Retirement Calculator Seen as Critical Tool

Did you know that the most impactful tool for employee financial wellness is a retirement calculator? Find out more in this article by Bruce Shutan from Employee Benefit News on why you should have a retirement calculator included in your employee benefits program.

In analyzing the financial behaviors of 67,089 U.S. employee financial wellness assessments, Financial Finesse concluded that the most impactful action was for employers to offer a retirement calculator. The 2016 Year in Review Report also suggested that they promote it to the hilt with the help of their brokers and advisers.

“Running that projection is driving other behavior,” such as changes in cash flow or higher retirement plan contributions over time, explains Cynthia Meyer, a financial planner with Financial Finesse and author of the report.

She says advisers can help spotlight the use of a retirement calculator in an educational workshop or enrollment meeting where they can detail examples or case studies involving the potential effect of this handy tool.

The report uncovered a few bright spots. More employees ran a retirement projection, which jumped to 49% in 2016 from 35% in 2015. In addition, about 60% of these employees discovered they were on track to retire comfortably while about 40% discovered they were underfunded and needed to make changes.

Another positive development was that repeat usage of workplace financial wellness programs appears to be gaining momentum. The number of employees who have done annual workplace assessments of their finances multiple times has climbed steadily since 2013 when it was just 6% to 15% in 2014, 16% in 2015 and 29% in 2016.

However, problems persist. Virtually all demographic groups were still found to have insufficient savings for a comfortable retirement. For example, while 92% of the employees studied participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, just 77% contribute enough to earn the full employer match.

Still, Meyer notes that packaging financial wellness content with a good retirement plan is becoming a standard practice as the movement toward a more holistic view of employee finances gains traction.

Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing survey found that 59% of employers are very likely and another 33% are moderately likely to focus on the financial wellbeing of workers in ways that extend beyond retirement decisions. Moreover, 86% of employers are very or moderately likely to communicate to their workforces the link between health and wealth.

Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt, says this is an indication of “just how much I think employers still care about their employees.” It certainly bodes well for brokers and advisers who can expect to be busy in the coming years helping their clients create a strategy and build out a plan that appeals to each workforce, he believes.

Aon Hewitt’s survey, whose 238 respondents represent nearly 9 million employees, noted several other key trends. They include employers enhancing both the accumulation and decumulation phases for their defined contribution plan participants, and defined benefit plan sponsors revisiting ways they’re removing risk from their plan.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Shutan Bruce (2017 May 29). Retirement calculator seen as critical tool [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/retirement-calculator-seen-as-critical-tool?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


GOP’s Health Bill Could Undercut Some Coverage In Job-Based Insurance

Thanks to the legislation passed by the House, healthcare is on the verge of changing as we know it. Check out this interesting article by Michelle Andrews from Kaiser Health News on how these changes will affect Americans who get their healthcare through an employer.

This week, I answer questions about how the Republican proposal to overhaul the health law could affect job-based insurance and what the penalties for not having continuous coverage mean. Perhaps anticipating a spell of uninsurance, another reader wondered if people can rely on the emergency department for routine care.

Q: Will employer-based health care be affected by the new Republican plan?

The American Health Care Act that recently passed the House would fundamentally change the individual insurance market, and it could significantly alter coverage for people who get coverage through their employers too.

The bill would allow states to opt out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including no longer requiring plans sold on the individual market to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization, drugs and maternity care.

Small businesses (generally companies with 50 or fewer employees) in those states would also be affected by the change.

Plans offered by large employers have never been required to cover the essential health benefits, so the bill wouldn’t change their obligations. Many of them, however, provide comprehensive coverage that includes many of these benefits.

But here’s where it gets tricky. The ACA placed caps on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket in deductibles, copays and coinsurance every year, and they apply to most plans, including large employer plans. In 2017, the spending limit is $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for family coverage. Yet there’s a catch: The spending limits apply only to services covered by the essential health benefits. Insurers could charge people any amount for services deemed nonessential by the states.

Similarly, the law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime or annual dollar limits on services — but only if those services are related to the essential health benefits.

