What Employers Need to Know About Communication

What’s the key communication platform for employee benefits communication?

It is not a one size fits all approach, each group needs to take a look at their population and decide what is best for them.”  -Tonya Bahr, Hierl Employee Benefit Advisor.

  • Emails are efficient for targeting professional staff, especially companies that have companywide email addresses.
  • Letters or texts are the best way to communicate with field or labor employees.
  • A popular way to communicate is by meeting, whether it be a webinar or seminar. Often, companies will mandate that their employees attend informational sessions discussing benefits offered. This allows our clients to efficiently communicate a consistent message out to employees to help understand their benefits.

 

Ding ding ding, round 1! Paper VS Digital communications

Okay, not really because it’s not a competition!

An online approach works really well for employees but it is also very important for the spouses to be engaged as well. We typically follow up the meetings with a deliverable the employee can bring home to their spouse. This not only allows the spouse to learn more about the benefits available to them, but it also reinforces what was covered in the meeting for the employee.” -Tonya Bahr

tonya bahr 

To download the full article click Here.


The benefits of financial wellness counseling

Are your employees being properly educated on the benefits on their financial well-being? If not take a look at this article from Benefits Pro about the value of educating your employees in financial wellness by Jack Craver

Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling organization, is touting the results of a recent survey it conducted as evidence that employers can significantly reduce stress among their employees by offering them financial counseling resources.

MMI announced recently 86 percent of the 150 employees it provided financial counseling to at an Oregon-based nonprofit health agency say they have less stress related to money as a result of the counseling.

In addition, most of the employees at Samaritan Health Services say the counseling led to them achieving certain financial goals, such as reducing debt (60 percent), setting aside more money for retirement (38 percent), boosting their credit score (30 percent) or buying a home (8 percent).

“At MMI, we know that financial coaching, counseling, and education work, but seeing the incredible, positive impact this program has made on the financial outlook of these clients is simply amazing,” says Julie Griffith, Mapping Your Future account manager, in a statement accompanying the study’s release.

Other research has shown employers are increasingly viewing financial counseling as a key component of wellness initiatives due to the significant psychological and emotional toll money-related anxiety takes on employees.

In addition to causing depression, sleep deprivation and all sorts of health problems that reduce an employee’s productivity, financial stress often distracts employees from their work. A survey last year showed that 37 percent of U.S. employees report spending time on the job thinking about or dealing with personal finances.

The awakening to the importance of financial wellness coincides with a number of studies which shed light on young Americans’ lack of savings. One study found a solid majority of Americans have less than $500 in savings. Another found that the U.S. personal savings rate was just 5.7 percent, roughly half of what it was 50 years ago.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Craver J. (2017 March 08). The benefits of financial wellness counseling [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/03/08/the-benefits-of-financial-wellness-counseling


Caregiving Benefits Can Sharpen Your Competitive Edge

Interesting article from the Society of Human Resources about the benefits of leveraging caregiving benefits in your employee benefits program by Hank Jackson

Whether caring for an aging parent, welcoming a newborn child or handling family medical situations, life events can create some of the most stressful and demanding challenges in our personal and work lives. For those without employer-provided paid leave, the burden is even heavier. People often need extended periods of time off to cover responsibilities at home, but many are forced to rely on the federal floor of unpaid leave guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

High costs are cited as the biggest barrier to paid leave, but now, more than ever, companies risk losing great talent to rivals with more robust policies—here and abroad. In addition, employers struggle with a growing patchwork of state and local leave laws that hinder innovation and add compliance costs. This is why SHRM is advocating for public policies that would provide relief to employers while guaranteeing paid leave and expanded flexibility options for full-time and part-time employees. The issue of paid leave is a hot one—featured during the presidential campaign and poised to be a focus of congressional consideration in 2017.

Last year, more than two dozen large U.S. employers—including American Express, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, Campbell’s, First Data and Etsy—announced they would significantly strengthen paid family leave benefits. Their approaches vary, ranging from extending the time employees can take paid leave to broadening categories of eligible individuals and covered situations. But in all instances, a powerful business case was behind the decision. They believe it is a winning strategy and are promoting it widely to stakeholders and shareholders.

A carefully analyzed and applied family leave benefit can be a differentiator in today’s hyper-competitive talent marketplace. Even medium-sized and small enterprises can offer budget- and family-friendly policies, such as flexible schedules. The important thing is to develop a workplace where an employee’s work-life needs are valued and supported, balanced with the right benefits, rewards and adaptability across an employee’s life cycle.

