The Open Enrollment Checklist: Are You Poised for a Successful Season

Did you know: Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said health coverage satisfaction is a key factor in deciding whether they should leave their current job. Read the following blog post for an open enrollment checklist.


It’s here… the moment we’ve all been waiting for — or, in the case of HR, preparing for (at least we’d hope). That’s right, open enrollment season has arrived.

Open enrollment is a major opportunity for HR to contribute to their company’s performance — both in terms of healthcare savings and employee productivity. The better employees understand their benefits, the more likely they are to make cost-conscious decisions about their plan choices and their healthcare — saving themselves, and their employers, money. Not only that, but a recent survey found that 56% of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job. And, interestingly, satisfaction with benefits and benefits communications have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and engagement.

Not sure you’ve done everything you could to turn this annual necessity into a true financial, educational game-changer for your organizations? Ask yourself, did you:

Take stock of last year’s enrollment?Before diving into enrollment for 2020, employers should have taken stock of how the company fared last year. Post-mortem meetings with the enrollment team (along with key internal and external stakeholders) to assess what went well (or didn’t) can ensure the coming enrollment season runs smoothly.

In particular, identify the most time-consuming tasks and discuss how they could be streamlined in the future. Second, determine what questions employees asked the most about last year — and be prepared to answer them again this year. Third, consider whether the company achieved its overall open enrollment goals, and what contributed to those results. By addressing the peaks and pitfalls of last year’s season, HR should have a head start on planning for 2020.

Plan your communications strategy?With a defined approach to open enrollment in place, HR at this point should have developed an organized, well-communicated strategy to keep employees informed about their plan options at enrollment and throughout the year. Have you:

· Defined corporate objectives and how to measure success? · Assessed what messages to share with employees, especially anything that is changing — such as adding or eliminating plans or changing vendors? · Determined what information is best delivered in print (e.g. newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides), online or in person through managers or one-on-one enrollment support? Adopting a multi-channel engagement strategy will ensure key messages reach the intended audience(s).

Make sure employees understand the deadline and process for enrolling — and the implications of missing the enrollment window. They must understand whether their existing coverage will roll over, if they’ll default to a specific plan and/or level of coverage (perhaps different from what they currently have), or end up with no coverage at all.

Take a pro-active approach to open enrollment?Ninety percent of employees report that they roll over their same health plan year over year — though this doesn’t indicate overwhelming plan satisfaction. More typically, it’s because they’re intimidated about what they don’t know, are confused about their choices or just don’t care. Employees don’t have the information they need, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own.

Offering — or even requiring — one-on-one meetings with benefit experts during open enrollment provides a forum for employees to discuss their individual needs and ensure they are selecting the right coverage. These services — often available through brokers or outside engagement firms — provide employees with a safe space to ask specific questions about their health conditions, family history and potential life changes that could affect their insurance needs. This is the ideal time to remind employees that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and that the least expensive plan on paper may not, ultimately, be the most cost-effective plan over time.

Revisit your SPD?The document we all love to hate, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) remain the best source for information about how each plan works, what it covers and the participant’s rights and responsibilities under that plan.

Having an SPD that is current, appealing (or at least not off-putting) and easy to access can answer many employee questions before they find their way to HR. Simple fixes like adding charts, callout boxes or icons can make your SPDs easier to navigate. Many employers are taking it a step further and offering interactive SPDs, which include robust search functionality and links to definitions, important forms, modeling tools and calculators, vendor sites and even short video clips. By making SPDs digital and interactive, employers can provide employees access to important information about their coverage 24/7 via any device. And, by adding a data analytics component, HR can track which sections employees visit most and pinpoint knowledge gaps about their benefit options to enhance understanding and drive increased benefits usage.

Account for all demographics?With all the focus on today’s multigenerational workforce, it’s important to remember that there’s more to “demographics” than age and gender. Worksite (office vs. shop floor vs. construction site vs. road warrior) can have a tremendous impact on the communications channels you use and when you use them.

And while some “generational generalizations” hold true — many older workers prefer paper, and most young people prefer mobile communication channels — it’s more important to look at employee cohorts from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement vs. retiring student debt), different levels of education and healthcare literacy, and experience with choosing and using benefits. Employees just starting their careers are likely to need more support and different information than a more seasoned worker who’s had years of experience with the enrollment process. Consider the most effective ways to engage the different demographics of your population to gain their attention and interest in choosing the right plan for them.