In addition, if any single state weakened its essential health benefits requirements, it could affect large employer plans in every state, analysts say. That’s because these employers, who often operate in multiple states, are allowed to pick which state’s definition of essential health benefits they want to use in determining what counts toward consumer spending caps and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

“If you eliminate [the federal essential health benefits] requirement you could see a lot of state variation, and there could be an incentive for companies that are looking to save money to pick a state” with skimpier requirements, said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: I keep hearing that nobody in the United States is ever refused medical care — that whether they can afford it or not a hospital can’t refuse them treatment. If this is the case, why couldn’t an uninsured person simply go to the front desk at the hospital and ask for treatment, which by law can’t be denied, such as, “I’m here for my annual physical, or for a screening colonoscopy”?

If you are having chest pains or you just sliced your hand open while carving a chicken, you can go to nearly any hospital with an emergency department, and — under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — the staff is obligated to conduct a medical exam to see if you need emergency care. If so, they must try to stabilize your condition, whether or not you have insurance.

The key word here is “emergency.” If you’re due for a colonoscopy to screen for cancer, unless you have symptoms such as severe pain or rectal bleeding, emergency department personnel wouldn’t likely order the exam, said Dr. Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not the standard of care to do screening tests in the emergency department,” Pines said, noting in that situation the appropriate next step would be to refer you to a local gastroenterologist who could perform the exam.

Even though the law requires hospitals to evaluate anyone who comes in the door, being uninsured doesn’t let people off the hook financially. You’ll still likely get bills from the hospital and physicians for any care you receive, Pines said.

Q: The Republican proposal says people who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” would have to pay extra for their insurance. What does that mean? 

Under the bill passed by the House, people who have a break in their health insurance coverage of more than 63 days in a year would be hit with a 30 percent premium surcharge for a year after buying a new plan on the individual market.

In contrast, under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” people are required to have health insurance or pay a fine equal to the greater of 2.5 percent of their income or $695 per adult. They’re allowed a break of no more than two continuous months every year before the penalty kicks in for the months they were without coverage.

The continuous coverage requirement is the Republicans’ preferred strategy to encourage people to get health insurance. But some analysts have questioned how effective it would be. They point out that, whereas the ACA penalizes people for not having insurance on an ongoing basis, the AHCA penalty kicks in only when people try to buy coverage after a break. It could actually discourage healthy people from getting back into the market unless they’re sick.

In addition, the AHCA penalty, which is based on a plan’s premium, would likely have a greater impact on older people, whose premiums are relatively higher, and those with lower incomes, said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, who authored an analysis of the impact of the penalties.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 May 23). GOP's health bill could undercut some coverage in job-based insurance[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/gops-health-bill-could-undercut-some-coverage-in-job-based-insurance/


HSAs on the Rise, but Employees Need to Know More About Them

Are your employees aware of the many benefits and features associated with HSAs? Check out this great article by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro on why it is important employees are knowledgeable about HSAs, so they can prepare for their health care expenses while planning for retirement.

According to Fidelity Investments, health savings accounts — and the assets within them — are rising quickly, as both employers and employees try to find ways to pay for health care. Still, a number of the features of HSAs are still underutilized.

While Fidelity says that assets in its HSAs rose 50 percent in the past year, now topping $2 billion, and the number of individual account holders rose 46 percent during the same period to 657,000, it points out more work still needs to be done on showing employees the advantages of such accounts.

Since it’s estimated that couples retiring today could need $260,000 — perhaps even more — to cover their health care costs during retirement, the need for a way to save just for health care expenses, aside from other retirement expenses, is becoming more urgent.

HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside more money than a retirement account alone provides — and people who have both tend to save more overall, with 2016 statistics indicating that people who had both defined contribution and HSA accounts saved on average 10.7 percent of their annual income in the retirement account. Those with just a DC account saved on average 8.2 percent in it.

People are mostly satisfied with HSAs — 80 percent say they are, while 76 percent are satisfied with the ease of using it HSA for medical expenses, 77 percent with the quality of their health care coverage and 77 percent with how the plan helps them manage their health care costs.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve got all the ins and outs figured out yet; 39 percent mistakenly believe that they’ll lose unspent HSA contributions at the end of the year. Yet unlike contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSA), unspent contributions to HSAs roll over from year to year.

