Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Mike Hierl's Good Ole Ribeye

Welcome to our monthly Dish segment. This month, we asked Mike Hierl to provide us with his favorite Dine In and Dine Out choices. Check them out below and let us know if you give them a try!

A Little Bit About Mike

Michael Hierl is the third-generation owner and current President of Hierl Insurance, Inc.

Mike is married with 2 children and 2 dogs. He enjoys physical activities such as golf, hunting, running, and biking. Mike also has his pilot’s license and has parachuted twice: once in college and another time with friends and family a year later.

Mike is the current President of Hierl Insurance, Inc and is the third generation owner. He is a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater graduate with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He has since earned the designations of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) and Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC).

Learn more about Mike


The Good Ole Ribeye

Ingredients

Ribeye Rub:

Directions

Preheat a grill to high heat.

Place ribeye steaks on a large platter and season with rub on all sides. Transfer seasoned steaks to the hot grill, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes on each side for medium-rare, longer if desired. Remove steaks and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

 

This recipe was provided by Food Network. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.


When It’s a Great Time to Go Out

Mike and his family enjoy Gino’s in Fond du Lac. Mike loves to order the caesar salad and a pizza of choice.

“At Gino’s Italian Restaurant, you can indulge in authentic Italian food without breaking the bank. From sauces to dough, everything is made from scratch.” Get more about Gino’s on the restaurant’s website.

Gino’s is rated 4.0 stars on Trip Advisor.

Thank-you for joining us for this month’s Dish! Don’t forget to come back next month for a new one.


Goodbye, suits and ties. Hello, sneakers

What do your employees wear to work each day? As the workplace evolves, one thing many managers have in common is that they are throwing out their traditional business dress code. Read on to learn more.


Casual Friday? Try casual Monday through Friday.

As the modern U.S. workplace evolves, one thing many office managers have in common is that they are throwing the traditional business dress code out the window.

About 88% of employers today offer some type of casual dress benefit, up from 81% five years ago, according to the 2018 employee benefits survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.

The most recent company to join the ranks of the suit-and-tie-less workplace is banking giant Goldman Sachs. The decision — once believed unthinkable for such a straight-laced organization — comes as the company looks to keep up with “changing nature of workplaces,” according to a Goldman memo last week.

“Casual dress attire at work is just one of the many ways employers are trying to retain and attract top talent in this competitive job market,” says Amelia Green-Vamos, an employer trends analyst with Glassdoor. “The unemployment rate is at a historic low, and casual dress attire is an inexpensive perk creating a more approachable and comfortable culture for new and existing employees.”

All employers want to attract the best possible talent and in today’s job market that talent is younger. Indeed, more than 75% of Goldman Sachs’ employees are members of the millennial or Gen Z generations. When it comes to hiring younger talent the more traditional companies — such as big banks — are competing against tech giants and hedge funds that are offering a different kind of workplace.

Facebook, for example, has had a relaxed dress code since the beginning. “We don’t want our people to have a work self and a personal self,” says Facebook spokesman Kyle Gerstenschlager. “That aspect of our culture extends to our lack of a formal dress code.”

Google is another company with a simple dress policy. “You must wear clothes,” was the response Susan Wojcicki — current CEO of YouTube — gave in a 2007 interview with Bay area media outlet The Mercury News. She was VP of ad services at Google at the time.

But, it’s not just the Silicon Valley tech companies that have embraced a more laid back attire policy. When Mary Barra — current CEO of General Motors — was vice president of global human resources at the automaker, she set out to replace the company’s 10-page dress code exposition with two words: “Dress appropriately.”

It’s a simple idea, but Barra was perplexed when she received pushback from HR and one of her senior-level directors, she explained at the 2018 Wharton People Analytics Conference. But this actually led to what Barra called an “ah-ha” moment, giving her better insight into the company and teaching her a lesson about making sure managers feel empowered.

Office culture has been evolving for decades, with offices with sleep pods and ping-pong tables now commonplace. But it’s practicality rather than entitlement that is leading offices to adapt their dress codes.

“I have a hard time imagining a position where wearing a tie could be considered an essential part of the job’s responsibilities,” says SHRM member Mark Marsen, director of human resources at Allies for Health + Wellbeing. “Even using arguments that it contributes to or enhances corporate image, client perceptions, or establishing a form of respect. What matters at the end of all, for everyone concerned, is that a successful service was rendered.”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (12 March 2019) "Goodbye, suits and ties. Hello, sneakers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/goldman-sachs-embraces-casual-dress


Shifting from Employee Engagement to Employee Experience

When it comes to the busy workplace, it is not uncommon for employees to get bogged down in their daily tasks and overlook several key elements surrounding their healthcare and personal needs. Fortunately, there are ways to gather all your eggs in one basket and alleviate stress and surprise.