Equip employees for smart healthcare choices year-round?For most employees, becoming an educated healthcare consumer is a work in progress — which is why many employers offer year-round resources to support smart healthcare choices. That said, these resources are often under-utilized because employees don’t know they exist.

Open enrollment is the perfect time to spread the word about these programs and address the key question for employees: “What’s in it for me?” For example, many employers offer transparency services, which enable employees to research the potential cost of care and compare prices across several providers in their area.

Other resources, such as benefits advocates, can answer questions from employees in real time — including where to get care, how to get a second opinion and what the doctor’s instructions really mean. When used in conjunction, transparency and advocacy services can lower out-of-pocket spending for the employee and reduce costs for the employer. Does your open enrollment communications strategy highlight that these resources exist, outline how they work and explain how they benefit the employee?

What if open enrollment is only a week away and you haven’t taken most, if any, of these steps? It’s not too early to start your to-do list for next year — perhaps by first tackling your SPD and drafting that communications plan. Most important, get that post-mortem meeting on the schedule now, while the lessons learned from this year’s open enrollment are still fresh.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (3 October 2019) "The Open enrollment checklist: Are you Poised for a successful season" (Web Blog Post) https://www.benefitnews.com/list/the-employers-open-enrollment-checklist


6 voluntary benefits your employees want

Today’s workforce is no longer finding the run-of-the-mill benefits plans adequate. This is making voluntary benefits more important than ever in this age of the multigenerational workforce and a tight labor market. Read the following blog post for six voluntary benefits employees want.


In this age of the multigenerational workforce and a tight labor market, a one-size-fits-all group benefits model with medical, prescription, dental, vision and a retirement plan just doesn’t cut it. A workforce with Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials and Generation Z means that employees are going to find the run-of-the-mill benefits plan inadequate. Ditto for job seekers.

What follows is that voluntary benefits are more important than ever. Offering a range of voluntary benefits can help meet the needs of employees at all life stages.

Voluntary benefits add value to benefit plans and are typically easy to administer. They’re low-to-no-cost because employees pay for them, and maintenance is often handled through a payroll deduction. Many voluntary benefits also offer guaranteed acceptance at a lower rate than medical benefits, so even if a small group within your company chooses a particular benefit, they’ll be covered.

This landscape is changing quickly. Here are six trending voluntary benefits your employees want.

Student loan debt repayment assistance

Debt among college graduates has grown to nearly $1.6 trillion. It’s preventing the largest employee segment at most companies from buying houses or cars, saving for retirement, having kids and getting married. To help employees repay their student loan debt, some employers are helping employees pay down student loan debt through a direct payroll deduction.

Others are offering a new, IRS-allowable retirement plan match swap where an employer can opt to increase its defined contribution match, enabling employees to reduce their retirement match and contribute funds to repaying student loans instead.

Interest in this benefit continues to grow. Employers looking to offer student loan debt repayment should be aware that not all platforms are created equal. Look out for high per-employee, per-month fees.

Individual long-term care

A growing number of people are beginning to understand the value of long-term care insurance because they have taken care of or currently care for a friend or relative who needs round-the-clock care. Long-term care insurance covers home or institutional care if a person is no longer able to perform at least two activities of daily living--eating, bathing, dressing, moving from a bed to a chair or using a toilet.

Employees are interested in buying long-term care insurance through their employer because they can offer better rates for simplified issue plans. If you plan to offer long-term care as an employer-sponsored benefit, I recommended rolling it out with a strategic project plan and a benefit counselor or a technology platform capable of providing decision-making tools for a smooth application process.

Executive reimbursement plans

Employee retention — especially executive retention — is on the minds of many employers in the midst of this thriving economy. Filling gaps in medical and prescription coverage is one way to provide executive teams with premium benefits they may be looking for.

Executive reimbursement plans provide reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, access to facilities and level of service not normally covered under most group health plans. Rather than simply increasing compensation to help cover out-of-pocket expenses, premiums for these plans are tax-deductible for the employer, and benefits are non-taxable for employees.

