Employers prioritizing employee well-being

Are you putting enough priority into your employees' well-being? Take a look at this article from Employee Benefits Advisor   about the importance of employee well-being by Nick Otto

Benefits managers and HR pros alike know the two-fold benefits well-being programs provide: a healthier, more engaged workforce and increased productivity. So it’s no wonder more companies are prioritizing such programs.

A large majority of employers (78%) call employee well-being a key component of company strategy, according to Virgin Pulse’s 2017 State of the Industry report. In addition, 87% say they have already invested, or plan to invest, in some type of employee well-being initiative, and 97% agree with the decidedly uncontroversial statement that worker well-being positively influences engagement.

“Until recently, employee well-being has been viewed as a ‘nice to have,’ but with more and more research directly connecting employee well-being to business productivity and performance, business leaders are recognizing it as a ‘must have’ from a business perspective,” says Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse, a wellness technology provider. “The proof is in the data that emerging-companies that invest in employee well-being see lower turnover, less absenteeism, stronger stock performance and higher business productivity. That’s a compelling business case.”

But what programs do employers say are advancing wellness and engagement? Opinions seem to differ. Forty-one percent of the organizations surveyed by Virgin Pulse are still in the process of defining employee engagement or developing a plan to enhance it.

Further, a little less than a third (29%) of respondents have established engagement programs to fit specific needs or offer an integrated solution that links to organizational strategy, the report notes.

One of the more striking differences between the older, or more “mature” organizations, accounting for 29% of those surveyed, and the rest of the employers is that the great majority of the former group conducts annual employee engagement surveys, compared to less than half of other employers.

By completing these surveys, some roadblocks employers say they are encountering in engaging more employees in well-being programs include issues such as organization culture (48%), budgets (47%) and communications (30%), the study notes.

For benefits managers, making sure that all employees have access to benefits and programs that address their full well-being — and having the ability to communicate those programs and measure usage and impact — is critical in proving the value of wellness programs, Boyce notes.

“Today, businesses can and should be looking beyond wellness and health cost savings and evaluating employee well-being programs in the context of the larger cultural and business value they deliver, such as increased employee engagement and retention, reduced safety incidents, decreased absenteeism and higher business productivity,” he adds.

In fact, a large majority of HR leaders view workplace culture as an important part of furthering employee well-being. Eighty percent have programs in place or plan to implement programs aimed at improving culture at the office.

Beginner organizations can jump-start their well-being initiatives by offering well-being programs, experiences and activities that engage all employees, not just a few, Boyce suggests. Social connections and team support are critical in building — and sustaining — cultures of well-being, so the more actively involved employees are in the program, the more successful it will be in driving the changes and outcomes that matter for individuals and organizations.

“As organizations continue to focus on individual well-being as a positive driver of company culture, they are going to see happier, healthier, more engaged employees and better business results, across the board,” he says. “That’s just good business sense.”

The best way to implement a robust program that meets the individual needs of employees —while simplifying management and communication for employers — is to find a well-being vendor that has a hub embedded with their solution, Boyce says.

A hub that provides a one-stop-shop experience by connecting all relevant programs into a single space allows employees to access all their resources in one interface while driving participation and usage. With the right well-being and benefits hub, employers will be able to integrate a broad range of HR and benefits programs and promote them to relevant employees and populations.

“Imagine being able to suggest your financial planning program to employees that are new to the workforce, physical activity programs to those who are most sedentary, and mindfulness programs to departments in the throes of their busy season,” Boyce says. “Simplification, employee engagement and personalization are key to building a robust well-being program.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 January 27). Employers prioritizing employee well-being [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-prioritizing-employee-well-being?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Feds pump out even more Obamacare instructions

Have you heard about the recent changes coming to the ACA? If not take a look at this great article from HR Morning about the recent changes that will be going into effect for the ACA by Jared Bilski

If you believe Republicans on Capitol Hill, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) isn’t long for this world. Still, the Obama administration continues to clarify how businesses are supposed to comply with the law’s many provisions. 

The Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) just put their heads together for the 35th time to address questions surrounding Obamacare reforms.