Still, employees are learning that HSAs can provide them a means of saving that’s not restricted to cash. While it’s still not common, more people are putting HSA money into investments that can then grow toward covering longer-term health expenses, but employers, says Fidelity, can do more to educate workers on such an option. Nationally, only 15 percent of all HSA assets are invested outside of cash.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 26). HSAs on the rise, but employees need to know more about them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/26/hsas-on-the-rise-but-employees-need-to-know-more-a?ref=hp-news


Helping Your Employees Protect Against Identity Theft

Are you doing enough to help your employees protect themselves from identity theft? Make sure to take a look at this article by Irene Saccoccio from SHRM on what employers can do to protect their employees from identity theft.

Social Security is committed to securing today and tomorrow for you and your employees. Protecting your identity and information is important to us. Security is part of our name and we take that seriously.

Identity theft is when someone steals your personally identifiable information (PII) and pretends to be you. It happens to millions of Americans every year. Once identity thieves have your personal information they can open bank or credit card accounts, file taxes, or make new purchases in your name. You can help prevent identity theft by:

  • Securing your Social Security card and not carrying it in your wallet;
  • Not responding to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online;
  • Shredding mail containing PII instead of throwing it in the trash; and
  • Reviewing your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.

It is important that your employees take the necessary steps to protect their Social Security number. Usually, just knowing the number is enough, so it is important not to carry your Social Security card or other documents unless they are needed for a specific purpose. If someone asks for your employees’ number, they should ask why, how it will be used, and what will happen if they refuse. When hired, your employees should provide you with the correct Social Security number to ensure their records and tax information are accurate.

If your employees suspect someone else is using their Social Security number, they should visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a recovery plan. IdentityTheft.gov guides them through every step of the recovery process. It’s a one-stop resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency. You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.

Your employee should also contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Don’t let your employees fall victim to identity theft. Advise them to read our publication Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number or read our Frequently Asked Questions for more information. If you or an employee suspects that they’re a victim of identity theft, don’t wait, report it right away!

See the original article Here.

Source:

Saccoccio I. (2017 May ). Helping your employees protect against identity theft [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/helping-your-employees-protect-against-identity-theft


Advisers Seek a Tech Solution to Financial Wellness

Have you been looking for a new solution to increase your client's investment into their financial well-being? Check out this great article by Cort Olsen from Employee Benefits Advisors on how advisers are using technology to help their clients invest in their financial wellness.

With many employers taking advantage of wearable wellness devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches, advisers and consultants say they would like to see a similar platform that will efficiently monitor a person’s financial wellbeing.

“For physical wellness there are health assessments like biometric screenings to gather information and then there is the wearable data that tells people where they need to be to stay on track with their health goals,” says Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant for EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants. “The difference with the financial piece is that there isn’t a way to track users’ spending habits or monitoring their retirement funding to make their financial status more budget friendly.”

While Schmidt says he has not been able to find a platform that monitors financial status at such a personal level, John Tabb, chief product officer of Questis, has put together a platform that manages to gather data and make suggestions on what employees should be focusing their investments on such as paying off student loan debt or investing in their Roth IRA.

Tabb estimates that there are roughly 30 companies that call themselves financial wellness firms but adds that none of them are “holisitic.” “Not to say that they are not good, but there are only a handful of companies that can allow advisers at financial institutions to utilize their platform as a tool,” he says.

Saving for retirement vs. paying off student debt
Shane Bartling, retirement consultant for Willis Towers Watson, says they have developed a program with their clients that addresses gaps in the market and increases the value of the overall lineup of financial well-being services offered by employers generally around retirement readiness.

“As a result of requests from clients and the needs we have identified with our consulting work, we have built out a technology solution to compliment the line-up of other resources that clients have available,” Bartling says. “We wanted to find the indicators of poor financial wellbeing in the workforce, how to measure it and then how do we engage the parts of our workforce that are going to see the highest value from the resources we are providing.”