Executive individual disability insurance

Traditional employer-sponsored long-term disability (LTD) is likely not enough coverage for highly-compensated employees or some sales staff who depends heavily on commission and bonuses. Normally, LTD pays employees 50-70% of their salary up to a certain amount.

Employers can carve out additional coverage for employees based on their management level, performance or tenure. Individual disability insurance plans can protect employees until they turn 65; they can also protect job titles or levels until employees are well enough to return to work. Executive individual disability insurance, like executive reimbursement, can be offered as a form of compensation, or a form of financial asset protection for higher incomes.

Telemedicine

The rise of consumer-driven health plans has led to the need for telemedicine. Telemedicine provides a way for employees to see a physician or provider by video and get a diagnosis and/or prescription quickly. The success of telemedicine is leading some carriers to integrate it within their plan. However, standalones still exist and can provide employees with an easy way to get care faster and cheaper than before.

Pet Insurance

Pet parents spend nearly $70 billion on veterinarian costs for their pets, but just 10% of dogs and 5% of cats are covered by medical insurance. As pets begin to play a larger role in our lives, more employers are offering pet insurance to their employees to help defray the cost of unexpected medical expenses.

There are a number of plan options, and setting up a plan for employees’ pets is simple. However, it’s vital that employers do their research to ensure the veterinarian network includes the best vets.

As part of a voluntary benefit offering, be sure to develop a rollout strategy and communications plan so employees are thoroughly educated and you meet group minimums.

SOURCE: Park, N. (25 September 2019) "6 voluntary benefits your employees want" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/6-voluntary-benefits-your-employees-want


‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits

Traditionally, vision benefits were offered as an elective, with coverage is focusing on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear, but this often can result in inadequate coverage for employees and their dependents. Read this blog post to learn more about vision benefits.


Sixty-one million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, according to the National Eye Institute, but most U.S. employers don’t include eye care as part of their benefits package. Vision benefits have traditionally been offered as an elective, where coverage is focused on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear.

This often results in inadequate coverage for employees and dependents, which can result in unrecognized and untreated issues that impact employee health and productivity, as well as an employer’s bottom line.

Comprehensive eye exams are recommended for adults under the age of 65 at least every two years, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). These exams are the only way a doctor can detect signs and symptoms of serious conditions without cutting into or scanning body parts.

The total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. was $139 billion in 2013, which includes $65 billion in direct medical costs strictly due to eye disorders and low vision. Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity per year.

When it comes to benefit management priorities employers often focus more on chronic condition management. Yet, eye health is often linked to common chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Without early detection of eye and vision health issues, employees cannot properly manage these conditions. Delaying medical treatment can lead to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, eventually resulting in treatment that comes too late, and at a much higher price tag for employers, employees and family members.

About 68% of Americans with diabetes have been diagnosed with eye complications, many of which could have been prevented through a comprehensive eye exam. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its prevalence is increasing as one in 10 people worldwide may be affected by 2040, according to research from the International Diabetes Federation.

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that diabetic eye diseases have visible symptoms, according to a 2018 AOA survey. More than one-third of respondents didn’t know a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to determine if a person’s diabetes will cause blindness. These exams, considered the gold standard in clinical vision care, should be covered under the employees’ medical benefits.

Three years ago the Midwest Business Group on Health began a collaboration with the AOA to better understand how employers think about and implement eye health and vision benefits. As part of this partnership, a no-cost eye care benefits toolkit was developed to support employers in evaluating their current eye health and vision care benefits to:

  • Understand the importance of early detection so that employees can effectively manage chronic and more serious conditions
  • Recognize how to integrate primary and preventive eye care into an overall medical benefit design
  • Educate employees on the importance of periodic eye examinations

It’s important that employers better understand the impact of vision care benefits, including lower costs, better employee health, improved job satisfaction, better employee quality of life, and work productivity.

SOURCE: Larson, C. (20 September 2019) "‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/vision-loss-resulting-in-billions-in-lost-productivity


Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference

Thirty-three percent of employees stated their primary emotions when thinking about open enrollment season as annoyance and dread. Read this blog post from SHRM for a few simple tips that can make a big difference this open enrollment season.


Trepidation is what comes to mind for many employees when asked their feelings about open enrollment, the annual period when they select employer-provided benefits for the coming year.

