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


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


HSA expansion could change broker-employer role

The employer and broker roles could be on the verge of changing due to HSA expansion. Take a look at this article from Employee Benefits Advisor about some changes that could take place by Phil Albinus.

As Congress moves to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, details of the new plan are still coming together. Meanwhile, one element appears to have the support of several architects of the various alternative plans that are being proposed by Congress: An expanded use of health savings accounts.

Republicans are pushing for HSA expansion to include greater portability between insurance plans, an increased role for spouses and a raise in the amount that plan participants are allowed to invest. These elements appear in proposals put forth by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), HHS Sec. Tom Price’s plan when he was a member of Congress last year, and in a new plan proposed by the Freedom Caucus — led by Sen. Paul Rand (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).

With the role of HSAs becoming increasingly important in benefit plans, advisers must prepare for how they will handle expanding participation and how they interact with and educate employees on HSAs.

“The Republicans’ plan is more of an expansion of the HSAs. Creating greater rules around those HSAs allows greater portability, more participation with spouses and more protection from bankruptcy. It puts more focus on the participants and less on the employer. It’s not so much a new role as more an expanded and just wider adoption,” says Harrison Stone, general counsel at healthcare solutions provider ConnectYourCare, which is based in Baltimore.

By boosting HSAs under the upcoming Republican plan, the end user will have more control over healthcare spending. “The theory is that all of these consumer-owned and directed accounts are empowering. They fit with overall transparency and should force the market to change as providers are forced to more directly compete,” says Dennis Fiszer, first vice president and chief compliance officer for HUB International.

This could downplay the role of employers as employees have a greater say in the way their funds for medical expenses are spent.

“The HSA portion of the account really belongs to the individual. And so, apart from generalized information, the plan sponsor’s role is more hands off … similar to operation of 401(k) programs. The plan sponsor role is focused on operating and maintaining compliance for the accompanying high-deductible health plan. The employer absorbs all the traditional ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA-borne obligations through sponsorship of the HDHP,” says Fiszer.

HSAs by the numbers
More than 20 million Americans participated in an HSA in 2016, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans. And those numbers are set to climb.

Over the last decade, AHIP found that HSA participation has grown from 3.2 million in 2006 to 20.2 million in 2016. On average, plans surveyed in 2015 and 2016 enrolled an additional 648,000 consumers, which is an average net increase in HSA participants of 3.4%.

HSA adoption is set to take off, says John Young, senior vice president of consumerism and strategy of Alegeus.

“HSAs are at a tipping point for market adoption and have become a foundational pillar for the future success of healthcare, much like 401(k)s are for retirement spending and saving. HSAs are not the panacea to fix all ACA criticisms, but they are a key component of every GOP healthcare proposal,” says Young.

“Simple fixes to HSA accessibility, such as expanded availability to those receiving care under the VA/TRICARE and Indian Health Services, will enable more Americans to have the option of an HSA. Expanding HSA operability, such as increasing contribution limits up to the annual maximum out-of-pocket limit, and allowing spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same account, make HSAs easier to use and understand,” says Young.

Building a smarter healthcare consumer
Ultimately, Republican politicians hope that an expanded HSA will drive down costs as employees search for better bargains in their healthcare. Rand and Sanford’s plan, for example, would sever health insurance from a person’s employer and offer a $5,000 tax credit to fund HSAs.

“What if 30% of the public had health savings accounts?” Paul told The Washington Post. “What do you do when you use your own money? You call up doctors and ask the price… if you create a real marketplace, you drive prices down.”

This supposed HSA benefit will require greater data transparency among healthcare providers and advisers, as well as more interaction with plan participants, the employees.

“For this to work the way I think Congress would like it to work is we need greater transparency and [to] know what certain elements of healthcare costs. This country is kind of edging in that direction,” says Edward Fensholt of Lockton Company’s Lockton Benefit Group.