The WTW program offers clients an initial assessment from an adviser to determine where employees are struggling the most with their finances. “There is a way to look at behaviors employees are signaling when they are in a poor financial situation,” Bartling says. “They begin to do things like using loans, taking hardship withdrawals and then ultimately you see issues like wage garnishment tend to pop up on the radar and are opting out of the 401(k).”

SoFi has expanded its business focus from student loan refinancing firms into the workspace by helping employers offer a student loan repayment benefit.

“Looking at the employee benefits space today, student loans are generally a pretty big hole in most employers benefit offerings,” says Catesby Perrin, vice president of business development at SoFi. “The main stays of employee benefit offerings are healthcare and 401(k), which we all know are essential, but in many respects don’t address the most pressing financial concerns of the largest demographic in the workforce, which are millennials.”

Perrin adds that 401(k) and other forms retirement saving is imperative for everyone in the workforce, however retirement is not a top priority for millennials due to other financial stressors that are taking place in their day-to-day lives.

“As great as a 401(k) is and how important it is intrinsically, if you have $500 or $800 a month due in student loan payments, which is totally plausible for somebody coming out of undergrad today, the 401(k) is a total luxury,” Perrin says. “Most employers are not doing much about student loan problem, so we are offering two primary benefits today for employers… a student loan refinancing benefit and a benefit set for employers to help pay down the principle balance of their employee’s loan.”

Alternative tech gaining traction
One option is the increasing popularity of mobile push notifications. Ayana Collins, wellness consultant out of EPIC’s Atlanta office, says she is seeing a greater response from users who utilize these alerts on their smartphones to view wellness tips and strategies that they may not read if they are delivered in the form of an e-mail.

“Employees receive thousands upon thousands of e-mails and one more e-mail coming from HR or from a wellness company may not be opened,” Collins says. “If they receive a push notification from their mobile phone they are more likely to check out what financial wellness tips we are sending to them.”

Privacy invasion?
Meanwhile, new legislation determining how wellness plans are regulated has sparked a renewed interest in finding a streamlined financial wellbeing platform.

Shan Fowler, senior director of employer portfolio and product strategy at Benefitfocus, says legislation such as the Employer Participation in Repayment Act and the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, will help fuel the creation of a financial wellbeing platform.

“Financial regulation is very similar to healthcare regulation,” Fowler says, “due to so many branches that are contingent with legislative support. Seeing bipartisan support for this national epidemic [has me feeling] very optimistic.”

However, employees may not be as enthusiastic. Many workers are concerned about the level of data employers could have access to, seeing it as an invasion of privacy, Fowler adds.

“I think you need to put yourself into the shoes of the employee and ask if I want my company to have access to my personal information,” he says. “That speaks to that very fine line employers have to walk of having their employees’ best interests in mind, but not going too far into a ‘big brother’ mentality.”

Tabb says that while the Questis platform does offer individual advice on financial direction based off an initial assessment, the data collected is stored in an aggregate form that protects employees’ personal information from being viewed by their superiors or colleagues.

“If the employer wants some data, they are going to pay for it to help them make decisions, but it is all on an aggregate level,” Tabb says. “There is certainly a perception that needs to be addressed to ensure employees that their data is safe and that nothing is being shared with their employer that does not need to be shared.”

Both Bartling and Perrin also say their platforms offer data to employers only in an aggregate form to give them an idea of how many employees are utilizing the benefit and also the projected success rates, but when it comes to the personal finances of each individual employee, security is in place to ensure private financial information is protected.

EPIC’s Collins says no matter what branch of wellness an employer invests in, whether it be financial, physical or mental, there needs to be a reason behind the technology that they are using. If there is no payout for the employee, there will be no demand to carry the program.

“There has to be a ‘so what’ behind it,” Collins says. “If the employer is just doing a simple challenge with nothing behind it, people are not going to gravitate toward it, because it doesn’t create a moment where the users discover an improvement to themselves. That is the whole point behind wellness.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olsen C. (2017 May 11). Advisers seek a tech solution to financial wellness [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/advisers-seek-a-tech-solution-to-financial-wellness


Compliance Recap May 2017

Make sure to stay up-to-date with the most recent rules and regulations from May regarding healthcare legislation thanks to our partners at United Benefit Advisors (UBA).