According to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 employees polled earlier this year, 33 percent cited "annoyance" or "dread" as their primary emotions when they thought about open enrollment and just 10 percent of workers said they were "confident" in the benefits choices they made when the enrollment process was over, according to VSP Vision Care's annual Open Talk about Open Enrollment survey.

In another survey, HR software company Namely found that 31 percent of employees give their employer a "C" or lower when it comes to open enrollment.

Here are some tips from benefits experts that will help you raise your grade this open-enrollment season.

What to Do, and Not to Do

Jennifer Benz, national practice leader at benefits communications firm Segal Benz, shared three bad HR practices that undermine open enrollment and three best practices for doing open enrollment the right way.

  • Don't hide vital information from employees. Benz recalls how one company sent out its benefits materials but didn't include monthly costs. "A group of enterprising employees crunched the numbers and came up with estimates and circulated a rogue spreadsheet. Dealing with this communications fiasco took more work" than being upfront about costs, she noted.

Best practice: Be transparent and share the reasons you are making benefits changes. Break down the details and do the work for the employees. Provide scenarios so employees can better understand their options and cost breakdowns for different life situations.

  • Don't cram in every benefit at once. Some companies hand out pages and pages of text, jamming a year's worth of communications into a few weeks, and figure they have done what they need to do. "What they have done is confused their employees," Benz said.

Best practices: Communicate the technical details of your various benefits over time. "Don't assume employees will weed through all your materials to make sense of the benefits offered to them," Benz said. Also make full use of visual aids. "Photos, icons, infographics, memes, charts, graphics and more—they all help to attract, and more importantly hold, people's attention," noted Amber Riley, a communications consultant to Segal Benz. "Whether you're driving an open-enrollment campaign, creating a new benefits guide or promoting a wellness program, when you increase the visual pleasure of what you are communicating, your people are more likely to engage, learn, understand and ultimately take action."

  • Don't give employees too little time to process their open-enrollment choices. While many people wait until the last day to fill out the health care selection forms, they may have been considering their options with family members for weeks, so giving them just a few days to make decisions is not going to be enough.

Best practice: Build in a time frame that gives HR staff and employees the time they need. Benz recommended three weeks.

"People are always talking about learning from the best practices and success stories, but you can also learn a lot from other companies' mistakes," she noted. "When you prepare for enrollment in advance and anticipate issues—including those you and others have experienced in the past—you are better-equipped to avoid missteps. Your employees will notice and appreciate the extra effort."

Help Employees Ace Open Enrollment

"Open enrollment is often time-consuming and confusing for employees, but these choices can make a huge financial impact," said Julie Stich, CEBS, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, an association of benefit plan sponsors. She suggested that HR share the following advice with employees to help prepare them for the upcoming enrollment season:

  • Take your time. Take time to really read through the enrollment materials you receive. If you are invited to a face-to-face meeting, make time to attend. It's possible you'll be offered different plan options and coverages this year. The better you understand the changes, the better decisions you'll make.
  • Look ahead. Consider what the next year will look like for you and your family. Are you planning to have a baby? Knee replacement surgery? A root canal? Does someone need braces? New glasses? Keep this in mind as you look at your coverage options.
  • Dive into the details. It's important to note whether the plans' provider networks have changed. Make sure your doctors are still in-network. Is your chiropractor also covered? Does the plan cover orthodontics? Is your spouse's daily prescription drug covered, and did the coverage change? Also consider areas of need like access to specialists, mental health care, therapies, complementary and alternative medicine, and chronic care. Look at the options offered in all plans, including health, dental, vision and disability.
  • Get out your calculator. Add up the amount you'll need to pay toward your health premium plus deductibles, co-payments (flat-dollar amounts) for prescriptions and doctor office visits, and co-insurance (a percentage of the cost you'll pay) for services. Understand what you'll be asked to pay if you seek care outside your network. This will give you a clearer picture of how much you're likely to spend. The plan that looks to be the cheapest option may not really be the cheapest for you.
  • Determine what's right for you. Consider your comfort level with risk. If you want your family to be covered for every eventuality, a more traditional plan, if one is offered, might be right for you. If you're comfortable taking on some upfront costs, a high-deductible plan with a lower premium ight be your plan of choice.
  • Take advantage of extras. Your employer may offer the option to reduce your health premiums in exchange for your participation in a wellness program or health-risk assessment. It may match some or all of the money you save in your 401(k) plan. It might let you set aside tax-deferred money into a health savings account or flexible spending account. Also, check with your employer to see if it offers voluntary insurance with a group discount and payroll deduction for premiums—like critical-illness, pet, auto and homeowners coverage. If these options work for your situation, sign up.
  • Ask questions. Don't be shy about asking your HR or benefits department to explain something if you're not sure. They're there to help and want you to make the best decisions for your situation.