If an employee has a high deductible plan that is supplemented by an HSA, the theory is they would shop for the cheapest medical test or procedure, such as an MRI. In order to accomplish this, the plan participant will need more data from brokers and healthcare providers.

“That data is hard to come by,” says Fensholt. He adds that this proving this information to the plan sponsor is the role of the broker today — and that arrangement will likely have to change.

“Brokers are the ones helping employers drive the market toward that transparency and brokers are developing tools for this. There are some vendors out there that survey the market and sell their data to brokers or to employers as a positive add-on. I think this is all part of a larger theme as in, ‘Let’s put employees into more control and more responsibility to manage their healthcare.’”

Although HSAs came into existence in 2004 during the tax reforms of President George W. Bush, there is still confusion among employees as to how HSAs work and what the exact tax benefits are.

There is risk of HSAs overshadowing other important forms of CDH accounts like FSAs and HRAs, says Young. He adds that “while HSAs are a powerful tool, they are not the end-all-be-all and should not be positioned as such. FSAs and HRAs continue to have an important place in the market.”

As HSAs expand, Young believes that the industry needs to “laser-focus” on consumer education around healthcare consumerism in general and how to maximize the value of all health benefit account offerings. “Without such consumer education, these plans won’t achieve the optimal objective, to lower healthcare costs and improve health,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Albinus P. (2017 February 21). HSA expansion could change broker-employer role [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hsa-expansion-could-change-broker-employer-role?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Health Law’s 10 Essential Benefits: A Look At What’s At Risk In GOP Overhaul

Great article from Kaiser Health News about all the changes that could be coming with the ACA overhaul by Michelle Andrews

As Republicans look at ways to replace or repair the health law, many suggest shrinking the list of services insurers are required to offer in individual and small group plans would reduce costs and increase flexibility. That option came to the forefront last week when Seema Verma, who is slated to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Trump administration, noted at her confirmation hearing that coverage for maternity services should be optional in those health plans.

Maternity coverage is a popular target and one often mentioned by health law critics, but other items also could be watered down or eliminated.

There are some big hurdles, however. The health law requires that insurers who sell policies for individuals and small businesses cover at a minimum 10 “essential health benefits,” including hospitalization, prescription drugs and emergency care, in addition to maternity services. The law also requires that the scope of the services offered be equal to those typically provided in employer coverage.

“It has to look like a typical employer plan, and those are still pretty generous,” said Timothy Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University Law School in Virginia who is an expert on the health law.

Since the 10 required benefits are spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, it would require a change in the law to eliminate entire categories or to water them down to such an extent that they’re less generous than typical employer coverage. And since Republicans likely cannot garner 60 votes in the Senate, they will be limited in changes that they can make to the ACA. Still, policy experts say there’s room to “skinny up” the requirements in some areas by changing the regulations that federal officials wrote to implement the law.

Habilitative Services

The law requires that plans cover “rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.” Many employer plans don’t include habilitative services, which help people with developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy or autism maintain, learn or improve their functional skills. Federal officials issued a regulation that defined habilitative services and directed plans to set separate limits for the number of covered visits for rehabilitative and habilitative services.

Those rules could be changed. “There is real room for weakening the requirements” for habilitative services, said Dania Palanker, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms who has reviewed the essential health benefits coverage requirements.

Oral And Vision Care For Kids

Pediatric oral and vision care requirements, another essential health benefit that’s not particularly common in employer plans, could also be weakened, said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

Mental Health And Substance Use Disorder Services

The health law requires all individual and small group plans cover mental health and substance use disorder services. In the regulations the administration said that means those services have to be provided at “parity” with medical and surgical services, meaning plans can’t be more restrictive with one type of coverage than the other regarding cost sharing, treatment and care management.

“They could back off of parity,” Palanker said.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug coverage could be tinkered with as well. The rules currently require that plans cover at least one drug in every drug class, a standard that isn’t particularly robust to start with, said Katie Keith, a health policy consultant and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School. That standard could be relaxed further, she said, and the list of required covered drugs could shrink.