Here’s some of the most useful info to come out of this latest FAQ:

Qualified small employer HRA

As HR Morning reported previously, the 21st Century Cures Act, among other things, allows certain small employers to offer a general purpose stand-alone health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) without violating the ACA. It is also referred to as a “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” — or QSEHRA.

The FAQ touches on how this new law jibes with the ACA and clarified that in order to be a QSEHRA, the structure of the plan must:

  • be funded entirely by an eligible employer — one with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees in the prior year and that doesn’t offer a group health plan to any of its employees
  • provide payment to, or reimbursement of, an eligible employee for medical care under Code section 213(d)
  • not reimburse more than $4,950 for eligible expenses for individuals or $10,000 for families, and
  • be provided to all eligible employees of the employer offering the HRA.

One thing the 21st Century Cures Act (and the feds’ FAQ) doesn’t address: Whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) applies to a QSEHRA.

Special Enrollment & HIPAA

The FAQ also addressed special enrollment for group health plans under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Because HIPAA generally allows current employees and dependents to enroll in a company’s group health plan if the employees/dependents lose their previous coverage, they must be offered the same special enrollment option if they lose individual market coverage (i.e., health coverage they obtained through the individual Obamacare marketplace — or “exchanges”).

This could happen to individual market participants if an insurer that was covering an employee/dependent decides to stop offering that individual market coverage. As we saw last year, several major insurers have taken that step.

One exception to this special enrollment: If the loss of coverage is due to a failure to pay premiums in a timely manner — or “for cause.”

Updated women’s preventive services

As you know, under the ACA, non-grandfathered health plans are required to provide recommended preventives services for women without any cost-sharing.

Those services are listed in the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) guidelines, and the guidelines were just updated on December 20, 2016. The updated guidelines bolster many of the existing covered preventive care services for women in the areas of:

  • breast cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • gestational diabetes
  • HIV, and
  • domestic violence.

The services in the updated guidelines must be covered — without cost-sharing — for plan years beginning on or after December 20, 2017 (Jan. 1, 2018 for calendar year plans). Until then, plans can keep using the previous HRSA guidelines.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 January 6). Feds pump out even more Obamacare instructions [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/feds-pump-out-even-more-obamacare-instructions/


How to encourage increased investment in financial wellbeing

Is financial wellness an important part of your company culture? By promoting financial wellness among your employees', employers can reap the benefits as well. Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about the some of the effects that promoting financial wellness can have. By Cort Olsen

Financial wellness has come to the forefront of employers’ wellbeing priorities. Looking back on previous years of participation in retirement savings programs such as 401(k)s, employers are not satisfied with participation, an Aon study shows.

As few as 15% of employers say they are satisfied with their workers’ current savings rate, according to a new report from Aon Hewitt. In response, employers are focused on increasing savings rates and will look to their advisers to help expand financial wellbeing programs.

Aon surveyed more than 250 U.S. employers representing nearly 9 million workers to determine their priorities and likely changes when it comes to retirement benefits. According to the report, employers plan to emphasize retirement readiness, focusing on financial wellbeing and refining automation as they aim to raise 401(k) savings rates for 2017.

Emphasizing retirement readiness
Nearly all employers, 90%, are concerned with their employees’ level of understanding about how much they need to save to achieve an adequate retirement savings. Those employers who said they were not satisfied with investment levels in past years, 87%, say they plan to take action this year to help workers reach their retirement goals.

“Employers are making retirement readiness one of the important parts of their financial wellbeing strategy by offering tools and modelers to help workers understand, realistically, how much they’re likely to need in order to retire,” says Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt. “Some of these tools take it a step further and provide education on what specific actions workers can take to help close the savings gap and can help workers understand that even small changes, such as increasing 401(k) contributions by just two percentage points, can impact their long-term savings outlook.”

Focusing on financial wellbeing
While financial wellness has been a growing trend among employers recently, 60% of employers say its importance has increased over the past two years. This year, 92% of employers are likely to focus on the financial wellbeing of workers in a way that extends beyond retirement such as help with managing student loan debt, day-to-day budgeting and even physical and emotional wellbeing.

Currently, 58% of employers have a tool available that covers at least one aspect of financial wellness, but by the end of 2017, that percentage is expected to reach 84%, according to the Aon Hewitt report.