"Taking the time upfront to carefully choose the best options will help employees better manage their finances throughout the year, alleviating stress and promoting productivity," Stich said.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (24 September 2019) "Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/simple-open-enrollment-tips-make-a-big-difference.aspx


Health insurance surpass $20,000 per year, hitting a record

An annual survey of employers recently revealed that the cost of family health coverage has now surpassed $20,000, a record high. The survey also revealed that while most employers pay most of the costs of coverage, workers' average contribution for a family plan is now $6,000. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more.


The cost of family health coverage in the U.S. now tops $20,000, an annual survey of employers found, a record high that has pushed an increasing number of American workers into plans that cover less or cost more, or force them out of the insurance market entirely.

“It’s as much as buying a basic economy car,” said Drew Altman, chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation, “but buying it every year.” The nonprofit health research group conducts the yearly survey of coverage that people get through work, the main source of insurance in the U.S. for people under age 65.

While employers pay most of the costs of coverage, according to the survey, workers’ average contribution is now $6,000 for a family plan. That’s just their share of upfront premiums, and doesn’t include co-payments, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing once they need care.

The seemingly inexorable rise of costs has led to deep frustration with U.S. healthcare, prompting questions about whether a system where coverage is tied to a job can survive. As premiums and deductibles have increased in the last two decades, the percentage of workers covered has slipped as employers dropped coverage and some workers chose not to enroll. Fewer Americans under 65 had employer coverage in 2017 than in 1999, according to a separate Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of federal data. That’s despite the fact that the U.S. economy employed 17 million more people in 2017 than in 1999.

“What we’ve been seeing is a slow, slow kind of drip-drip erosion in employer coverage,” Altman said.

Employees’ costs for healthcare are rising more quickly than wages or overall economy-wide prices, and the working poor have been particularly hard-hit. In firms where more than 35% of employees earn less than $25,000 a year, workers would have to contribute more than $7,000 for a family health plan. It’s an expense that Altman calls “just flat-out not affordable.” Only one-third of employees at such firms are on their employer’s health plans, compared with 63% at higher-wage firms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s data.

The survey is based on responses from more than 2,000 randomly selected employers with at least three workers, including private firms and non-federal public employers.

Deductibles are rising even faster than premiums, meaning that patients are on the hook for more of their medical costs upfront. For a single person, the average deductible in 2019 was $1,396, up from $533 in 2009. A typical household with employer health coverage spends about $800 a year in out-of-pocket costs, not counting premiums, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. At the high end of the range, those costs can top $5,000 a year.

While raising deductibles can moderate premiums, it also increases costs for people with an illness or who gets hurt. “Cost-sharing is a tax on the sick,” said Mark Fendrick, director of the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design at the University of Michigan.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover certain preventive services such as immunizations and annual wellness visits without patient cost-sharing. But patients still have to pay out-of-pocket for other essential care, such as medication for chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, until they meet their deductibles.

Many Americans aren’t prepared for the risks that deductibles transfer to patients. Almost 40% of adults can’t pay an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling an asset, according to a Federal Reserve survey from May.

That’s a problem, Fendrick said. “My patient should not have to have a bake sale to afford her insulin,” he said.

After years of pushing healthcare costs onto workers, some employers are pressing pause. Delta Air Lines Inc. recently froze employees’ contributions to premiums for two years, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York last week.

“We said we’re not going to raise them. We're going to absorb the cost because we need to make certain people know that their benefits structure is real important,” Bastian said. He said the company’s healthcare costs are growing by double-digits. The Atlanta-based company has more than 80,000 employees around the globe.