Preventive And Wellness Services And Chronic Disease Management

Republicans have discussed trimming or eliminating some of the preventive services that are required to be offered without cost sharing. Among those requirements is providing birth control without charging women anything out of pocket. But, Palanker said, “if they just wanted to omit them, I expect that would end up in court.”

Pregnancy, Maternity And Newborn Care

Before the health law passed, just 12 percent of health policies available to a 30-year-old woman on the individual market offered maternity benefits, according to research by the National Women’s Law Center. Those that did often charged extra for the coverage and required a waiting period of a year or more. The essential health benefits package plugged that hole very cleanly, said Adam Sonfield, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and advocacy organization.

“Having it in the law makes it more difficult to either exclude it entirely or charge an arm and a leg for it,” Sonfield said.

Maternity coverage is often offered as an example of a benefit that should be optional, as Verma advocated. If you’re a man or too old to get pregnant, why should you have to pay for that coverage?

That a la carte approach is not the way insurance should work, some experts argue. Women don’t need prostate cancer screening, they counter, but they pay for the coverage anyway.

“We buy insurance for uncertainty, and to spread the costs of care across a broad population so that when something comes up that person has adequate coverage to meet their needs,” said Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 February 21). Health law’s 10 essential benefits: a look at what’s at risk in GOP overhaul [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/health-laws-10-essential-benefits-a-look-at-whats-at-risk-in-gop-overhaul/


Employees desperately need more information on health plans, study says

Did you know that a lot of your employees may be unaware of the health care options your company offers? Take a peek at this great article from HR Morning on how to improve your employees knowledge of their healthcare options by Jared Bilski

As an increasing number of employees are being asked to make smarter healthcare spending decisions, communication is more important than ever. Unfortunately, it looks like many firms have a lot of room for improvement.  

That’s one of the alarming takeaways from healthcare administrator Alegeus’ recent “State of Denial” study.

A number of the stats from the study point to a major employee healthcare problem that’s only getting worse. That problem: While employees’ health options are becoming increasingly complex, most workers don’t have the knowledge and/or accountability to make wise decisions involving those options.

Unaware and overwhelmed

Here are some of the most alarming stats from the study:

  • 63% of employees said they don’t know the benefit of an HSA
  • 50% don’t know how to predict current or future out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures and can’t select the best savings vehicle or rate
  • 26% of HSA accountholders don’t know they can use HSA funds beyond the immediate plan year, and
  • 41% of HSA accountholders were unaware they could invest HSA funds.

The study also highlighted some of the contradictions between what employees said they wanted or needed, and how they acted.

For example, although 70% of employees said they’d like to take a more active role in their healthcare decisions, just 50% intend to conduct more due diligence when purchasing healthcare in 2017.

The importance of one on one

One of the most effective ways to improve employees’ benefits understanding is through one-on-one communications.

To help ensure this is effective, here are three things HR pros should keep in mind, according to Winston Benefits, a voluntary benefits plan provider:

1. Prepare the right materials

When you’re doing a large-scale benefits presentation, you generally just hand out the materials, and employees look through and use those materials as they see fit.

But with individual sessions, benefits pros have to be prepared to explain those materials in any way an employee requests.

Example: Walking a worker through a tool or calculator in a step-by-step manner.

2. Look to your broker

In many cases, benefits brokers are willing to go on site for one-on-one sessions, and companies should take advantage whenever possible.

Employees will be comfortable knowing there’s an in-house HR or benefits pro at the broker, and a broker’s expertise can really improve workers’ overall understanding.

3. Allot enough time

The point of these meetings is to give employees all the time they need to understand their options and make informed decisions.

Rushing workers through these meetings will ensure the one-on-one education falls flat.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 February 17). Employees desperately need more information on health plans, study says [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/employees-desperately-need-more-information-on-health-plans-study-says/


Where exactly are we in the ACA repeal process?