May was an active month in the employee benefits world. On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill titled the “American Health Care Act of 2017” (AHCA) to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Employer Shared Responsibility affordability percentage indexed for 2018. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued redesigned permanent resident cards and employment authorization documents. The USCIS also issued a warning about phone scams targeting immigrants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it will delay electronic submission of injury and illness records.

The IRS released dollar limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2018. The IRS released guidance confirming that health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) cannot reimburse Medicare premiums. The IRS also released a memo regarding tax treatment of benefits paid under an arrangement that combines a self-funded fixed indemnity heath plan and wellness program.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will end the Federally Facilitated SHOP Exchange (FF-SHOP) at the end of 2017. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an advisory opinion on an employee welfare benefit plan maintained by an association of employers. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take an opt-out arrangement case, leaving intact a lower court’s decision that opt-out payments must be included in overtime calculations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in May: • House Passes AHCA Bill in

  • House Passes AHCA Bill in First Step to Repeal and Replace the ACA
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Employees’ Reduction in Hours
  • What Qualifying Events Trigger COBRA?

The House Passes AHCA Bill in First Step to Repeal and Replace the ACA

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1628, a reconciliation bill aimed at "repealing and replacing" the ACA. The AHCA will now be sent to the Senate for debate, where amendments can be made, prior to the Senate voting on the bill.

It is widely anticipated that in its current state the AHCA is unlikely to pass the Senate. Employers should continue to monitor the text of the bill and should refrain from implementing any changes to group health plans in response to the current version of the AHCA.

IRS Releases Employer Shared Responsibility Affordability Percentage Indexed for 2018

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Revenue Procedure 2017-36 that sets the required contribution percentage to determine whether employer-sponsored health coverage is affordable at 9.56 percent for calendar year 2018.

USCIS Issues Redesigned Green Cards and Employment Authorization Documents

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began issuing the new Permanent Resident Cards (also known as Green Cards) on May 1, 2017. The new cards incorporate enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant security features. These new cards are also part of an ongoing effort between USCIS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enhance document security and deter counterfeiting and fraud.

The new Green Cards and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs):

  • Display the individual’s photos on both sides • Show a unique graphic image and color palette:
    • Green Cards will have an image of the Statue of Liberty and a predominately green palette
    • EAD cards will have an image of a bald eagle and a predominately red palette
  • Have embedded holographic images
  • No longer display the individual’s signature

Also, Green Cards will no longer have an optical stripe on the back.

Some Green Cards and EADs issued after May 1, 2017, may still display the existing design format as USCIS will continue using existing card stock until current supplies are depleted. For more information about the Green Card application process, please visit USCIS.gov/greencard.

USCIS Issues a Warning on Phone Scam Targeting U.S. Immigrants

U.S. immigrants have been targeted by a phone scam that appears as if it is from the Canadian government’s Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) call center (1-888-242-2100). Recipients of these calls are advised to hang up immediately and check their status by:

  • Making an InfoPass appointment at http://infopass.uscis.gov, or
  • Using myUSCIS to find up-to-date information about their application, or
  • Calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Scam email or phone calls should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS. Suspicious emails may be forwarded to the USCIS webmaster at uscis.webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov. The USCIS will review the emails received and share them with law enforcement agencies as appropriate. Visit the Avoid Scams Initiative at www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams for more information on common scams and other important tips.

OSHA Proposes to Delay Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records

In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that certain high-risk employers of 20 or more employees and employers with 250 or more employees must electronically file Form 300A for workplace illnesses and injuries that occurred in calendar year 2016.

OSHA recently posted a notice on its website stating that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs at this time and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 form 300A electronically.” It should be noted that the requirement to keep records has not changed; only the method in which they are submitted is under scrutiny.

IRS Releases 2018 Amounts for HSAs 

The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2017-37 that sets the dollar limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2018. For

For calendar year 2018, the annual contribution limit for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP is $3,450, and the annual contribution limit for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $6,900. For

For calendar year 2018, a “high deductible health plan” is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,650 for self-only coverage or $13,300 for family coverage.