Paid parental leave and other work-flexible programs are not only about competing or compliance. They are about doing the right thing for the organization and the employee. As HR professionals, it’s up to us to help our organizations grow a culture where both employees and employers win. This is part of the compact to create the 21st Century workplace employees of all ages want—innovative, fair and competitive with other businesses.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jackson H. (2017 March 09). Caregiving benefits can sharpen your competitive edge [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/caregiving-benefits-can-sharpen-your-competitive-edge


Why employers should rethink their benefits strategies

Has your employee benefits program grown old and stale? Take a look at the great article from Employee Benefits Advisors about the benefits of upgrading your employee benefits to match your employees needs by Chris Bruce

Historically, employee benefits have been viewed as a routine piece of the HR process. However, the mentality of employees today has shifted, especially among the growing population of millennial employees. Today’s workforce expects more from their employers than the traditional healthcare and retirement options, in terms of both specific benefit offerings and communications about those offerings.

For companies, it’s critical they address the evolving needs of their workforce. With unemployment rates plunging to their lowest levels since before the financial crisis, the search for talent is heating up, and organizations need to work harder than ever to retain top talent in a competitive job market. To do this, I see three steps that organizations need to take when rethinking their benefits strategy and engaging with employees: embrace a proactive rather than reactive benefits strategy, think digital when it comes to employee communications and consider the next generation of employee benefits as a way to differentiate from the competition.

1. Reconsider your benefits evaluation process

The benefits process at most companies is reactive — executives and HR only look to evaluate current offerings when insurance contracts expire or a problem emerges. When the evaluation does happen, the two factors that often concern employers the most are product and price. Employers often gravitate toward well-known insurers that offer the schemes that appear familiar. However, this can often lead companies to choose providers who fall short on innovation and overall customer experience for employees.

This approach needs to be flipped on its head. Companies should be proactive in determining which benefit schemes best meet the needs of their workforce. The first step is going straight to the source: talk to employees. Employers can’t know what benefits would be most appealing to their employee base unless they ask. By turning the evaluation process to employees first, companies can better tailor new benefits to meet the needs of their workers, and also identify existing benefits that might be outdated or irrelevant, therefore saving resources on wasted offerings.

Data and analytics also are playing an increasing role across the HR function, and benefits is no exception. By leveraging technology solutions that allow HR to track benefits usage and engagement, teams can better determine what is resonating with employees and where benefits can be cut back or where they should be ramped up.

2. Put down the brochure and think digital engagement

Employee education is another area of benefits that can often perplex companies. According to a recent survey from Aflac, half of employees only spend 30 minutes or less making benefit selections during the open enrollment period each year. This means employers have a short window of time to educate employees and make sure they are armed with the right information to feel confident in their benefits selection.

To do this effectively, HR needs to move past flat communication like brochures, handouts and lengthy employee packets and look for ways to meet employees where they live — online. By testing out innovations that create a rich experience, while still being simple and intuitive, employers can grab the attention of their workforce and make sure key information is communicated. For example, exploring opportunities to create cross-device experiences for employees so they can interact on-the-go, including augmented reality applications or digital interactive magazines. Additionally, for large corporations, hosting a virtual benefits fair can provide a forum for employees to ask questions in a dynamic setting.

3. Embrace the next-generation of benefits

As organizations become more savvy and nimble, personalization will have a huge impact in encouraging employee engagement and driving satisfaction among today’s increasingly diverse workforce. We have already started to see some companies embrace this new approach to benefits, adding out-of-the-box items to normal offerings — from debt consolidation services and wearable health tracking technology to genome testing and wedding concierge services.

The fact is, the days of “status-quo” benefits are gone, and employees today want benefit options that match their current life circumstances. To best engage employees, organizations need to be proactive in evaluating benefits regularly and using analytics to track usage, identify opportunities to implement digital communication elements and look for ways to introduce new benefits to meet the needs of their employee base. By following these steps, organizations can gain a competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bruce C. (2017 March 10). Why employers should rethink their benefits strategies [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-steps-employers-can-take-to-rethink-benefits-strategy?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


The Changing Landscape of Employee Benefits

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about the changes coming to employee benefits by Pat McClelland

There is no denying our industry is changing rapidly, and it’s not about to slow down. Combined with disruptive advances in technology and evolving consumer expectations, we’re seeing consumer-driven health care emerge. Take, for example, the fact that employees now spend more than nine hours a day on digital devices.

There’s no doubt that all this screen time takes a toll.

  • Device screens expose users to blue light. It’s the light of the day and helps us wake up and regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
  • Research suggests blue light may lead to eye strain and fatigue. Digital eye strain is the physical eye discomfort felt by many individuals after two or more hours in front of a digital screen.
  • In fact, digital eye strain has surpassed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis as the leading computer-related workplace injury in America1.