Worried about the ACA repeal process? Check out this informative article from HR Morning about the status of the ACA’s repeal by Christian Schappel,

President Trump, along with other Republican lawmakers, have promised to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But it hasn’t happened yet. Here’s why, as well as a timeline for what’s to come. 

In his “Contract with the American Voter,” Donald Trump promised to repeal Obamacare within his first 100 days in office. But the reality is he can’t do it on his own. He needs votes to get it repealed outright — and he doesn’t have enough of them.

What’s the hold up?

Broad legislation that would repeal the ACA would require 60 votes in the Senate, and the GOP doesn’t control enough seats to make that a reality — or avoid a filibuster by the Democrats.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Trump from declaring war on the healthcare reform law. In one of his first acts as president, Trump issued an executive order that directs federal agencies to waive some of the requirements of the law that could impose a burden on individuals and certain businesses.

It was a clear sign from Trump that his administration plans to attack the ACA by any means necessary.

So what’s the plan now?

Congressional Republicans are now preparing to dismantle portions of the ACA using a process known as reconciliation. It will allow the GOP to vote on budgetary pieces of the health law, without giving the Democrats a chance to filibuster.

The problem for Republicans is reconciliation limits the extent to which they can reshape the law.

Parts of the law it appears they can roll back through reconciliation:

  • The individual mandate (which is imposed through a tax)
  • The employer mandate (which imposed through a tax), and
  • The subsidies to help individuals purchase coverage (which require government funding).

The Republicans believe that through reconciliation they can knock the legs out from under the ACA and begin to implement their own health reforms.

Some of the things members of the GOP have indicated they want to do:

  • Go to a more free-market approach, in which individuals would have greater ability to purchase health insurance across state lines
  • Expand health savings accounts
  • Allow individuals to deduct the cost of health insurance premiums from their income taxes, and
  • Let states manage Medicaid funds.

Two popular ACA provisions Republicans said they plan to keep in health plans:

  • The prohibition on denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and
  • The ability for children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

So when is it all going to happen?

When it comes to a timeline for when the GOP hopes to initiate reforms, things are a little murky. The problem is, due to the reconciliation process — and complaints from insurers about what the requirement to provide coverage to those with pre-existing conditions will do to risk pools and pricing — things aren’t as cut and dried as employers would like them to be.

But here’s what we know:

  • In late January, at its annual retreat, the GOP said it wants to bring a final reconciliation package to the floor of the House by late February or early March
  • In a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Trump said the repeal and replace process is “complicated” and could take until “sometime next year,” and
  • Just a few days after Trump’s statements to O’Reilly, House Speak Paul Ryan (R-WI) said the president’s remarks won’t alter the timeline for the House GOP to introduce significant repeal and replace legislation by the end of 2017. Still, Ryan did indicate that even if such legislation is passed, it could take some time for it to be fully implemented.

Bottom line: Employers are likely looking at a long legislative process, and an even longer implementation period.

Bills that could chip away at law

While Congress mulls larger-scale changes to the ACA, a few bills have been introduced for lawmakers to chew on.

The following could chip away at certain elements of reform:

  • The Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 173) would kill the 40% deductible excise tax (a.k.a., “the Cadillac tax”) on high-cost employer health plans
  • The Health Savings Account Expansion Act (H.R. 247 and S. 28) would permit the reimbursement of health insurance premiums and increase the maximum allowable contribution, and
  • The Healthcare Tax Relief and Mandate Repeal Act (H.R. 285) would kill both the individual and the employer health insurance mandates.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Schappel C. (2017 February 10). Where exactly are we in the ACA repeal process? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/where-are-we-aca-obamacare-repeal-trump/


Implications of the 21st Century Cures Act

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about the impact of the 21st Century Cures Act by Danielle Capilla,

On December 13, 2016, former President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The Cures Act has numerous components, but employers should be aware of the impact the Act will have on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, as well as provisions that will impact how small employers can use health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). There will also be new guidance for permitted uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). We review the implications with HRAs below; for a discussion of all the implications, view UBA’s Compliance Advisor, “21st Century Cares Act”.

