Great article from Kaiser Health News about ACA enrollment by Phil Galewitz
Despite the Affordable Care Act’s rising prices, decreased insurer participation and a vigorous political threat to its survival, consumer enrollment for 2017 is outpacing last year’s, according to new federal data and reports from state officials around the country.
Americans’ anxiety about how a new Republican-controlled Congress and President-elect Donald Trump will repeal and replace the health law is helping fuel early enrollment gains in the online marketplaces that sell individual coverage, state exchange officials and health consultants said.
Healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace which handles coverage for 39 states, enrolled6.4 million people from Nov. 1 through Monday, about 400,000 more than at the same time a year ago, the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday. Monday was the deadline in those states to sign up for coverage starting Jan. 1, but open enrollment will continue until Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage.
“The marketplace is strong … and now we know the doomsday predictions about the marketplace are not coming true,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a press briefing.
The surge in sign-ups on the federal marketplace mirrors activity on several state-run Obamacare exchanges, according to figures obtained from states independently by Kaiser Health News. Minnesota, with more than 54,000 enrollees as of Monday, doubled the number of sign-ups it had at the same time last year. Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington had enrollment growth of at least 13 percent compared to a year ago.
“Because of the new administration and the high likelihood of changes coming to the ACA, it is creating a sense of urgency” for people to enroll, said Michael Marchand, director of communications for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Enrollment exceeded 170,000 customers on the Washington exchange as of this week, up 13 percent compared to same time a year ago.
Other state exchanges saw moderate increases: Connecticut, 3 percent; Idaho, 4 percent; Maryland, 1 percent. California’s enrollment is about same as a year ago. Rhode Island’s enrollment dropped to 27,555 from 31,900 for the same period last year. State exchange officials cited a drop in customers who were automatically renewed because UnitedHealthcare dropped out.
About 12.7 million people enrolled in the state and federal exchanges for 2016 coverage at the end of the previous enrollment season. HHS predicted in October that an additional 1.1 million people would sign up for 2017 coverage. Burwell said Wednesday that her department is sticking with that projection, even though “the headwinds have increased” since the election.
Obamacare, now in its fourth open enrollment season, took some heavy blows this year after several big insurers — including UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna — withdrew from many marketplaces for 2017 because of heavy financial losses. At the same time, remaining insurers increased premiums by 25 percent on average.
All of that, plus a changed political climate in Washington, was expected to dampen enrollment. While the surprise presidential election outcome may have been the primary force for changing those expectations, other factors also have fueled enrollment growth this fall, state officials pointed out in interviews.
More people who don’t qualify for government subsidies are buying health plans on the exchanges because it’s an easier way to compare available plans in one place. Noting that trend, Premera Blue Cross in Washington recently stopped selling individual coverage off the exchange.
In Minnesota, higher government subsidies — which reduce premiums for people with lower incomes — is the main reason why more people have signed up, according to Allison O’Toole, CEO of MNsure, the state-run exchange. The subsidy amount is tied to the cost of the second-lowest silver plan on the exchange, so as premiums rise for that plan, the subsidy rises too. Premiums soared by an average 50 percent in Minnesota for second-lowest silver.
Another factor driving earlier enrollment in that state was caps set by several Minnesota insurers on the number of new enrollees they would accept. People signed up earlier to make sure they could get the plan they wanted, according to O’Toole.
Minnesota’s growth is surprising because one of its biggest carriers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, stopped selling its most popular health plan on the exchange. That forced about 20,000 people to change insurers or switch from Blue Cross’ PPO, which has a broad provider network, to its HMO plan with a narrower network.
In Colorado, the 18 percent increase in enrollment so far has exceeded officials’ expectations, said Luke Clarke, the spokesman for Connect for Health Colorado, the state exchange. “We had an office pool and no one picked a number that high,” he said. “It was a healthy surprise,” particularly because premiums increased in the state by about 20 percent on average.
Conservatives warn it’s still too early for Obamacare supporters to celebrate.
“I suspect that some states saw big increases because local advocacy groups were able to tell their constituents that they should enroll before Trump is sworn in and Republicans take over Congress — thereby pretty much guaranteeing that they get a full year’s coverage regardless of what Republicans might do on repeal,” said Joe Antos, a health economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Under that scenario, large enrollment increases this fall might be followed by a dropoff in January over the 2016 numbers and the final enrollment tally could end up similar this year’s, he said. Antos noted the true enrollment figures will be known once people pay for their coverage and stay enrolled for the full year.
“As with everything related to ACA,” Antos said, “it’s easy to find a happy story if you squint hard enough and don’t wait for the enrollment process to complete — or the plan year to end.”