Employees are demanding visibility into health care costs and transparency in the options available so they can take control of their own health. Consumers are more knowledgeable and sensitive to cost, and as a result becoming very selective about their care.

Lack of preventive care

Preventive screenings are a crucial piece of overall health and wellness. In fact, the largest investment companies make to detect illnesses and manage medical costs is in their health plan. But if employees don’t take advantage of preventive care, this investment will not pay off. Only one out of 10 employees get the preventive screenings you’d expect during an annual medical visit2.

It’s a big lost opportunity for organizations that are looking for a low-cost, high-engagement option to drive employee wellness.

How a vision plan can help

The good news is that the right vision plan can help your employees build a bigger safety net to catch chronic conditions early. It all starts with education on the importance of an eye exam.

Eye exams are preventive screenings that most people seek out as a noninvasive, inexpensive way to check in on their health; it’s a win-win for employers and employees.

  • A comprehensive eye exam can reveal health conditions even if the person being examined doesn’t have symptoms.
  • The eyes are the only unobtrusive place in a person’s body with a clear view of their blood vessels.
  • And, an eye exam provides an opportunity to learn about the many options available to take control of their health and how to protect their vision.

By screening for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol during eye exams, optometrists are often the ones to detect early signs of these conditions and put the patient on a quicker path to managing the condition. In a study conducted in partnership with Human Capital Management Services (HCMS), VSP doctors were the first to detect signs of3:

  • Diabetes – 34 percent of the time
  • Hypertension – 39 percent of the time
  • High cholesterol – 62 percent of the time

See the original article Here.

Source:

McClelland P. (2017 March 02). The changing Landscape of Employee Benefits [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/the-changing-landscape-of-employee-benefits


Progressive benefits are the lure for new talent

There are many different ways to attracted new talent to your workplace. Take a peek at this freat article from Employee Benefits Advisors about which benefits are best for attracting new talent by Paula Aven Glagych

Live trees indoors, pets at work and an in-office happy hour. Underground Elephant is very forward-thinking when it comes to how it treats its employees and the benefits it offers.

From its fun headquarters space in the east village of San Diego to its outside-the-box thinking on workplace benefits, the digital marketing company “wants to really create an environment where employees want to come to work every day and feel like they are being rewarded,” says Amy Zebrowski, HR business partner at Underground Elephant. “It is a very challenging and fast-paced environment.”

Underground Elephant, which was founded in 2008, provides marketing and technology services to financial service and insurance companies. It offers staffers healthcare and retirement benefits but wanted to show them that it is invested in their education and their family’s education by offering a choice between three non-traditional benefits. People who have worked for the company for one year can choose between a student loan repayment program through Student Loan Genius; a 529 college savings plan through Gradvisor; or $2,000 in company stock options.

If they choose the student loan or college savings plan options, Underground Elephant will contribute $1,500 a year to the program.

Gradvisor founder and CEO Marcos Cordero had wanted to offer a student loan reimbursement program for a couple of years. The company hires many entry-level employees straight out of college, trains them and helps them build their careers at the company.

“We know a lot of employees with student loan debt. We wanted to help them address that and support their financial wellbeing. We didn’t want to exclude employees who don’t have student loans. Our goal was to create a more inclusive program,” Zebrowski says.

Student Loan Genius’ platform allows employees to explore different loan repayment options and to find the one that best fits their situation. Employees can also have their student loan payments taken directly out of their paycheck each month.

The Gradvisor 529 college savings plan helps parents and grandparents save money for future educational expenses.

The cost of college

Cordero says that his 529 platform is popular because recent Gallup data shows that “for employees with children under 18, this is their number one financial concern. It supersedes retirement and unexpected medical bills.”

He added that the cost of college is rising faster than any other expense in the home and millennials, in particular, are feeling the pinch. Many of them left college with huge student loans and they want to make sure their children don’t fall into the same trap. Baby Boomers are also intrigued by the 529 plan because they have “more disposable income to help grandchildren save for college,” Cordero says.

He believes that this benefit will continue to grow over the next decade, but currently “more employers offer pet insurance than college savings.” That is in large part due to the state-by-state complexity of the programs. Each state offers a different 529 plan.

The Gradvisor platform takes into consideration an employee’s risk tolerance, financial situation and household tax filing when determining the best 529 plan for them. The company serves as a fiduciary so it takes “all of those inputs and recommends the most suitable and best fit investment option and asset allocation for the client. We don’t get any commissions or sales charges from the 529 plan. Our advice is 100% objective,” he says. Companies pay to offer the program on a per user per month basis.