“Financial wellbeing programs have moved from being something that few leading-edge companies were offering to a more mainstream strategy,” Austin says. “Employers realize that offering programs that address the overall wellbeing of their workers can solve for myriad challenges that impact people’s work lives and productivity, including their physical and emotional health, financial stressors and long-term retirement savings.”

The lessons learned from automatic enrollment are being utilized to increase savings rates. In a separate Aon Hewitt report, more than half of all employees under plans with automatic enrollment default had at or above the company match threshold. Employers are also adding contribution escalation features and enrolling workers who may not have been previously enrolled in the 401(k) plan.

“Employers realize that automatic 401(k) features can be very effective when it comes to increasing participation in the plan,” Austin says. “Now they are taking an automation 2.0 approach to make it easier for workers to save more and invest better.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olsen C. (2017 January 16). How to encourage increased investment in financial wellbeing [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/how-to-encourage-increased-investment-in-financial-wellbeing?feed=00000152-1377-d1cc-a5fa-7fff0c920000


HSAs could play bigger role in retirement planning

Did you know that ACA repeal could have and effect on health savings plans (HRA)? Read this interesting article from Benefits Pro about how the repeal of the ACA might affect your HRAs by Marlene Y. Satter

With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act looming, one surprising factor in paying for health care could see its star rise higher on the horizon—the retirement planning horizon, that is. That’s the Health Savings Account—and it’s likely to become more prominent depending on what replaces the ACA.

HSAs occupy a larger role in some of the proposed replacements to the ACA put forth by Republican legislators, and with that greater exposure comes a greater likelihood that more people will rely on them more heavily to get them through other changes.

For one thing, they’ll need to boost their savings in HSAs just to pay the higher deductibles and uncovered expenses that are likely to accompany the ACA repeal.

But for another—and here’s where it gets interesting—they’ll probably become a larger part of retirement planning, since they provide a number of benefits already that could help boost retirement savings.

Contributions are already deductible from gross income, but under at least one of the proposals to replace the ACA, contributions could come with refundable tax credits—a nice perk.

Another proposal would allow HSA funds to pay for premiums on proposed new state health exchanges without a tax penalty for doing so—also beneficial. And a third would expand eligibility to have HSAs, which would be helpful.

But whether these and other possible enhancements to HSAs come to pass, there are already plenty of reasons to consider bolstering HSA savings for retirement. As workers try to navigate their way through the uncertainty that lies ahead, they’ll probably rely even more on the features these plans already offer—such as the ability to leave funds in the account (if not needed for higher medical expenses) to roll over from year to year and to grow for the future, and the fact that interest on HSA money is tax free.

But possibly the biggest benefit to an HSA for retirement is the fact that funds invested in one grow tax free as well. If you can leave the money there long enough, you can grow a sizeable nest egg against potential future health expenses or even the purchase of a long-term care policy. And, at age 65, you’re no longer penalized if you withdraw funds for nonapproved medical expenses.

And if you don’t use the money for medical expenses in retirement, but are past 65, you can use it for living expenses to supplement your 401(k). In that case, you’ll have to pay taxes on it, but there’s no penalty—it just works much like a tax-deferred situation from a regular retirement account.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 January 16). HSAs could play bigger role in retirement planning [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/01/16/hsas-could-play-bigger-role-in-retirement-planning?ref=hp-news


What medical conditions are driving employer healthcare costs?

Do you which medical conditions are driving your healthcare cost? Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Advisor about the cost associated with your employer healthcare by Phil Albinus

Healthcare costs surrounding diabetes reached $101 billion in diagnoses and treatments over the past 18 years — and the cost grew 36 times faster than the cost of ischemic heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Further, out of 155 medical conditions, only 20 accounted for half of all medical spending, according to a JAMA analysis of 2013 healthcare costs.

The third-most expensive medical condition, low back and neck pain, primarily strikes adults of working age while diabetes and heart disease is primarily found in people 65 and older.

The JAMA study found total health spending for these conditions totaled $437 billion in 2013. Diabetes, heart disease, low back and neck pain, along with hypertension and injuries from falls, comprise 18% of all personal health spending. All in all, 20 conditions make up more than half of all spending on healthcare in the U.S.

These stark figures shed light on the rising healthcare costs that employers pay when addressing their workforce’s ailments.