In this installment of CenterStage, Tonya Bahr, a benefits advisor at Hierl Insurance, Inc., weighs in on three key things employers and HR professionals should keep in mind when establishing their agenda:

  • Offering employees an experience when it comes to their benefits
  • How to sweeten your current coverage options to attract new talent
  • How to control the mental well-being of your employees

How Does Investing in Employee Experience vs Employee Engagement Offer a Leg-Up on Competition?

If customer experience is the total of all interactions that customers will have with your company, then employee experience is your workforce’s relationship with your business. This encompasses all interactions they will have with you, from their potential recruit to their final days as an employee. A happier workforce is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of embracing employee experience rather than simply engaging or “urging” them to comply with the standard company operating procedures. Tonya noted employees forget their benefits if they have not utilized them in a while.

A survey from Gallup discovered 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, but companies with high engagement outperform their competitors by 147% in earnings per share (HR Exchange Survey). As a result, companies that are looking to gain an edge on the competition should consider the importance of their employees when it comes to getting ahead. For those looking for a place to start, Tonya recommended the following:

About Your Expert:

Tonya has a passion for educating business owners and employees on benefit options, helping them make decisions that best fit their personal and financial objectives.

Tonya Bahr,
Benefits Advisor

01. Creating A Dialogue

Improving employee experience is a two-way conversation – it requires the need to listen to your people and have that conversation regularly. Companies need to look beyond outdated practices and toward annual surveys in favor of creating a community and having regular ongoing dialogue that drives the kind of engagement that employees want.

Gathering employees and visiting topics such as the utilization of telehealth and discounted urgent care visits are two ways to get employees talking. This not only provides the open feedback that thrives within a strong work environment but also triggers other employees to explore their plans and see if they receive the same options.

Sparking conversation within your company will additionally encourage employees to shop around for lower cost alternatives to hospital and doctor visits. Unlike buying a new car or searching for a new TV to purchase, Tonya noted employers and employees just aren’t doing their homework for the best options available – ultimately costing them in unnecessary expenses.

02. Go Beyond the “Feel Good” Offerings

Perks such as gym memberships and free lunches have become common practice for companies looking to brand themselves as a great employer. However, it is important to understand these tactics aren’t the answer when it comes to employee experience but rather an engagement strategy. Modern employees want to work in a great environment and want to know their contributions are valued through benefit offerings like discounted healthcare.

For anyone looking to unlock the power of employee engagement through benefits, the time to act is now. With the number of companies catching on to the importance of customer experience, it will not only help you gain an edge on your competition but make your company a favorable place to work – the definition of a ‘win-win’.

Why Hierl?

At Hierl Insurance, we love what we do, and this includes a partnership with you in mind. We understand the demands of each client are unique, so we craft your options to fit your business perfectly, creating a different story for each client.

We believe it is okay to like your experts, such as Tonya Bahr, who is standing by waiting to greet you with a warm welcome. Together, we can devise a blueprint to turn your company’s dreams into reality.

To speak with Tonya, contact her today at (920) 921-5921 or by email at tbahr@hierl.com.


Pay transparency: A new tool to boost employee engagement

How does your company treat pay disclosure? Generally, employees are free to discuss their pay rates as part of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Read this blog post to learn how pay transparency could be used as a tool to boost employee engagement.


For many companies, discussing salaries has always been taboo. Some firms even required new hires to sign an agreement swearing they wouldn’t disclose their pay to co-workers. 

This “loose lips sink ships” approach is largely illegal, of course: Employees are generally free to talk about pay rates as part of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Nonetheless, for years, companies held salary information very close to the vest.

But times are changing. Many firms have now gone to a policy of transparency in matters of compensation.

2 separate approaches

Stephanie Thomas, program director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University, writes that pay transparency comes in two flavors: salary disclosure and pay process transparency.

1. Salary disclosure: In this approach, the company distributes a spreadsheet listing employees, their titles and their salaries.

This approach can be tricky. There are always going to be cases where an employee asks, “Why is Stephanie paid more than me? We have the same title and the same duties.”