“If you look at our stats, our customers tend to save earlier. We’re rolling out this really intuitive step-by-step platform that takes a lot of that fear or intimidation away,” Cordero says.

The average parent who takes advantage of Gradvisor starts saving when their child is five years old, compared to seven in the general population, which adds a couple more years of compounded growth. They also save twice as much as the average person.

Both the student debt repayment and college savings benefits programs were introduced to the company’s employees in January for implementation in March.

“The response has been great. All of our employees are excited about it. It can be a huge help with financial expenses if you are paying toward a student loan it is reducing the overall interest of the life of the loan. Overall it is very positive,” Zebrowski says.

The company’s primary goal in offering these three benefits was to retain good employees and to “show we are invested in their education and their family’s education and financial wellness,” she says.

Based on the company’s younger employee base, there are more participants in the student loan program, but there’s also a lot of interest in the 529 plans.

“I think a lot of people are conscious of the future and saving for families down the line. We’ve had a good response to both,” Zebrowski says.

The company offers a 1% employer match on all employee contributions to its 401(k) plan. The company employs 55 people currently and has been listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in its industry.

The benefit of perks

Underground Elephant wants to be innovative with its benefits because California’s tech industry is very competitive. Many people want to live in San Diego, so “attracting talent, in addition to that retention piece, that certainly factors in,” she says.

The company’s new headquarters building is unique in that it has live trees in the middle of the work space.

“The idea is to make it more open to give people the feeling of being connected to the outdoors,” she says. It has pool, ping pong and is setting up a new game room so employees can get together and have fun. It also has an onsite bar where the company offers regular happy hours.

Employees can bring pets to the office and it has a snack area where the company provides breakfast or lunch once a week.

For the past couple of years, the company has participated in a forum program where the company is divided into groups of eight to 10 employees and these groups participate in challenges throughout the year, including cultural challenges, scavenger hunts, community and charitable events.

“Each year we reevaluate our cultural programs to see what is working and what isn’t working; what people enjoy. The goal is to create as much engagement as possible,” she says.

Underground Elephant offers a full suite of health benefits, including full medical, dental and vision, long and short term disability and voluntary life insurance.

“We want to prepare people for success here or outside the company. Ultimately, the goal is to give people the skills and experience to promote within Underground Elephant or to transfer to other jobs as well,” she says. “Our people tend to be very successful.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Glagych P. (2017 February 28). Progressive benefits are the lure for new talent [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/progressive-benefits-are-the-lure-for-new-talent?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


CBO estimate of AHCA impact on employer-sponsored benefits is off the mark

Does the implementation of the AHCA have you worried about your employee benefits? Take a look at this great article from Employee Benefit News about what the implementaion of the AHCA will mean for employers by Joel Wood.

In breaking down the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the proposed American Health Care Act, let’s look at the impact of the AHCA on employer-sponsored plans. The CBO estimates that 2 million fewer Americans will have employer-sponsored coverage in 2020, growing to seven million by 2027. Here’s CBO’s rationale:

  • The mandate penalties are eliminated, and thus many will drop.
  • The tax credits are available to people with a broader range of incomes than the Obamacare credits/subsidies
  • Some employers will drop coverage and increase compensation in the belief that non-group insurance is a close substitute.

These are valid points. The CBO experts are basing their estimates on sound economics and inside the constraints of their authority, and so of course we worry about any proposal that devolves employer-sponsored care. But, we also have to note that the CBO said much the same about the Affordable Care Act, which largely didn’t happen. And CBO notwithstanding, we at the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, too, feared something of a death spiral after the ACA was enacted.

The ACA’s employer penalties were very small in comparison to premiums, and it made sense that many would dump their plans, give their employees cash, and send them to the subsidized exchanges. Also, the subsidies were pretty rich — graduating out at 400% of the poverty line. That’s more than $90,000 for a family of four.

What we didn’t take into account in reference to the ACA were a number of things:

  • A core assumption of the ACA was that states would all be forced to expand Medicaid to 138% of the poverty line, and the exchange subsidies would kick in above that amount. The courts struck that down and 19 (all-red) states never adopted the expansion, creating a massive donut hole.
  • We underestimated how chaotic would be the rollout of Healthcare.gov.
  • We knew the exchanges would be a model of adverse selection, but a “bailout” of insurance carriers through the “risk corridor” program was supposed to keep them in the game. Republicans balked, sued, and the reinsurance payments have been so lacking that most of the exchanges are currently in a “death spiral” (as described by Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna).

So employer-sponsored health insurance has, well, thrived since the enactment of the ACA — perhaps in spite of it, not because of it.

If the CBO is correct and seven million people lose ESI over the next decade, that’s problematic. But it ignores other opportunities that are being created through the proposed GOP bill and Trump Administration executive actions.