See the original article Here.
Galewitz P. (2016 December 21). Obamacare enrollment is beating last year’s early pace [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/obamacare-enrollment-is-beating-last-years-early-pace/
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released statistics on work-related injuries and illnesses in 2014. According to the BLS, two key factors are used to measure the severity of these injuries and illnesses:
* Incidence rate: The number of cases, per 10,000 full-time employees, of injuries and illnesses that require time away from work.
* Average days away from work: The average number of days an employee spends away from work to recover from an injury or illness. The BLS found that the overall incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness cases in 2014 was 107.1, down from a rate of 109.4 in 2013. The number of days away from work was approximately the same in both years. Additionally, the BLS detailed the most common workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as the most commonly affected parts of the body.
Common Injuries and Illnesses
Sprains, strains and tears were the most common workplace injury in 2014. The incidence rate for these injuries was approximately 38.9 cases per 10,000 full-time employees, which represents a decrease from 2013’s rate of 40.2 cases. However, these are still significant injuries; on average, workers with sprains, strains or tears needed 10 days away from work to recover.
The statistics also show that soreness and pain were common injuries, but generally required fewer days away from work.
Commonly Affected Parts of the Body
The upper extremities (e.g., hands, shoulders) were most affected by injuries and illnesses in 2014, with an incidence rate of 32. Hands accounted for 40 percent of those cases, the most among upper extremities. However, shoulder injuries and illnesses required an average of 26 days away from work to recover, more than any other part of the body.
The BLS specifically noted that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 32 percent of all workplace-related injuries and illnesses in 2014. Although the incident rate of MSDs was lower than it had been in 2013, these injuries can affect employees in any industry.
For more information on preventing workplace injuries and illnesses, contact Hierl Insurance Inc. today.
Does the new year have you worried? Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about employers concerns in 2017 by Phil Albinus
In the aftermath of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory last month, the top employee benefit concern among employers remains their role on the Affordable Care Act. According to a survey of 800 employers conducted by brokerage solution provider Aon, nearly half — 48% — responded that the employer mandate is their biggest concern for the new administration.
According to J.D. Piro, head of the Aon’s law group, the concern stems from whether or not Trump will repeal and replace Obamacare and what plans the 115th Congress has for Medicare.
“It’s all of those [issues] and the employer mandate which has the reporting obligations, the disclosure obligations, 1094 and 1095 forms and the service tracking … all of that goes into the ACA. The concern is, is it going to be dropped, expanded or modified in some way?” Piro tells EBN.
“Employers have all sorts of questions about that,” he adds.
The employer mandate was by far the top employer concern, according to the Aon survey, which was administered after the election. “Prescription drug costs” received 17% of responses and the “excise tax” received 15% of respondents’ attention. “Tax exclusion limitations on employer-sponsored healthcare” garnered 10% of votes while “paid leave laws” and “employee wellness programs” trailed at 8% and 2%, respectively.
The results didn’t surprise Piro. The employer mandate “is something employers had to get up to speed on and learn how to administer in a very short period of time. It was so complex that it was delayed for a year. It’s not yet part of the framework, and people are still addressing how to comply with it,” he says.
While Piro declined to make any predictions about what the new administration will accomplish in terms of healthcare, he does think Congress will act quickly, if at least symbolically.
“I think something will happen in 2017. The most likely scenario is Republicans will pass some sort of repeal bill in the first 100 days of the new administration, but they will put off the effective date of the repeal until 2018 or 2019,” he says. “It will be somewhere down the road so they can decide when and what the replacement is going to be.”
The sheer complexity of ACA and Medicare will not make its repeal an easy matter for either the new Trump administration or Congress.
“This is an interconnected web of laws and rulings and the ACA affects every sector of healthcare. It’s thousands of pages of regulations,” Piro says. “Repealing it is not as easy as turning off a light switch or unplugging a computer and plugging it back in again.”
“A lot of people are affected by ACA and you have to consider what the impact is going to be.”
Albinus P. (2017 January 04). What’s employers’ no. 1 concern in 2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/whats-employers-no-1-concern-in-2017?utm_campaign=eba%20daily-jan%204%202017&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&eid=909e5836add2a914a8604144bea27b68
Sedentary Working Is a Top Health Risk
Sedentary working is a new top health risk that is getting increased attention from health and safety professionals. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to break down body fat and regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. However, more research is needed in order to clear up some confusion over how employers can protect their staff from the perils of sedentary working.