Whole Foods explains the rationale for adopting its policy in a statement on its website:

“Salary information for all –including the company’s leadership – is available to all inquiring team members. Wage transparency helps promote inclusiveness and ensures our compensation system is fair.”

2. Pay process transparency: The second approach explores how compensation decisions are made, and explains to individuals why they’re making what they are and what they need to do to earn more.

This involves having detailed discussions with employees, either individually or in a group, about the overall compensation plan – salary ranges and midpoints, goals and objectives that need to be met, performance metrics, etc. Most companies prefer this approach because it focuses the conversation away from rankings of employees toward individual performance.

Both approaches signal a new trend in employee engagement – helping workers understand the inner workings of their organizations.

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (15 February 2019) "Pay transparency: A new tool to boost employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/pay-transparency-a-new-tool-to-boost-employee-engagement/


7 ways to reduce stress this tax season

The arrival of tax season often leaves many employers stressed and face-to-face with a number of demands. Continue reading this post from Employee Benefit News for seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.


Tax filing season is here, which means many employers will come face-to-face with a number of demands. Whether they do their own taxes, use online tax software or meet with a trusted tax adviser, there are many useful resources out there that will help employers work smarter, not harder.

Here are seven ways employers can reduce stress during tax season.

2019 U.S. Master Tax Guide

The U.S. Master Tax Guide contains timely and precise explanations of federal income taxes for individuals, partnerships and businesses. This guide contains information including tax tables, tax rates, checklists, special tax tables and explanatory text.

Legislative resources

Find a trusted, reputable resource for the latest news, opinions and laws regarding healthcare. Many companies in the industry have a designated section on their website that is dedicated to providing employers with updates and trends in the health insurance industry and how it will affect taxes.
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Payroll calculators

Employers can use payroll calculators to determine gross pay, withholdings, deductions, net pay after Social Security and Medicare and more. Calculator types include salary payroll calculators, hourly paycheck calculators, gross pay calculators, W-4 assistants, percentage bonus calculators and aggregate bonus calculators.

Keep, shred, toss

Now is the perfect time to organize tax records so that they’re easy to find in case they’re needed to apply for a loan, answer IRS questions or file an amended return.

The IRS has some helpful guidance you can share with your clients on what records to keep and for how long. They should remember to:

  • Keep copies of tax returns and supporting documents for at least three years.
  • Keep some documents for up to seven years.
  • Keep healthcare information statements for at least three years. These include records of employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received and type of coverage.

Make sure records are kept safe — but when it’s time, shred or destroy

Whether they consist of paper stacked in a shoebox, electronic files stored on a device or in the cloud, it’s important to safeguard all personal records, especially anything that lists Social Security numbers. Consumer Affairs recommends scanning paper and keeping records stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD.

It’s more important than ever for employers to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves. That means not tossing records in the trash or recycling bin. Home paper shredders are often inadequate for large piles of paper, but many communities have professional, secure document shredding services.
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Start as early as possible

A deadline looming always makes the situation more stressful. It’s very important for employers to not wait until the last minute to start their tax return. If they choose to use a tax professional, be sure that they get in early. Tax professionals take on many clients, and only have a short timeframe to get all the work done.

Be honest

It may be tempting for employers to tell a white lie on their taxes to maximize their tax breaks or return, but that comes at a great risk. If they are audited by the IRS, they will liable for whatever was reported.

SOURCE: Waletzki, T. (12 March 2019) "7 ways to reduce stress this tax season" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/how-to-reduce-stress-this-tax-season?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


In Pursuit of a Better Meeting

Are you in pursuit of a better meeting? While making meetings more fun than your annual office holiday party may be impossible, it is possible to lessen the dread and increase morale. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Groans and sighs often greet the ping of a meeting invite hitting an inbox. While it may be impossible to make meetings more fun than the office holiday party, it is possible to lessen the dread, increase morale, and improve the results of a meeting.

Complaints about meetings are often justified, including wasted time, the same voices dominating the conversation time after time, and no follow-up or action plan after the meeting. Another issue, according to the Harvard Business Review, is that managers often rank the effectiveness of their own meetings much higher than attendees do, 90 percent of whom report daydreaming and nearly three-quarters of whom use the time to do other work.

Despite the challenges, meetings do have benefits beyond getting the to-dos done! They can bring people together for a change of pace, improve communication overall, and create a more cohesive team.

Want to empower your leadership and avoid being one of the almost 8 in 10 who thinks their meetings are going great when attendees beg to differ? Here are some things to consider.