According to Francois Millard, senior vice president and chief actuarial officer for Vitality Group, one of the study’s sponsors, this is the first study to dig into the details of the leading ailments of the U.S. and its costs to employers and families as they deal with the conditions.

“In absolute terms, most money for care is in the working age population,” he says. “It impacts households and employers and contributes to the financial burden of families.”

“What we see is the financial burden increases as the disease increases, and while the paper doesn’t go into detail, we already have a significant knowledge of diabetes and heart condition. It is related to modifiable behavior.”

The JAMA study noted the differences between public health program spending from personal health spending, including individual out-of-pocket costs and spending by private and government insurance programs.

“While it is well known that the U.S. spends more than any other nation on healthcare, very little is known about what diseases drive that spending,” said Dr. Joseph Dieleman, lead author of the paper and assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in a press statement. “IHME is trying to fill the information gap so that decision-makers in the public and private sectors can understand the spending landscape, and plan and allocate health resources more effectively.”

Despite using figures from 2013, the information can help employers as they identify where their healthcare dollars are going.

“Given the biggest increases in healthcare spending on impact working age populations, it requires employers to improve their work environments and facilitate good health. And [this study can] help increase the transparency of health within their populations,” says Millard.

“Employers need to think what they do that impacts beyond the four walls of the employers and create a symbiotic relationship with health within their societies,” he adds.

The study can also boost transparency into the healthcare data. “This study is also an accountability and outcome of the money they are spending on health treatment,” Millard says. “Is it sufficient to still pay for services or can we push for more accountability for health outcomes? The other thing this facilities is that employers get the adequate level of data. They can ask the right questions and determine accountability for the huge amounts of healthcare.”

He adds, “With all the uncertainty around 2017, perhaps this transparency will give employers a voice to all of the money that they are spending.”

The top 10 most costly health expenses in 2013:

1. Diabetes – $101.4 billion
2. Ischemic heart disease – $88.1 billion
3. Low back and neck pain – $87.6 billion
4. Hypertension – $83.9 billion
5. Injuries from falls – $76.3 billion
6. Depressive disorders – $71.1 billion
7. Oral-related problems – $66.4 billion
8. Vision and hearing problems – $59 billion
9. Skin-related problems, such as cellulitis and acne – $55.7 billion
10. Pregnancy and postpartum care – $55.6 billion

See the original article Here.

Source:

Albinus P. (2017 January 12). What medical conditions are driving employer healthcare costs?[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/what-medical-conditions-are-driving-employer-healthcare-costs?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Work Comp Insights: Creating a Workers' Compensation Process

For the unprepared, workers’ compensation (WC) issues can be both confusing and costly. Fortunately for employers, there are ways to actively engage WC issues to influence their outcomes.

Through management controls and active involvement in the WC process, your organization can effectively influence related costs. To do so you will have to establish a number of your own processes that guide decision making throughout your organization.

Areas requiring WC management can be divided into three main categories. These categories include facets that may range from the simple to the complex, but as a whole, address vital issues that can negatively influence WC costs in your company.

Workplace Safety Means Fewer Claims

Simply put, reducing claims reduces costs. Establishing a safety-minded culture throughout every level of your company is essential to keeping workers injury free. However, establishing such a culture isn’t an overnight solution. To be successful, an ongoing commitment to safety must be made. Such a commitment must be supported by management and given the necessary resources to succeed.

Developing comprehensive safety policies for employees builds a firm foundation for your safety culture to grow. Such policies also encourage OSHA compliance, further improving your safety efforts while helping you avoid costly fines.

Mitigate Loss After an Injury

Unfortunately, even with all the right programs in place, it is still possible for accidents to happen. When a workplace incident occurs how you respond can greatly influence the outcome of the claim. Prompt claim reporting is essential to keeping costs down. It is also important to have a designated injury management coordinator, someone who can supervise open claims and work with both employees and medical personnel to facilitate the timely recovery.

The longer an employee is out of work the more expensive their claim will be. Return-to-work programs that allow injured employees to come back to work at a limited capacity during the recovery process, are one of the most effective tools business owners have to reduce the severity of a claim.

Managing Your Mod

Insurers use what is known as an experience modification factor, or mod, to calculate the premiums you pay for workers’ compensation coverage. By managing your exposures and promoting safety it is possible to manage your mod and decrease your premium rates.