Although studies have linked excessive sitting with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and early death, most of the evidence is based on observational studies, which have failed to show a direct connection between sitting and ill health. Furthermore, more reliable research is needed regarding workplace interventions, such as sit-to-stand desks.
While there is not yet a clear answer as to what employers should do to address sedentary employees, there are things that employees can do on their own in order to stay healthy, including the following best practices:
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
A poor night’s sleep may not only affect your productivity at work—it can also have adverse health effects.
Although the average recommended amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours per night, the average employee gets six hours and 28 minutes of sleep, according to a recent study of 1,060 participants. Two of the top reported side effects of sleep loss were a lack of attention and taking longer to complete tasks. Both suggest that sleep loss may negatively affect productivity.
The effects of a lack of sleep, such as feeling irritable and not working at your best, are well known, but they also include profound physical health consequences. Regular poor sleep is linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a shortened life expectancy.
Getting enough sleep is especially important during the cold winter months, when a lack of sunlight can make people feel more fatigued and sluggish.
With that in mind, the following tips can help ensure a good night’s sleep:
Great article from Benefits Pro about using technology to communicate with your employees by Marlene Satter
Although technology has spawned multiple methods of communication with employees on benefits, that doesn’t mean they’re solving all the problems in conveying information back and forth between employer and employee.
In fact, generational and demographic differences, varying levels of comfort with a range of communication methods and the complexity of information all mean that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in workplace benefits communication.
A study from West’s Health Advocate Solutions finds employees’ expectations cover a wide range in benefits, health and wellness program communication. As a result, human resources and benefits managers have to dig more deeply in finding ways to convey information to employees.
One finding which may surprise them is employees prefer live-person conversations, although some do prefer the option to use digital communication channels in certain benefits scenarios. And 41 percent of employees say their top complaint about employers’ benefits programs is that communication is too infrequent.
Employee benefits in 2017 will feel the effects of political change as well as cultural change. Here are some trends…
The top choice of employees for communicating about health care cost and administrative information is directly by phone (73 percent) with a live person; second choice was a website or online portal (69 percent), while an in-person conversation was the choice of 56 percent.
For information about physical wellness benefits, 71 percent opt for the website/online portal, while 62 percent want to talk to someone on the phone and 56 percent wanted an in-person conversation. Interestingly, 62 percent of men and 44 percent of women prefer in-person conversations.
For personal/emotional wellness issues, 71 percent want that chat with a person on the phone, 65 percent want an in-person conversation and just 60 percent want to interact with a website/online portal.
When it comes to managing a chronic condition, 66 percent prefer to talk to someone on the phone, 63 percent would prefer the website/online portal option and 61 percent want an in-person conversation. Sixty-seven percent of men, compared with 53 percent of women, prefer in-person conversations, while 35 percent of women, compared with 18 percent of men, prefer mobile apps.
And there are generational differences, too, with millennials wanting in-person interactions more than either Gen X or boomer colleagues. But they all want multiple options, and the ability to choose the one they prefer, rather than simply being restricted to a single method.
Satter M. (2016 December 14). Don’t expect tech to solve benefits communications problems [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/12/14/dont-expect-tech-to-solve-benefits-communications
Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by
Recent research into individuals’ financial resolutions for 2017 can tell you whether your financial wellness initiatives are giving employees what they want. It can also tell you whether to expect employees to increase their retirement contributions next year.
Personal finance company LendEDU recently asked 1,001 Americans about their financial goals for 2017, as well as what their biggest concerns are. The results were published in LendEDU’s “Financial Resolution Survey & Report 2017,” which can help employers determine if their financial programs are on point.
Here are some of the more interesting Q&A’s from the research:
What’s your most important financial resolution in 2017?
Takeaway for employers: Improving savings should be front and center in any financial wellness strategy.
What’s your top financial resolution?
Takeaway for employers: Employees need the most help creating a budget they can stick to.
What’s your top financial concern?
Takeaway for employers: Helping employees manage healthcare costs can be a key add-on to any financial education program.
Do you think you’re better off financially in 2017 than in 2016?
Takeaway for employers: Employees’ financial state of mind is on the upswing, which is good. But it could make increasing participation in wellness initiatives more challenging.
Do you make financial resolutions with your spouse or significant other?
Takeaway for employers: When it comes to finances, very few people go it alone, so invite spouses to be a part of your wellness offerings.
What would make you stick to a financial resolution?
Takeaway for employers: Incremental rewards and incentives, can help drive participation and success in 2017 financial wellness initiatives.
Do you think you’ll increase your retirement savings contributions this year?
Takeaway for employers: This could be a good year to really push employees to bump up retirement plan contributions.