Employers-sponsored opportunities
Republicans propose significant expansion of HSAs that will compliment higher-deductible ESI plans. They want work-arounds for state mandates on essential health benefits, even though their goal of “buying across state lines” can’t be realized through the tricky budget reconciliation process. And, ultimately, Republicans want to realize the potential for the ACA wellness provisions that have been eviscerated through years of EEOC/ADA/GINA conflicts. That would be a big win for employers.

The most important tradeoff between the “discussion draft” of a few weeks ago and the AHCA is that GOP House leaders junked their plan to tax 10% of employee contributions for ESI plans, in favor of pushing the Cadillac tax out five more years, to 2025.

Personally, I figure I’ve got another decade left in me to lobby for this industry, and that would get me eight years along the way. That’s a terrific tradeoff in my book, especially as Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) emphasized he never intends for that tax to go into effect — it’s purely a budgetary gimmick. And, it’s a ridiculous “score” from CBO anyway. Everybody knows that no employer is going to pay that tax; they’ll work their plan design to get under the numbers.

President Trump’s stance on 10 key benefit issues

Where does Donald J. Trump stand on parental leave, minimum wage and other important workplace issues? Here’s what employers need to know.

My conclusions at this moment in time, thus, are:

  • Have we won the war among GOP leaders with respect to “hands off” of ESI while trying to solve the death-spiral problems in the individual/exchange marketplace? Not yet. We won a battle, not a war. Sadly and frustratingly, too many Republican leaders have bought into the elite conservative/libertarian economic intelligentsia that pure consumerism should drive healthcare, and that ESI is an “historic accident.” As our friend Ed Fensholt at Lockton always says, “Penicillin was an historic accident, too, but look how that turned out.”
  • Was former Speaker John Boehner right recently when he said that there’s no way you can get to the requisite 51 votes in the Senate right now with this current AHCA construct? You bet he was right. If you do the House plan and defund Planned Parenthood, you lose votes of pro-choice Republicans in the Senate. If Ryan and Trump relent to the Freedom Caucus on hacking the Medicaid expansion in 2018 instead of 2020, they’ll lose votes of Republicans in Medicaid-expanded states. In any event, they probably lose the votes of Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and a number of other Republicans who view the AHCA as “Obamacare Lite” and demand a more straightforward repeal.
  • Was Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) right when he said this on Face the Nation recently? “Look,” he said, “the most important thing for a person like myself who runs for office and tells the people we’re asking to hire us, ‘This is what I’ll do if I get elected.’ And then if you don’t do that, you’re breaking your word.” You bet he’s right. Republicans ran on this. They voted 60 times in the House to repeal the ACA. If they can’t do this, they can’t do tax reform, they can’t do 12 appropriations bills. Their margins for error (21 votes in the House; two in the Senate) are almost impossibly narrow, and the press hates this bill. But I wouldn’t pronounce this effort dead, by a long stretch.

Sometimes, when lobbying blank-faced Republican leaders on the importance of ESI, I feel like the old BB King lyric: “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’, too.”
But because of, or in spite of, current legislative efforts that are dominating the headlines, I feel relatively well-poised for ESI to continue to be the means through which a majority of Americans receive the health insurance they like and they want to keep. Our job is for them to keep it. Notwithstanding lots of obstacles, we will.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Wood J. (2017 March 21). CBO estimate of AHCA impact on employer-sponsored benefits is off the mark [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/cbo-estimate-of-ahca-impact-on-employer-sponsored-benefits-is-off-the-mark


ACA replacement proposal leaked: Some of the finer points for HR

Does the repeal of the ACA have you worried? Checkout this great article about some of the changes that will come with the repeal of the ACA by Jared Bilski.

A draft of the Republicans’ Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement bill that was leaked to the public is likely to look a lot different when it’s finalized. Still, it gives employers a good indication of how Republicans will start to deliver on their promises to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. 

It should come as no surprise to employers that the GOP replacement bill, which was obtained by POLITICO, would scrap a cornerstone of the ACA — the individual mandate — as well as income-based subsidies and all of the laws current taxes (at least one replacement tax is included in the legislation).

According to the discussion draft of the replacement bill, it would offer tax credits for purchasing insurance; however, those credits would be based on age instead of income.

For example, a person under the age of 30 would receive a credit of $2,000. A person over the age of 60, on the other hand, would receive double that amount.

Some of the other highlights of the leaked legislation include:

End of ACA essential health benefits

Obamacare’s essential health benefits mandates require health plans to cover 10 categories of healthcare services, which include:

  1. Ambulatory patient services
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Maternity and newborn care
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services
  6. Prescription medications
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  8. Lab services
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, and
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Under the bill, individual states would make the decisions about what types of services plans must cover — beginning in 2020.