Like a good safety program, controlling your mod is an ongoing process. To reap the benefits of lower premiums you will have to keep in regular contact with your insurance provider to ensure they have the most accurate data to use in their calculations.

See the original article Here.


Disconnect between employers, employees over wellness, health plan satisfaction

Check out this great article from Employee Benefits Adviser about the disconnect between employees and employers about their company's wellness programs by Cort Olsen

More than 1,500 employer decision-makers surveyed about the future of healthcare say wellness programs within companies continue to show positive growth among employers and employees alike. However, the study by Transamerica Center for Health Studies also found a strong disconnect in communication between employers and employees regarding healthcare and benefit satisfaction and the commitment from employers to maintain a healthy workspace.

At least 28% of employers have implemented a wellness program for their employees in the past 12 months — a steady increase from 23% in 2014 and 25% in 2015. About four in five companies report their wellness programs have positively impacted workers’ health and productivity, and about seven in 10 have seen a positive impact on company healthcare costs.

More than half of the employers surveyed (55%) say they offer wellness programs to their staff, yet some employees seemed to be unaware that their company offers these programs. Of the 55% of employers who say they offer a wellness program, only 36% of employees with employer coverage say they work for an employer who offers a wellness program.

Employer versus employee perspective
This miscommunication may also contribute to the level of commitment employees think their employer has in maintaining a wellness program within the workplace. While 80% of employers say leadership is committed to improving the health of their employees, only one-third of employees say they agree with that statement.

When it comes to overall healthcare satisfaction there is a similar disconnect, with 94% of employers saying employees are satisfied with the health insurance plan their company offers, while only 79% of employees say they are satisfied with their health plan.

In addition, 90% of employers say employees are satisfied with the healthcare benefits other than health insurance, but only 79% of employees say they are satisfied.

However, while employers and employees may not share the same amount of satisfaction in their healthcare offerings, many companies are making the effort to reduce the cost of their healthcare for their staff.

At least 41% of companies have taken measures to reduce costs, while 71% of companies have taken positive measures in the last 12 months. The percentage of midsize businesses reporting to provide insurance for part-time employees has increased significantly since July 2013 from 13% to 21%.

Still, lack of communication continues over cost concerns as well. While about four in five employers feel their company is concerned about the affordability of health insurance and healthcare expenses, just over half of employees feel the same — even after employers said cost concerns would not be felt by employees.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olsen C. (2017 January 05). Disconnect between employers, employees over wellness, health plan satisfaction[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/disconnect-between-employers-employees-over-wellness-health-plan-satisfaction?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Compliance Bulletin: OSHA Clarifies Ongoing Recordkeeping Obligations

On Dec. 19, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule amending its recordkeeping regulations. The amendments were adopted to clarify that an employer’s duty to create and maintain work-related injury or illness records is an ongoing obligation. The final rule becomes effective on Jan. 18, 2017.

The clarification explains that an employer remains under an obligation to record a qualifying injury or illness throughout the fiveyear record storage period, even if the incident was not originally recorded during the first six months after its occurrence. The final rule does not create any additional or new recordkeeping obligations for employers.

ACTION STEPS

  • Employers should review their workplace injury and illness recordkeeping procedures and ensure that they allow for accurate and timely compliance with recordkeeping requirements.
  • Employers should audit their injury and illness records to make sure all qualifying incidents are recorded during the five-year record storage period.

Recordkeeping Requirements

OSHA requires employers to create and maintain records about workplace injuries and illnesses that meet one or more recording criteria. Specifically, employers must:

Create and update a log of work-related injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300 Form);

Create and maintain injury and illness incident reports (OSHA 301 Form); and

Create and display an annual summary of workplace incidents (OSHA 300A Form) between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year.

Employers must keep these records for at least five years. The five-year retention period begins on Jan. 1 of the year following the year covered by the records. For example, the five-year retention period for incident reports created on Jan. 23, 2015, June 15, 2015, and Nov. 4, 2015, begins on Jan. 1, 2016.

Penalties for Noncompliance

OSHA has the authority to issue citations and assess fines against employers that violate recordkeeping laws. However, in general, the OSH Act does not allow for a citation to be issued more than six months after the occurrence of a violation.