Author (Date). Title [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/financial-wellness-heres-what-employees-want-need-in-2017/
Check out this interesting article from Workforce about the most recent SHRM benefits study by Andie Burjek
Health care is still the king of employee benefits packages.
Nearly one-third (30 percent) of HR professionals indicated that within an employee benefits package, health care was their primary strategic focus, according to a survey released Nov. 30 by the Society for Human Resource Management.
SHRM surveyed 738 HR professionals for its 2016 Strategic Benefits Survey and conducted annually since 2012, in five categories: wellness initiatives, flexible work arrangements, health care, leveraging benefits to retain and recruit employees, and assessment and communication of benefits.
The survey also found that among all categories of employees, health care most impacts retention, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of workforce analytics. The survey specifically differentiated between high-performing, highly skilled and millennial employees, all of who were most swayed to stay by health care.
“There are a lot of different ways that organizations can tailor their benefits to meet the strategic needs of recruiting and retaining employees,” said Esen. “And that’s where we see a lot of creativity and innovation. Good employers know the benefits that their employees and potential employees will value and then they shape their benefits accordingly.”
Almost 1 in 5 survey respondents said that over the past year they’ve altered their benefits program to help with retention of employees at all levels of the organization, and the most popular area to change, indicated by 61 percent of respondents, was health care. Just below was flexible working (37 percent) and retirement (35 percent).
SHRM also found that there was a decrease in HR professionals worried about health care costs. Sixty-six percent of respondents were “very concerned” about controlling health care costs in 2016, compared to 79 percent in 2014.
Health care is a big-ticket item, so there will always be concern, said Esen. That being said, the decrease may be attributed to several possibilities.
First, Esen explained, health care costs have been rising, but not at the same double-digit rates they have been in previous years. SHRM has seen this level of concern decline annually since 2012.
Wellness may also have played a role.
“Wellness has been much more integrated in organizations and their health care strategies,” said Esen. “Organizations have found wellness does impact health care costs in the long run.” She doubled down on the point that an employer probably won’t see a decrease in health care costs immediately thanks to a wellness program, however there is long-term potential. Almost half (48 percent) of survey respondents said their company wellness initiatives decreased health care costs.
“That may have alleviated some concern that employers have,” she added. “Because at least there’s something they can do. They have some control. They can encourage their employees to be healthier.”
Under wellness, one notable finding was that although interest in wellness is rising, certain programs are being offered less. In the past five years, Esen noted, programs that have steadily decreased include: health care premium discounts for both participating in a weight-loss program and not using tobacco; on-site stress reduction programs; and health and lifestyle coaching.
“Companies are examining ways to keep wellness relevant to employees,” she said. “Employers, if they really do want to continue with wellness and have impact on health care costs, need to continually be assessing and also be creative in terms of the type of wellness programs they [offer], because just like anything, it will become stale over time.”
Burjek A. (2016 December 1). SHRM study: health care remains key benefit for all employee groups[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.workforce.com/2016/12/01/shrm-study-health-care-remains-key-benefit-employee-groups/
Need a strategy for improving engagement from your employees? Check out this great read by Lauren Stead
Do you know what sets your company apart from the rest for job seekers? Is it your recent accomplishments? How about your Fitness Fridays or Casual Mondays? Or is it the opportunities you provide for employees to grow throughout your firm and take their careers to the next level?
The chances are it’s all of these things, which collaboratively come together to build up your culture. Today, culture is what sells your company above, as innovation is no longer a reliable way to set yourself apart from your competition. What makes for a great culture is great people, engaged in their company.
So how can you get ahead and stay ahead in this current market? How, exactly, do you build up your culture so employees stay more engaged?
Rusty Lindquist, VP of human capital management strategy for BambooHR, recently spearheaded a panel at the virtual HR conference Elevate 2016. His presentation focused on 16 components that are key improving employee engagement efforts. He said when your current workforce is engaged, they’ll be the ones who help sell the company to others and help it grow.
Lindquist’s breakdown to getting your employees more engaged included these steps:
Stead L. (2016 November 30). 16 building blocks that bolster employee engagement[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/16-building-blocks-that-bolster-employee-engagement/
by Caterina Pontoriero
It’s the holiday season and for many homeowners, it’s easy to neglect some of the most basic rules of home safety.
The hustle and bustle of activity this time of year can lead to property damage and injuries that normally can be easily prevented.
Denver-based insurance comparison shopping site InsuranceQuotes and Washington-based research firm Princeton Survey Research Associates International polled 1,000 American adults, asking them to recount the frequency of certain holiday hazards, including injuries to houseguests, weather-related driving accidents and fires caused by everything from cooking mistakes to misadventures with decorations.