Before

Be sure to set attendance, an agenda, and the tone for your meeting. Consider who is essential and get the meeting on their calendar but spare other people. If you want many opinions, open it up to more people after that. A leaner meeting may be more productive and allow critical voices and ideas to have the time and space to collaborate and percolate.

Sending out an agenda ahead of time not only shows you’re prepared, it helps everyone prepare. Prime the problem-solving pump by putting the topics up for discussion into everyone’s minds ahead of time. Plus, once the meeting is started, an agenda helps keep things on track. In an article on the power of a well-run meeting, the New York Times calls a great agenda a compass for the conversation, helping guide a drifting discussion back on course.

If you are calling the meeting, be sure to make the agenda yourself and take the time to plan for a successful gathering. Don’t delegate crafting an agenda but, maybe, says The Balance Careers, ask for input. A call for ideas or dedicated time to brainstorm helps set a positive, inclusive tone for the meeting. Culture starts from the top, so show you value both the time you’ll spend together and everyone’s potential contributions.

During

Meetings that are a routine part of the schedule can become too routine. Ask everyone to pick a different seat, bring in an outside expert or unexpected snack to mix things up. Try a brainstorming activity, an ice breaker, or a walking meeting outside instead of the conference room. There’s no need to get gimmicky, but a little variety can go a long way.

Consider the pacing of your meeting and always allow for silence. Introverts or team members who prefer to fully process an idea before sharing will be more likely to contribute if some thinking time is offered before diving into the sharing. Remember that agenda? Don’t cram it so full that it removes any time for serendipity. And if no lightning strikes, the team will enjoy a meeting that ends early instead of runs late.

As the leader of a meeting, once you’ve shared the agenda, then it’s time to share the air. If you lead with your ideas, they may be the ones that win even if better ones exist. Rather than dominate the discussion, set some ground rules and let others talk. Facilitation is an art form the best leaders work to master.

After

Follow up with a recap and next steps once the meeting has wrapped. Employees will be understandably frustrated if they feel like their time or ideas met a dead end. Knowing their contributions were valuable and that there is an action plan helps employees invest in the next meeting.

Meeting leaders shouldn’t fear feedback. Sending an anonymous survey, asking for suggestions, and keeping an open mind about ways to improve can help your leadership and your team’s attitude toward meetings.

A regular audit of your meetings and meeting schedule is a smart tip. How much do you talk versus other team members? Were attendees focused? What meetings really need to stay in 2019? What can you cancel and bring back if needed? Trimming the schedule can be a great start, but experts caution against assuming no meetings is the way to go.

Additionally, one coach recommends via an article in Forbes that one meeting always stay on the schedule, especially for new managers. A weekly one-on-one with direct reports is an essential way to hear what they need to succeed and take some time to plan. Face time is important for employees, certainly, but it’s also a chance for meeting leaders to solicit genuine feedback about meetings. That’s one way to make meetings come full circle!

Read more:

How to Run a More Effective Meeting

How to Lead Effective Team Meetings

Ten Things New Managers Need to Know

Why Your Meetings Stink—and What to Do About It

SOURCE: Olson, B. (26 February 2019) "In Pursuit of a Better Meeting" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/in-pursuit-of-a-better-meeting


Dispelling the stigma around mental health disorders in the workplace

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that nearly six in 10 U.S. workers reported that anxiety impacts their performance in the workplace. Read this blog post to learn more about the stigma associated with mental health disorders in the workplace.


It’s no secret that poor mental health impacts employee performance. Anxiety disorders, for example, affect 40 million adults in the U.S. each year, and nearly six in 10 American workers report that anxiety impacts their workplace performance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

But because of the stigma often associated with mental health disorders, employees might not be using the benefits and programs clients have in place to help address the problem. That’s why just having programs in place isn’t enough, experts say. Instead, employers need to help remove the stigma of mental health conditions by creating a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace and forming employee resource groups.

Employers including Johnson & Johnson, Trulia and Verizon Media are doing just that, company executives said during a webinar last week hosted by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

When Margaux Joffe, associate director of accessibility and inclusion at Verizon Media, started working on a proposal to form a mental health-focused employee resource group (ERG), dispelling stigma and empowering workers was one of her first priorities.

“We wanted to create a paradigm shift,” she said, speaking as part of the webinar. “Growing up, you’re taught to think you’re ‘normal or not normal;’ you’re mentally ill or you’re not. We started with the idea there is no such thing as a ‘normal brain’ as we’re increasingly understanding neurodiversity in the human race.”