OSHA is of the opinion that a violation exists until it is corrected. Therefore, the six-month period to issue citations and assess penalties begins on the date of the last instance of the violation. For example, if a violation that started on Feb. 1 was corrected on May 15, the six-month period would begin on May 15, and OSHA would have until Nov. 15 to issue a citation.

OSHA also asserts that uncorrected violations are considered ongoing violations, and that each day of noncompliance is subject to a separate penalty.

The Final Rule

According to OSHA, adopting the final rule and amending its recordkeeping regulations was necessary because the previous regulations did not allow OSHA to enforce an employer’s incident recording obligation as an ongoing requirement. In fact, a federal circuit court has held that the former regulations did not authorize OSHA to “cite the employer for a record-making violation more than six months after the recording failure.” The court also noted that there is a discrepancy between the OSH Act and the regulations, and that while the OSH Act allows for continuing violations of recordkeeping requirements, the specific language in the regulations does not implement this statutory authority and does not create continuing recordkeeping obligations.

The federal court interpretation of previous regulations meant that employers were no longer responsible for recording or storing workplace incidents if OSHA failed to detect and penalize employers for omitted recordable incidents within the six-month period. For this reason, OSHA issued its proposed amendments on July 29, 2015.

Impact on Employers The final rule and amended regulations do not create additional or new recordkeeping regulations, and employers will not be required to record incidents that they were not previously required to record.

This clarification simply makes it possible for OSHA to penalize employers for a recordkeeping violation within six months of the last date of noncompliance, not the first date when a violation occurs. OSHA believes that the clarification will encourage employers to comply with record-making and recordkeeping obligations even when these records are not produced within the first six months of when a recordable incident takes place. In other words, the clarification discourages employers from ignoring record-making and recordkeeping obligations solely because six months have transpired since the occurrence of a recordable incident.

This also means that OSHA now has a window of up to 66 months (five years and six months) after the occurrence of a recordable incident to enforce record-making and recordkeeping requirements.

Finally, the amended regulations emphasize an employer’s ongoing duty to create and maintain records and increasingly justify OSHA’s ability to assess penalties against a violating employer for each day of noncompliance, until the maximum penalty amount is reached or the employer corrects the violation

See the original article Here.


IRS Memo on Fixed Indemnity Health Plan Benefits Tax Treatment

Stay up-to-date with the most recent compliance alerts from our partners at United Benefits Advisors (UBA).

On January 20, 2017, the IRS released a Memorandum on the tax treatment of benefits paid by fixed indemnity health plans that addresses two questions:

  1. Are payments to an employee under an employer-provided fixed indemnity health plan excludible from the employee’s income under Internal Revenue Code §105?
  2. Are payments to an employee under an employer-provided fixed indemnity health plan excludible from the employee’s income under Internal Revenue Code §105 if the payments are made by salary reduction through a §125 cafeteria plan?

The IRS concluded that an employer may not exclude payments under an employer-provided fixed indemnity health plan from an employee’s gross income if the coverage’s value was excluded from the employee’s gross income and wages. Further, an employer may not exclude payments under an employer-provided fixed indemnity health plan if the plan’s premiums were made by salary reduction through a §125 cafeteria plan.

Background
A fixed indemnity health plan pays a specific amount of cash for certain health-related events (for example, $40 per office visit or $100 per hospital day). The amount paid is neither related to the medical expense incurred, nor coordinated with other health coverage. Further, a fixed indemnity health plan is considered an “excepted benefit.”
Under HIPAA, fixed dollar indemnity policies are excepted benefits if they are offered as “independent, non-coordinated benefits.” Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), excepted benefits are not subject to the ACA’s health insurance requirements or prohibitions (for example, annual and lifetime dollar limits, out-of-pocket limits, requiring individual and small-group policies to cover ten essential health benefits, etc.) This means that excepted benefit policies can exclude preexisting conditions, can have dollar limits, and do not legally have to guarantee renewal when the coverage is cancelled.

Further, under the ACA, excepted benefits are not minimum essential coverage so a large employer cannot comply with its employer shared responsibility obligations by offering only fixed indemnity coverage to its full-time employees.

