum. The foundation for these new systems is a robust analytics platform. But actionable analytics build upon this foundation by evaluating the employer’s data to discern whether a specific cost-saving initiative might generate savings worthy of the investment. These new systems present the output of that analysis in an easy to understand graphical format for benefit consultants and HR professionals to effectively communicate the potential of cost savings initiatives to decision makers.

Targeted engagement maximizes compliance and ROI
Getting executives to commit to intentional actions to affect the rising costs of benefits solves one half of the problem. The second half of the problem is one of focus. Rather than attempting to engage all employees with generalized messaging, these new systems use analytics to focus their engagement on a specific cohort of individuals in order to drive the greatest impact. This focus allows for a concentration of resources on the targeted populations, resulting in increased compliance and larger return on investment. The best implementations are integrated with benefits administration platforms and can incorporate multiple initiatives simultaneously. Point solutions, from an engagement perspective, have been proven to result in single-digit compliance. The power of an integrated engagement solution allows for initiatives that, because they are both focused and automated, can be executed simultaneously.

Advancements in technology have created a new era in which the democratization of big data allows for non-technical professionals to access detailed information and convert that information into intelligence. According to a recent survey, more than 65% of employers confess they are not strategic when it comes to benefits cost management. In spite of the many cost savings ideas available, more than 40% say they are not engaging in any new initiatives in the upcoming year. While the future of healthcare reform is in doubt, the potential for actionable analytics to significantly change the trajectory of the employer’s benefits costs is certain.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Helman E. (2017 September 5). Closing the execution continuum on employee benefit cost savings [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/closing-the-execution-continuum-on-employee-benefit-cost-savings?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Compliance Recap August 2017

August was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its 2018 affordability rate, four information letters regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and its draft Forms 1094 and 1095. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) increased the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) health and welfare fringe benefit rate and issued compliance guidance for employee benefit plans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projected Medicare Part D premiums for 2018. A U.S. District Court remanded wellness program rules to the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for reconsideration.

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in August:

IRS Released the 2018 Affordability Rate

The Internal Revenue Service released its Revenue Procedure 2017-36 which sets the affordability percentage at 9.56 percent for 2018. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an applicable large employer may be liable for a penalty if a full-time employee’s share of premium for the lowest cost self-only option offered by the employer is not affordable (for 2018, if it’s more than 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income) and the employee gets a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage.

Because the 2018 affordability rate is lower than the 2017 affordability rate, applicable large employers may need to reduce their employees’ share of premium contributions to maintain affordable coverage. Employers should double check their anticipated 2018 premiums now to prevent the need for mid-year changes.

IRS Releases Information Letters

The IRS issued Information Letters 2017-0010, 2017-0011, 2017-0013, and 2017-0017 on the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions and individual mandate.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 explain that the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions continue to apply. The letters state, “The [President’s January 20, 2017] Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.” Further, the letters indicate that there are no waivers from potential penalties for failing to offer health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0011 and 2017-0017 address the continued application of the ACA’s individual shared responsibility provisions. Letter 2017-0017 states, “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.”

IRS Issues Draft Forms 1094/1095

The IRS issued draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C for the 2017 tax year. Coverage providers use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report health plan enrollment. Applicable large employers use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information related to their employer shared responsibility provisions under the ACA.

There are no changes to the face of draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, or 1095-C. The IRS made one substantive change to draft Form 1094-C. The IRS removed the line 22 box “Section 4980H Transition Relief” which was applicable to the 2015 plan year only.

DOL Increases SCA Health and Welfare Fringe Benefit Rate

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its All Agency Memorandum Number 225 which increased the prevailing health and welfare fringe benefits issued under the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) to a rate of $4.41 per hour which is required in all government contract bids or other service contracts awarded on or after August 1, 2017.

There is a different rate for Hawaii. The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level for Hawaii will be $1.91 per hour for all employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act (HPHCA). The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level will be $1.63 per hour for employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the HPHCA and who are performing on contracts covered by Executive Order 13706 Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors.

DOL Issues Compliance Guidance for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

The DOL issued guidance for employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, and employers located in a county identified for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to Hurricane Harvey.

Because plan participants and beneficiaries may have difficulty meeting deadlines for filing ERISA benefit claims and making COBRA elections, the DOL advised plan sponsors to “act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes.”

The DOL acknowledged that group health plans may not be able to timely and fully comply with deadlines due to a physical disruption to a plan’s principal place of business. The DOL’s enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief as appropriate.

CMS Issues Projected Part D Premiums for 2018

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects that the average basic premium for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan will be $33.50 per month for 2018.

Court Remands Wellness Regulations to EEOC for Reconsideration

On August 22, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules.

The court declined to vacate the EEOC’s rules because of the significant disruptive effect it would have. However, the court remanded the rules to the EEOC for reconsideration.

Question of the Month

  1. Based on the recent court decision to require the EEOC to reconsider its wellness program rules, does this mean that the EEOC rules no longer apply to employer wellness programs?
  2. No. For now, the current EEOC rules apply to employer wellness programs. However, employers should stay informed on the status of the EEOC’s reconsideration of the wellness program rules so that employers can change their wellness programs’ design, if necessary, to comply with new EEOC rules.

You can download the full recap here.