A lot of people with mental health issues don’t necessarily identify with the word disability, added Meredith Arthur, content marketing manager at Trulia.

“We struggled around removing the word disability because there was a desire to face the stigma and take it on,” she said of Trulia’s ERG. “Ultimately, we wanted to reach as many people as we could. We wanted to be sharper in our focus on mental health.”

Trulia expanded its ERG statement of purpose from just focusing on mental health education and awareness to advocating for the needs of different abilities.

Joffe said putting in place an ERG for mental health at Verizon was done with the support of senior leadership. “We’ve been lucky to get a lot of support from the company for ERG,” she said. “A common challenge that exists across the board is lack of organization readiness.”

Readiness is a huge component of success in mental health programs, added Kelly Greenwood, founder and CEO of Mind Share, a nonprofit organization addressing the culture of workplace mental health.

“It is so important to achieve true culture change,” she said. “Oftentimes we work with leadership first and do workshops for executive teams before rolling them out to the company to really get that buy-in and understanding from the top down to build a transparent culture.”

At Johnson & Johnson, it took the company about nine months to get its ERG program up and running. “There was a lot of conversation internally if it should be its own ERG for mental health or integrated into another employee resource group,” said Geralyn Giorgio, talent acquisition change management communications and training lead at the pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturing company.

At that time, she said, the company had an ERG called the alliance for disability leadership. The decision was made to put mental health under that ERG umbrella. “Since than happened, there were a lot of [employees] not seeing themselves in this ERG. We felt strongly we had to rebrand the ERG, and we went live last year, using the name alliance for diverse abilities to make it more inclusive,” she said.

This year, Giorgio said, the company will work to empower managers to handle mental health conversations.

“If you have a manager open to the conversation, [employees] have a different experience than someone whose manager is ill-informed,” she said. “That’s something we need to focus on this year — helping our managers feel more comfortable with having the conversation.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (12 March 2019) "Dispelling the stigma around mental health disorders in the workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/dispelling-workplace-mental-health-stigma?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


New tech helps HR pros practice hiring and firing — in virtual reality

Virtual reality technology developer, Talespin, released a new platform that allows employees to practice challenging social situations, like the act of hiring and firing an employee, beforehand. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


What if HR professionals could practice hiring and firing someone before they even set foot in the office? Virtual reality and artificial intelligence may be closer to making that a reality for some employers.

Talespin, a developer of virtual reality technology has released a new platform that allows employees to practice challenging social situations. The platform, called its Virtual Human Technology, is meant to mimic typical conversations that an employee might have at work. The software can simulate anything from performance reviews, to leadership training, sales conversations or even firing.

“We’re thinking holistically about the employee life cycle and how spatial computing is going to affect that,” says Kyle Jackson, CEO of Talespin.

Talespin aims to evoke real human emotions and give employees a sense of the best way to handle a difficult situation, Jackson says. The platform demo, for example, puts users in the shoes of an HR manager and asks them to fire an employee named Barry. Barry is an AI-powered virtual character that displays realistic human responses, like anger, when a user tells him that he has been terminated.

Users can be successful or unsuccessful at terminating Barry and the platform provides feedback on how they can improve these skills over time. The system can be tailored to provide responses based on the specific needs of the employer, Jackson says.

“The system can record all sorts of things: from your sentiment, to what you say, what branches did you activate, what different paths of process did you go down. With all that data it’s a question of what’s the learning objective and what’s the learning outcome that you’re looking for?” he says.

While the platform is best used in virtual reality, users can access it via desktop, mobile or audio only. Jackson says the company is deploying the platform with five employers in the telecommunications, automotive, insurance and consumer packaged goods industries. Farmers Insurance is already using Talespin technology to train new hires. Employers using the software pay per monthly active user plus the cost of the module, Jackson says.

Some employers are investing in AI and virtual reality as a way to attract and retain new talent. Pharmaceutical company Takeda, for instance, combined 360-degree photographs and an interactive map of its Cambridge, Massachusetts campus to create a virtual reality office tour for current and potential employees.

Jackson says they’ve heard from employers that poor treatment from a manager has in some cases, led to employee turnover. A VR platform like Virtual Human Technology can help managers develop their soft skills for interacting with employees and potentially improve retention.

“It’s not a technology problem, it’s not an efficiency problem. It’s really a people problem,” he says. “It’s the one area that’s really hard to fix.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (8 March 2019) "New tech helps HR pros practice hiring and firing — in virtual reality" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/hr-tech-helps-practice-hiring-and-firing-in-virtual-reality?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Compliance Recap - February 2019

February was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released an information letter addressing when an employer may seek recoupment of contributions made to an employee’s HSA.