A Medicaid expansion overhaul

The Medicaid expansion under Obamacare that has covered millions of people will be phased out by 2020 under the GOP bill. The replacement proposal: States would receive a set dollar amount for each person.

There would also be variations in the funding amounts based on an individual’s health status. In other words, more money would be allocated for disabled individuals, which is a huge departure from the open-ended entitlement of the current Medicaid program.

Pre-existing conditions, older individuals

One of the most popular elements of the ACA would apparently remain untouched under the GOP bill: the Obamacare provision that prohibits health plans from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

However, the legislation does take aim at older individuals. The GOP would allow insurers to charge older people up to five times more for healthcare than younger individuals. The current ACA limits that difference to three times as much.

The bill does aim to remedy this discrepancy by providing bigger tax credits for older people.

Taxes get axed

There is a slew of taxes built into the ACA — the manufacturer tax, and taxes on medical devices, health plans and even tanning beds — and the Republican bill would repeal those taxes.

But those taxes help cover the cost of the ACA. So to make up for the shortfall that would result in killing those taxes, the GOP is floating the idea of changing the tax treatment of employer-based health insurance. As employers are well aware, employer-sponsored health plan premiums currently aren’t taxed. Under the GOP proposal, this would be changed for some premiums over a certain threshold — although the specifics of such a change remain murky.

Such a move would surely be met by fierce opposition from the business community. In fact, major employer groups are already preparing to fight such a proposition.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 March 01). ACA replacement proposal leaked: some of the finer points for HR [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/aca-replacement-proposal-leaked-some-of-the-finer-points-for-hr/


Compliance Overview: FLSA – Minimum Wage Laws

Most employers and employees in the United States are subject to the minimum wage provisions set out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

However, the FLSA also provides various minimum wage exceptions under specific circumstances to workers with disabilities, full-time students, workers under 20 years of age (during their first 90 days of employment), tipped employees and student learners.

In addition, special rules apply to state and local government agencies in fire protection and law enforcement activities, volunteer services, and compensatory time off (instead of cash overtime pay). Employers are required to keep records on wages, hours and other items which are generally maintained as an ordinary business practice.

The Wage and Hour Division of the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) enforces minimum wage provisions and investigates violation claims.

Minimum Wage rate

The current federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour. To calculate an employee’s wage rate, an employer must include all forms of compensation given to, or paid on behalf of, the employee, except for:

  • Additional compensation for overtime hours, holiday hours or work that falls outside of a schedule set by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement;
  • Compensation for paid time off (such as vacation, illness, holidays and production downtimes);
  • Gifts and monetary awards that are not measured by hours worked, productivity or efficiency;
  • Irrevocable employee benefit contributions (such as life insurance, health benefits and retirement accounts);
  • Value or income derived from an employer-provided grant; and
  • Value or income from stock option rights or stock appreciation and bona fide stock purchase programs.

Subminimum Wage Rates

The FLSA allows employers to hire students, student-learners, apprentices, messengers and disabled individuals at rates below the minimum wage rate. The FLSA also includes a special provision for tipped employee wages.

Learners, Apprentices and Messengers

Employers can pay learners, apprentices and messengers a wage rate below the minimum wage rate when they obtain a special certificate from the DOL. When issuing the certificates, the DOL will consider the number of workers an employer wants to cover under the special certificate, the number of hours worked by these employees and the employees’ length of service with the employer.

Learners are individuals receiving training for the occupation for which they were hired. Individuals qualify as learners until they acquire the necessary skills and attain the judgment level they need to perform their job responsibilities efficiently (generally up to 240 hours of vocational training with the same employer in a three-year period). Individuals may be learners in only two qualifying occupations. Learners can receive wages as low as 95 percent (75 percent for student-learners) of the minimum wage rate.

Apprentices are individuals (at least 16 years old) employed to learn a skilled trade through a registered apprenticeship program. The DOL establishes the wage rate for apprentices, along with other employment terms and conditions, in accordance with apprenticeship program guidelines.

Messengers are individuals employed primarily in delivering letters and messages. They may receive wages as low as 95 percent of the minimum rate.

Students

Employers can pay students a wage rate of as low as 85 percent of the current minimum rate after obtaining a special certificate from the DOL. These certificates are available to agricultural employers, retailers, service sector employers and institutions of higher learning. To obtain a special certificate from the DOL, employers must show that the student employee:

  • Does not work more than 20 hours in any workweek while school is in session;
  • Is a full-time student at an institution of learning; and
  • Does not violate any child labor laws (if applicable).