IRS Releases Information Letter to Confirm that FSAs Cannot Reimburse Medicare Premiums

The IRS released its Information Letter Number 2017-0004 to confirmed that a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSAs) cannot reimburse Medicare premium expenses. The IRS cited its Publication 969 which states that an FSA cannot reimburse health insurance premium payments. Because Medicare premiums are premiums for other health coverage, Medicare premiums are not FSA-reimbursable expenses.

IRS Releases Memo Regarding Tax Treatment of Benefits Paid by Self-Funded Health Plans

On May 12, 2017, the IRS released a Memorandum to address the taxability of benefits paid under an arrangement that combines a self-funded fixed indemnity heath plan and wellness program. The IRS specifically refutes the claim that these arrangements provide nontaxable cash payments to employees and employment tax savings for the employer and employees.

The IRS concluded that benefits paid under a such an employer-provided self-funded health plan should be included in an employee’s income and wages if the average amounts received by the employee for participating in a health-related activity predictably exceed the employee’s after-tax contributions.

CMS Plans to End SHOP Exchange

On May 15, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will issue rules to essentially end the Federally Facilitated SHOP Exchange (FF-SHOP) at the end of 2017.

Under the rules that CMS intends to propose, HealthCare.gov will continue to make FF-SHOP participation eligibility decisions for small employers regarding the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, but the FF-SHOP will stop handling SHOP functions, such as processing premium payments or handling employer or employee enrollment, for SHOP plans taking effect on or after on January 1, 2018. CMS intends to allow employers to directly enroll with insurers offering SHOP plans or through FF-SHOPregistered brokers or agents.

DOL Issues Advisory Opinion on Employee Welfare Benefit Plan Sponsored by a Group of Employers

On May 16, 2017, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued its Advisory Opinion to address whether a membership-based organization could fall within ERISA’s definition of “group or association of employers” who sponsor an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan.

Based on the facts presented to the DOL, the DOL concluded that the organization’s membership is comprised of employers engaged in the same industry and that the employers have a genuine organizational relationship unrelated to the health plan through their membership in the organization. The DOL determined, based on the proposed arrangement’s facts, that the participating member employers would be a bona fide group or association of employers under ERISA and that the health plan would be an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan.

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Take Opt-Out Arrangement FLSA Case

Last year in court case Flores v. City of San Gabriel, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers several western states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) determined that when an employer pays cash to an employee for opting out of its health plan, the payment must be considered part of the employee’s “regular rate of pay” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This means that the adjusted rate of pay must be used in calculating compensation for overtime hours.

The City of San Gabriel appealed the 9th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 15, 2017, the Supreme Court declined to take the case, essentially leaving the decision intact.

Practically speaking, if an employer is in one of the states covered by the 9th Circuit and if the employer calculates compensation for overtime hours, then it should consider this additional FLSA aspect to offering cash in lieu of benefits.

To download the full compliance alert click Here.


More Employers View HSAs as Part of Retirement Strategy

Did you know that more employers are starting to use health savings accounts as a tool for retirement? Find out more from this interesting read from Employee Benefits Advisor on how employers are utilizing HSAs in their retirement program by Paula Aven Gladych.

The health savings account market is continuing its massive growth — as well as its increasing importance to the retirement industry.

According to a survey conducted by the Plan Sponsor Council of America, more than 75% of plan sponsors “view the HSA as part of their retirement benefits strategy.”

Nearly 60% of the respondents believe HSAs should replace flexible spending accounts, and nearly three-fourths of employers think that HSAs should be open to all employees, not just those enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, according to the survey. The PSCA received 255 responses to its survey, with 181 of plan sponsors saying they sponsor an HSA for their employees.

HSAs are medical savings accounts that employees and employers can use to pay for qualifying healthcare expenses, now and into the future. It is widely acknowledged that healthcare expenses are one of the largest expenses people face in retirement, so this is one more tool individuals can use to save for their futures.

Made possible by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, the accounts allow employees to set money aside pre-tax. Any money that isn’t spent down in a given year can be invested, just like a retirement plan. That money can be used to pay for current and future healthcare expenses.

HSAEnrollment in employer-sponsored HSA/high-deductible plans more than doubled from 5% in 2005 to 11% in 2015, but in spite of that, 6.2 million of the 22.5 million people eligible to participate in an HSA did not contribute to it, according to the PSCA survey.