A U.S. District Court held that the State of Maryland could not ask for a declaration that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional and enforceable. Four states and the U.S. House of Representatives joined the appeal of the court case that held the ACA to be unconstitutional.

The Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a request for information regarding grandfathered group health plans.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: Compliance Recap – 2018 Year in Review

UBA updated or revised existing guidance: State Guide to COBRA Supplemental Requirements

IRS Releases Information Letter on Returning HSA Contributions to an Employer

Generally, a person’s interest in a health savings account (HSA) is nonforfeitable. However, in the past, the Internal Revenue Service’s Notice 2008-59 described limited circumstances under which an employer may recoup contributions made to an employee’s HSA.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Information Letter 2019-0033 (Letter), clarifying that IRS Notice 2008-59 was not intended to provide an exclusive set of circumstances in which an employer can recoup contributions made to an HSA. If there is clear evidence of an administrative or process error, an employer may request that the contributions it made to an employee’s HSA be returned. This correction should put the employer and employee in the same position that they would have been in if the error had not occurred.

The Letter lists the following examples of when an employer may recoup HSA contributions:

  • An amount withheld and deposited in an employee’s HSA for a pay period is greater than the amount shown on the employee’s HSA salary reduction election.
  • An employee receives an employer contribution that the employer did not intend to contribute but the amount was transmitted because an incorrect spreadsheet is accessed or because employees with similar names are confused with each other.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because it is incorrectly entered by a payroll administrator (whether in-house or third-party) causing the incorrect amount to be withheld and contributed.
  • An employee receives a second HSA contribution because duplicate payroll files are transmitted.
  • An employee receives as an incorrect HSA contribution because a change in employee payroll elections is not processed timely so that amounts withheld and contributed are greater than (or less than) the employee elected.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because an HSA contribution amount is calculated incorrectly, such as a case in which an employee elects a total amount for the year that is allocated by the system over an incorrect number of pay periods.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because the decimal position is set incorrectly resulting in a contribution greater than intended.

Status of Court Case Challenging ACA Constitutionality

There is recent activity in the court case regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality.

As background, in February 2018, twenty states filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Court) to strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) entirely. The lawsuit came after the U.S. Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017 that reduced the individual mandate penalty to $0, starting in 2019.

On December 14, 2018, the Court issued a declaratory order that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the ACA is unconstitutional. The Court granted a stay of its December 2018 order, which prohibits the order from taking effect while it is being appealed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (appeals court).

On February 1, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland held that the State of Maryland could not ask for a declaration that the ACA is constitutional and enforceable because the federal government will continue to enforce the ACA while the appeal proceeds.

On February 14, 2019, the appeals court granted the U.S. House of Representatives’ request to intervene as a party to the lawsuit to defend the ACA. Also, on February 14, the appeals court granted the request of the states of Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Nevada to intervene as parties to the lawsuit to defend the ACA. The appeals court denied these intervenor states’ request for expedited briefing. The federal government’s brief is due on March 25, the twenty states’ brief is due on April 24, and reply briefs are due on May 15.

Agencies Issue Request for Information on Grandfathered Health Plans

On February 25, 2019, the Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) issued a request for information (RFI) regarding grandfathered group health plans. The RFI contains two sets of questions concerning: (1) maintaining (or relinquishing) grandfathered status and (2) general information about grandfathered group health plans and group health insurance coverage.

As background, under the ACA, group health plans that were in existence on March 23, 2010, are excused from some of the ACA’s requirements. Under the Departments’ prior guidance, certain changes can cause a plan to lose its grandfathered status.

The RFI is intended to help the Departments understand issues related to grandfathered health plans and to estimate the impact of any potential changes to the rules governing group health plans’ retention of grandfathered status. The RFI also seeks to determine whether there are opportunities for the Departments to assist group health plans with maintaining grandfathered status.

Question of the Month

Q: When must IRS reporting Forms 1094-C, 1095-C, 1094-B, and 1095-B be electronically filed for the 2018 calendar year?

A: If filing electronically, Forms 1094-C, 1095-C, 1094-B, and 1095-B must be filed by April 1, 2019. Employers may file Form 8809 to receive an automatic 30-day extension of this due date for forms due to the IRS. Form 8809 must be filed by April 1, 2019 for employers that are filing electronically.

3/1/2019