Institutions of higher learning have an additional requirement to show that each student-employee working under a certificate of subminimum wage rate is also enrolled as a full-time student at the institution where he or she works.

Employers wanting to hire more than six student-employees must show the DOL that employing the students does not reduce employment opportunities for non-student employees.

Disabled Workers

The DOL can also issue special certificates authorizing employers to pay subminimum wage rates to individuals whose earning capacity or productivity is impaired because of age, physical or mental deficiency or injury. Subminimum wage rates under these special certificates must be commensurate to the wages earned by nondisabled employees in similar jobs.

To receive a subminimum wage rate certificate for a disabled worker, an employer must provide the DOL with written assurances that it will review the disabled worker’s wages every six months and that it will adjust a disabled worker’s wages at least once per year to reflect prevailing rates for nondisabled workers in similar jobs.

Employers may not reduce a disabled individual’s wages below the wage rate indicated on the certificate, unless they receive prior authorization from the DOL to make the change.

Tipped Employees

The minimum hourly wage for tipped employees—also known as a cash wage—is $2.13 per hour. The FLSA defines a tipped employee as an individual who is engaged in an occupation in which he or she customarily and regularly receives at least $30 per month in tips.

The FLSA allows employers to use a tip credit of $5.12 per hour and reduce a tipped employee’s wage rate requirements because it assumes that the employee’s tips will offset the difference between the cash wage and the minimum wage rate, enabling the employee to receive wages at, or above, the minimum wage rate.

However, federal law requires employers to notify employees at the beginning of their employment that their wages are calculated using tips, a tip credit and a cash wage. The tip credit does not vary for a tipped employee who works overtime hours.

In addition, employers must subsidize a tipped employee’s wages to the extent that the employee’s cash wage and tips are less than the minimum wage rate.

Minimum Wage Rate Exemptions

FLSA exceptions are narrowly defined. Employers should check the exact terms and conditions for each exception carefully. The following examples are an illustrative but not all-inclusive list of employees exempt from the federal minimum wage:

  • Agricultural employees that are immediately related to their employers, are hand harvest laborers, work for employers that use more than 500 man-days of labor in any quarter of the previous calendar year or work in the range production of livestock;
  • Bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools);
  • Babysitters and companions for the elderly whose employment is casual and who provide services for individuals who are unable (because of age or infirmity) to care for themselves;
  • Computer system analysts, programmers, engineers and similarly skilled workers with wages of at least $27.63 per hour and whose primary duty is to apply system analysis techniques and procedures, consult with users or determine, design, develop, document, analyze, create, test or modify hardware, software or system functional specifications;
  • Domestic service employees whose compensation is not classified as wages under the Social Security Act or who work for less than eight hours in a workweek;
  • Newly hired employees under 20 years of age during the first 90 consecutive calendar days following their hiring date (as long as the employer does not displace, fully or partially, other employees’ work hours or benefits to accommodate new hires);
  • Newspaper delivery and publication employees when the newspaper has a circulation of less than 4,000 and its major circulation is within the county (or contiguous counties) where the paper is published;
  • Crew members and seamen working on foreign vessels;
  • Amusement park and recreational establishment employees working for a park that operates for up to seven months in a year or earns at least two-thirds of its total annual income in a six-month period (including individuals working for organized camps and religious and nonprofit educational conference centers);
  • Criminal investigators receiving availability pay (compensation provided for unscheduled services beyond the investigator’s 40-hour workweek in activities that require irregular or unscheduled work hours);
  • Seafood processing employees (individuals employed in the canning, catching, cultivating, farming, harvesting, packing, processing, propagating or taking of any kind of fish, shellfish, crustaceans, sponges, seaweeds and other aquatic forms of animal and vegetable life); and
  • Switchboard operators working for an independently owned public telephone company having no more than 750 stations.

Notice and Postings

Unless an exemption applies, federal law requires employers to post a notice explaining the FLSA to employees. The notice must be posted in every work establishment in a conspicuous place where employees regularly pass by and can easily read it. If an exception applies, employers may modify the model poster provided by the DOL to show the provisions that do not apply.

In addition, the FLSA requires employers that have been authorized to use subminimum wage rate certificates to display and make available to employees a poster explaining the general terms and conditions under which subminimum wage rates may be paid. A subminimum wage certificate notice for impaired workers must be displayed in a conspicuous place where impaired workers, their parents or guardians and other workers may read it. If the employer finds it inappropriate to post a subminimum wage rate notice for impaired workers, the employer may satisfy FLSA notice requirements by providing the notice directly only to all affected employees.