The Cures Act provides a method for certain small employers to reimburse individual health coverage premiums up to a dollar limit through HRAs called “Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements” (QSE HRAs). This provision will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Previously, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-17 addressing employer payment or reimbursement of individual premiums in light of the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). For many years, employers had been permitted to reimburse premiums paid for individual coverage on a tax-favored basis, and many smaller employers adopted this type of an arrangement instead of sponsoring a group health plan. However, these “employer payment plans” are often unable to meet all of the ACA requirements that took effect in 2014, and in a series of Notices and frequently asked questions (FAQs) the IRS made it clear that an employer may not either directly pay premiums for individual policies or reimburse employees for individual premiums on either an after-tax or pre-tax basis. This was the case whether payment or reimbursement is done through an HRA, a Section 125 plan, a Section 105 plan, or another mechanism.

The Cures Act now allows employers with less than 50 full-time employees (under ACA counting methods) who do not offer group health plans to use QSE HRAs that are fully employer funded to reimburse employees for the purchase of individual health care, so long as the reimbursement does not exceed $4,950 annually for single coverage, and $10,000 annually for family coverage. The amount is prorated by month for individuals who are not covered by the arrangement for the entire year. Practically speaking, the monthly limit for single coverage reimbursement is $412, and the monthly limit for family coverage reimbursement is $833. The limits will be updated annually.

Impact on Subsidy Eligibility. For any month an individual is covered by a QSE HRA/individual policy arrangement, their subsidy eligibility would be reduced by the dollar amount provided for the month through the QSE HRA if the QSE HRA provides “unaffordable” coverage under ACA standards. If the QSE HRA provides affordable coverage, individuals would lose subsidy eligibility entirely. Caution should be taken to fully education employees on this impact.

COBRA and ERISA Implications. QSE HRAs are not subject to COBRA or ERISA.

Annual Notice Requirement. The new QSE HRA benefit has an annual notice requirement for employers who wish to implement it. Written notice must be provided to eligible employees no later than 90 days prior to the beginning of the benefit year that contains the following:

  • The dollar figure the individual is eligible to receive through the QSE HRA
  • A statement that the eligible employee should provide information about the QSE HRA to the Marketplace or Exchange if they have applied for an advance premium tax credit
  • A statement that employees who are not covered by minimum essential coverage (MEC) for any month may be subject to penalty

Recordkeeping, IRS Reporting. Because QSE HRAs can only provide reimbursement for documented healthcare expense, employers with QSE HRAs should have a method in place to obtain and retain receipts or confirmation for the premiums that are paid with the account. Employers sponsoring QSE HRAs would be subject to ACA related reporting with Form 1095-B as the sponsor of MEC. Money provided through a QSE HRA must be reported on an employee’s W-2 under the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored coverage. It is unclear if the existing safe harbor on reporting the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored coverage for employers with fewer than 250 W-2s would apply, as arguably many of the small employers eligible to offer QSE HRAs would have fewer than 250 W-2s.

Individual Premium Reimbursement, Generally. Outside of the exception for small employers using QSE HRAs for reimbursement of individual premiums, all of the prior prohibitions from IRS Notice 2015-17 remain. There is no method for an employer with 50 or more full time employees to reimburse individual premiums, or for small employers with a group health plan to reimburse individual premiums. There is no mechanism for employers of any size to allow employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase individual premiums. Reimbursing individual premiums in a non-compliant manner will subject an employer to a penalty of $100 a day per individual they provide reimbursement to, with the potential for other penalties based on the mechanism of the non-compliant reimbursement.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 February 01). Implications of the 21st century cures act [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/implications-of-the-21st-century-cures-act