Some examples of fixed indemnity health plans are AFLAC or similar coverage, or cancer insurance policies.

Analysis
Generally, the Internal Revenue Code imposes taxes on wages paid with respect to employment. For federal income tax withholding, the Internal Revenue Code generally requires every employer who pays wages to deduct and withhold taxes on those wages.

In the context of an employer-provided fixed indemnity health plan, when the employer’s payment for coverage by the fixed indemnity plan is excluded from the employee’s gross income, then the payments by the plan are not excluded from the employee’s gross income.

In contrast, when the premiums are paid with after-tax dollars, the payments by the plan are excluded from the employee’s gross income.

Download the release here.


OSHA CORNERSTONES Winter 2017

OSHA Publishes New Rule Regarding Slip, Trip and Fall Protection

OSHA recently published a final rule to update the standards regarding walking-working surfaces, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) meant to protect employees from slip, trip and fall hazards. According to the agency, the final rule is meant to increase consistency between the general and construction industries’ fall protection standards, and will allow employers to choose the system that works best for their workplaces.

The final rule applies to all general industry workplaces and covers all walking-working surfaces—any horizontal or vertical surface on or through which an employee walks, works or gains access to a workplace location. The new standards for these surfaces address the following topics:

  •  Surface conditions and housekeeping
  •  Application of loads
  •  Access to and egress
  •  Inspection, maintenance and repair

Additionally, the final rule also indicates that employers must ensure that employees have fall and falling object protection in certain areas and during certain operations or activities.

Employers will be required to train employees about the requirements of the new rule. And, while the training employers provide to their employees is not required to be site specific, it does need to address the hazards to which employees may be exposed at their workplace.

The final rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017, although OSHA will allow additional time for employers to comply with some standards. For more information on the final rule, including a full compliance schedule, call us at 920-921-5921, and ask to see our compliance bulletin, “OSHA Final Rule on Slips, Trips and Fall Protection.”

Large Number of Trench Collapse Fatalities in 2016 May Shift OSHA’s Focus

Since OSHA published safety standards regarding trenching and excavation safety in 1989, fatalities involving trench collapses have fallen dramatically. However, OSHA has reported that 24 employees died as a result of trench collapses since the beginning 2016—more than double the number that occurred in 2015.

Although OSHA is aware of the alarming number of fatalities, the agency still has not determined how safety issues involving trench collapses will be addressed. However, OSHA believes that simply making its staff aware of the problem isn’t enough.

In Tennessee, an employee died after a trench collapsed—the first such incident to occur in the state in more than five years. As a result, OSHA’s state agency in Tennessee now considers excavation hazards an “imminent danger” and has pulled a state inspector off of a general scheduled inspection to investigate trench exposures. However, it’s unknown if OSHA will extend these practices into other states.

Although OSHA’s trench and excavation standards are meant to protect employees, it’s important for employers to take a proactive role by training employees on how to recognize trench hazards. Additionally, it’s likely that OSHA will focus on compliance with trench safety standards as a way to reduce the number of fatalities in 2017.

Two Major OSHA Rules to Consider in Early 2017

OSHA frequently introduces or revises safety rules to remain up to date with new technologies and workplace procedures. In early 2017, two new major rules regarding injury and illness reporting will be in effect that all employers and establishments should be aware of.

OSHA’s electronic reporting rule will require some establishments to electronically submit data from their work-related injury records to OSHA. This rule becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2017. Under the new rule, establishments with 250 or more employees must electronically submit data from their OSHA 300, 300A and 301 forms. OSHA will then remove any personally identifiable information (PII) and post the establishment-specific data on its website.

In response to the electronic reporting rule, OSHA released an anti-retaliation rule that went into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. This rule includes two major requirements for employers:

  • Employers must inform their employees that they have a right to report work-related injuries and illnesses without any form of retaliation.
  • Employer must ensure that “reasonable” procedures are in place for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses.

Because these two new rules may dramatically change how establishments and employees report injuries and illnesses, it’s important for employers to understand their reporting responsibilities. For more information, contact us today and ask for our two compliance bulletins, “OSHA Issues Final Rule on Electronic Reporting” and “OSHA’s Antiretaliation Rules to Take Effect Dec. 1, 2016.”

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