Prohibited discrimination and retaliation

Employers may not discharge or discriminate in any manner against an employee who files a complaint or cooperates with the DOL in an investigation or proceeding.

Penalties

Minimum wage violations under the FLSA are punishable by a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to six months or both. In addition, these violations are subject to civil liability and employers may be required to compensate employees for unpaid wages, liquidated damages and any other penalties a court sees fit to impose. Fee amounts may increase for repeat and willful offenders.

To download the full compliance alert click Here.


Employers embrace new strategies to cut healthcare costs

Are you looking for a new solution for cutting your healthcare cost? Take a look at the great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about what other employers are doing to cut their cost healthcare cost by Phil Albinus.

As employers await a new health plan to replace the Affordable Care Act and consensus grows that high deductible health plans (HDHPs) are not the perfect vehicle for cutting healthcare costs, employers are incorporating innovative strategies to achieve greater savings.

Employers are offering HSAs, wellness incentives and price transparency tools at higher rates in an effort to cut the costs of their employee health plans. And when savings appear to plateau, they are implementing innovative reward plans to those who adopt these benefits, according to the 2017 Medical Plan Trends and Observation Report conducted by employee-engagement firm DirectPath and research firm CEB. They examined 975 employee benefit plans to analyze how they functioned in terms of plan design, cost savings measures and options for care.

The report found that 67% of firms offer HSAs while only 15% offer employee-funded Health Reimbursement Arrangements. As “use of high deductible plans seem to have (at least temporarily) plateaued under the current uncertainty around the future of the ACA, employer contributions to HSAs increased almost 10%,” according to the report.

Wellness programs continue to gain traction. Fifty-eight percent of 2017 plans offer some type of wellness incentive, which is up from 50% in 2016. When it comes to price transparency tools, 51% of employers offer them to help employees choose the best service, and 18% plan to add similar tools in the next three years. When these tools are used, price comparison requests saw an average employee savings of $173 per procedure and average employer savings of $409 per procedure, according to CEB research.

“What was interesting was the level of creativity within these incentives and surcharges. There were paycheck credits, gift cards, points that could be redeemed for rewards,” says Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath. “One employer reduced the co-pays for office visits to $20 if you participated in the wellness program. We are seeing a level of creativity that we haven’t seen before.”

Surcharges on tobacco use has gone down while surcharges for non-employees such as spouses has risen. “While the percentage of organizations with spousal surcharges remained static (26% in 2017, as compared to 27% in 2016), average surcharge amounts increased dramatically to $152 per month, a more than 40% increase from 2016,” according to the report.

Tobacco surcharges going down “is reflective of employers putting incentives in, so they are taking a carrot approach instead of the stick,” says Buckey.

Telemedicine adoption appears to be mired in confusion among employees. More than 55% of employees with access to these programs were not aware of their availability, and almost 60% of employees who have telemedicine programs don’t feel they are easy to access, according to a separate CEB survey.

Employers seem to be introducing transparency and wellness programs because the savings from HDHPs appear to have plateaued, says Buckey. She also noted recent research that HSAs only deliver initial savings at the expense of the employee’s health.

“With high deductible plans and HSAs, there has been a lot of noise how they aren’t the silver bullet in controlling costs. Some researchers find that it has a three-year effect on costs because employees delay getting care and by the time they get it, it’s now an acute or chronic condition instead of something that could have been headed off early,” she says.

“And there is a tremendous lack of understanding on how these plans work for lower income employees, [it’s] hard to set aside money for those plans,” she says.

Educating employees to be smarter healthcare consumers is key. “What is becoming really obvious is that there is room to play in all these areas of cost shifting and high deductible plans and wellness but we can no longer put them in place and hope for the best,” she says. We have to focus on educating employees and their families,” she says. “If we are expecting them to act like consumers, we have to arm them with the tools. Most people don’t know where to start.”

She adds, “we know how to shop for a TV or car insurance but 99% of people don’t know where to start to figure out where to shop for prescription drugs or for the hospital where to have your knee surgery. Or if you get different prices from different hospitals, how do you even make the choice?”

When asked if the results of this year’s report surprised her – Buckey has worked on the past five – she said yes and no.

Given that the data is based on information from last summer for plans that would be in effect by 2017, she concedes that given the current political climate “a lot is up in the air.” Most employers were hesitant to make substantive changes to their plans due to the election, she says. We may see the same thing this year as changes are made to the ACA and the Cadillac Tax, she adds.

“What I was interested in were the incremental changes and some of the creativity being applied to longstanding issues of getting costs under control,” she says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Albinus P. (2017 March 05). Employers embrace new strategies to cut healthcare costs [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-embrace-new-strategies-to-cut-healthcare-costs?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000