In 2016, the PSCA created an HSA committee to focus on health savings accounts and their impact on employee retirement readiness and to evaluate and improve their integration with defined contribution retirement plans.

“Absent legislative action that would curtail HSA tax preferences, HSA accounts are here to stay,” says PSCA Executive Director Tony Verheyen.

According to survey respondents, about 80% of employees are eligible to participate in an employer-sponsored HSA plan, with an average account balance of $3,161. Forty percent of employers said that fewer than 25% of their participants use up their entire HSA balance each year and 35% of plans said that 26-50% of their participants use their entire balance every year.

“So many employers participating in the survey do perceive the HSA to be a vehicle for employees to accumulate savings,” the report found.

Two-thirds of employers who sponsor a health savings account program for employees say they contribute a set dollar amount to each account based on the high-deductible health plan coverage tier an employee has chosen. More than 80% of the employers who sponsor an HSA say they contribute some money to the plan. Forty percent of plans say they front load contributions at the start of the year, while 30% contribute some amount every payday.

More than half of those surveyed said they cover the cost of HSA maintenance fees for active employees and 6% said they pay them for terminated employees. Only 21% of surveyed employers expressed concern about the fiduciary liability of sponsoring an HSA-high-deductible health plan.

The Plan Sponsor Council of America is made up of employee benefit plan sponsors who work together to help improve and expand upon the employer-sponsored retirement plan system.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gladych P. (2017 May 9). More employers view HSAs as part of retirement strategy [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/more-employers-view-hsas-as-part-of-retirement-strategy


The Pitfalls of Online Enrollment Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


Employee Expectations Changing the Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


The Killjoy of Office Culture

One of the latest things trending right now in business is the importance of office culture. When everyone in the office is working well together, productivity rises and efficiency increases. Naturally, the opposite is true when employees do not work well together and the corporate culture suffers. So, what are these barriers and what can you do to avoid them?

According to an article titled, “8 ways to ruin an office culture,” in Employee Benefit News, the ways to kill corporate culture may seem intuitive, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t happen. Here’s what organizations SHOULD do to improve their corporate culture.

Provide positive employee feedback. While it’s easy to criticize, and pointing out employees’ mistakes can often help them learn to not repeat them, it’s just as important to recognize success and praise an employee for a job well done. An “attaboy/attagirl” can really boost someone’s spirits and let them know their work is appreciated.

Give credit where credit is due. If an assistant had the bright idea, if a subordinate did all the work, or if a consultant discovered the solution to a problem, then he or she should be publicly acknowledged for it. It doesn’t matter who supervised these people, to the victor go the spoils. If someone had the guts to speak up, then he or she should get the glory. Theft is wrong, and it’s just as wrong when you take someone’s idea, or hard work, and claim it as your own.

Similarly, listen to all ideas from all levels within the company. Every employee, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, likes to feel that their contributions matter. From the C-suite, all the way down to the interns, a genuinely good idea is always worth investigating regardless of whether the person who submitted the idea has an Ivy League degree or not. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a different perspective – like one from an employee on a different management/subordinate level – to see the best way to resolve an issue.

Foster teamwork because many hands make light work. Or, as I like to say, competition breeds contempt. You compete to get your job, you compete externally against other companies, and you may even compete against your peers for an award. You shouldn’t have to compete with your own co-workers. The winner of that competition may not necessarily be the best person and it will often have negative consequences in terms of trust.

Get rid of unproductive employees. One way to stifle innovation and hurt morale is by having an employee who doesn’t do any work while everyone else is either picking up the slack, or covering for that person’s duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to prune the branches.

Let employees have their privacy – especially on social media. As long as an employee isn’t conducting personal business on company time, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with an employee updating their social media accounts when they’re “off the clock.” In addition, as long as employees aren’t divulging company secrets, or providing other corporate commentary that runs afoul of local, state, or federal laws, then there’s no reason to monitor what they post.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Yes, employees have families, they get sick, or they just need time away from the workplace to de-stress. And while there will always be times when extra hours are needed to finish a project, it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure at a company to insist that employees sacrifice their time.