According to the study, 16 million Americans have experienced a house fire because of a fryer or cooking accident, and 2 million have had fires caused by Christmas trees and other decorations.
Scott Humphrey, second vice president of risk control for New York City-based Travelers Cos., says homeowners file more claims for fire damage during this time of year than any other.
“Our claim data also shows that fire is one of the costliest claims,” Humphrey says. “If fire results in a total loss, it’s important that homeowners are insured for the total cost to rebuild, not just the market value of the home. Homeowners should be sure to review this point with their insurance agent or carrier.”
Here are some tips for homeowners to help prevent fanning the flames of fire risk:
While experts agree that it’s objectively safer to deep fry your turkey outside, they also say holiday chefs should make sure it’s set up on level ground at least 30 feet away from the home, trees or any other flammable objects.
“Believe it or not, dry leaves on the ground can serve as natural lighter fluid if there’s a mishap, so make sure to rake beforehand,” says Peter Duncanson, director of system development with the disaster restoration company ServiceMaster Restore.
Humphrey says one of the main causes of fires this time of year result from electrical hazards like holiday lights, appliances or other devices that overload an extension cord or structural wiring in the home.
“It is especially important to inspect your strands of lights for frayed cords and cracked lamps before stringing them up,” Humphrey says. “Also, turn off your lights when you go out for the evening or when you go to bed so you don’t wake up or come home to a fire.”
Candles are traditionally used in many holidays this season, but despite adding a warm and inviting touch to holiday tablescapes, candles can be as damaging as they are delightful, and Bud Summers, vice president of operations for Tamarac, Florida-based property restoration company PuroClean, suggests homeowners proceed with extreme caution when considering the placement of their holiday candles.
“Avoid setting them near curtains, towels, or anywhere they may be knocked over or forgotten about,” Summers says. “Make sure to leave approximately one foot of space between your burning candle and anything else. Be sure that the candle has a stable base and always extinguish the flame before leaving the house or room, or going to bed. When guests leave, designate someone to walk through each room to make sure candles are blown out.”
When maintained properly, the only harm caused by a Christmas tree is the mess of fallen needles it inevitably leaves behind. But if it’s neglected, homeowners could find themselves with a significant fire hazard perched in the middle of their living room.
Related: 4 tips to avoid a Christmas tree fire
“Real Christmas trees are more likely to start a fire than artificial ones, especially over time as the tree tends to dry out. And it only takes 30 seconds for a dry tree to engulf a room when a fire is ignited,” Summers says. “If you choose to go the natural route, making sure to keep the tree moist and full of water will significantly decrease your chances of unintentional fire.”
Pontoriero C.(2016 December 8). 4 holiday season fire prevention tips[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2016/12/08/4-holiday-season-fire-prevention-tips?eNL=58496aa3160ba015228ec3eb&utm_source=PC360_NewsFlash&utm_medium=EMC-Email_editorial&utm_campaign=12082016&page_all=1
Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a penalty on “large” employers that either do not offer “minimum essential” (basic medical) coverage, or who offer coverage that is not affordable (the employee’s cost for single coverage is greater than 9.5 percent of income) or it does not provide minimum value (the plan is not designed to pay at least 60 percent of claims costs). A large employer is one that employed at least 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees during the prior calendar year. To discourage employers from breaking into small entities to avoid the penalty, the ACA provides that, for purposes of the employee threshold, the controlled group and affiliated service group aggregation rules will apply to health plans. Essentially, this means that the employees of a business with common owners or that perform services for each other may need to be combined when determining if the employer is “large.”
The aggregation rules are very complicated and may require a large amount of information to do an accurate analysis. This article does not address all of the possible considerations or all of the intricacies of the rules, and assumes that the regulations that apply to retirement plans will also apply to health plans. We strongly encourage employers with complex arrangements to consult with their attorney or accountant.
When one business owns a significant part of another business, there may be a “controlled group.” There are four types of controlled groups – parent-subsidiary, brother-sister, combined, and life insurance.
If the company regularly performs certain types of personal services or management functions with or for related entities, it may be part of an “affiliated service group” even if there is not common ownership.
An affiliated service group is basically a group of businesses working together to provide services to each other or jointly to customers, and can be one of three types:
Only entities that provide personal services are subject to the affiliated service group rules. Attribution rules similar to those that apply to controlled groups apply to affiliated service groups.
Capilla, D. (2016 October 18). Controlled groups and affiliated service groups: how they apply to ACA [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address