Some large employers have reversed course on asking workers to take on more costs, according to a separate survey from the National Business Group on Health. In 2020, fewer companies will limit employees to so-called “consumer-directed health plans,” which pair high-deductible coverage with savings accounts for medical spending funded by workers and employers, according to the survey. That will be the only plan available at 25% of large employers in the survey, down from 39% in 2018.

Employers have to balance their desire to control costs with their need to attract and keep workers, said Kaiser’s Altman. That leaves them less inclined to make aggressive moves to tackle underlying medical costs, such as by cutting high-cost hospitals out of their networks. In recent years employers’ healthcare costs have remained steady as a share of their total compensation expenses.

“There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth,” Altman said, “but if you look at what they do, not what they say, it’s reasonably vanilla.”

SOURCE: Tozzi, J. (25 September 2019) "Health insurance surpass $20,000 per year, hitting a record" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/articles/health-insurance-costs-surpass-20-000-per-year


One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

How is your company promoting well-being? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading for how employers can promote well-being by targeting oral health.


With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/promoting-wellbeing-through-dental-health


Is it Time for Unlimited Time off?

More and more employee benefits are being designed around employee health, wellness and happiness, but many of them are designed to keep employees at work. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


While more and more perks — catered lunches, on-site gyms, immunizations programs — are about employee health, wellness, and happiness, they ultimately are also designed to keep workers at work. A recent article in Quartz at Work points out that more than anything, employees want more time off and out of the office. Unlimited time off, to be exact.

Once the perk of tech firms and startups, more companies are beginning to explore unlimited paid time off. And, though still rare at only one to two percent of companies, it’s a popular request in part because workforce demographics continue to shift. Nearly half of employees are Millennials, whose priorities are changing the benefits conversation. For this group, finding more balance and having more control of their time are key. In part, this may be because time off has fundamentally changed. Well and Good looks at the fact that, with near-constant connectedness, vacation days often still involve checking email and getting other notifications.

Add to that cultural and workplace expectations of accessibility and availability, and workers are at risk for burnout. One in four workers report feeling burned out all the time and almost half feel burned out sometimes. This burnout can cost employers in lost productivity, and employees in terms of health and happiness. Today, someone doesn’t need to psychically spend 90 hours a week at the office to be working 90 hours. With our always-on lives, restorative time off is rarer but still as important to prevent burnout.

That doesn’t mean every business is jumping on the unlimited time off bandwagon. Want other ideas? A writer for The Guardian suggests a middle ground, with more days off the longer an employee has worked at a company. And, while rollover sounds generous, it may make employees less likely to use it. Want to give it a try but concerned about misuse? Business Management Daily suggests it’s also more than reasonable to consider limits on unlimited and critical to set sound guidelines around pay as well as whether days off can be all in a row.

For many employees, unlimited time off offers the extra flexibility for life’s challenges and can aid satisfaction and retention. Before HR Departments worry the system will be abused, research shows that people take significantly less time off when it’s unlimited. In fact, what may be more impactful is a minimum number of days off may be required so as to ensure employees take advantage of a benefit meant to restore and replenish their energy, creativity, and engagement. To work, it needs to be modeled by managers and other higher-ups, as a CEO details in a Chicago Daily Herald article.

Read more:

The Benefit Workers Want Most is Less Work

Vacation Time and Being Off Work Are No Longer the Same, so Avoiding Burnout Is Trickier than Ever

What Could be Better than Unlimited Paid Vacation? Well, this …

Unlimited Vacation -- the One Benefit Workers Want More than Anything

Ask These Questions when Considering Unlimited PTO

SOURCE: Olson, B. (7 May 2019) "Is it Time for Unlimited Time off?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/is-it-time-for-unlimited-time-off


Nine Ways To Motivate Employees That Don't Always Involve Cash

Many employers are reporting that the single greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining talent. Read this blog post from Forbes for nine ways employers can motivate their employees.


With unemployment at near historic lows in the United States, employers report that their single greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining talent. The answer for many companies is to throw money at the problem: Bonuses, incentive pay, and out-of-cycle salary increases are often seen as motivators that will entice greater effort and loyalty out of workers.

Turns out, using cash as a carrot isn’t always the best answer, according to new research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans. More than 80 percent of American employees say they do not feel recognized or rewarded, despite the fact that US companies are spending more than a fifth of their budgets on wages.

What employees crave even more is to feel that their managers appreciate them and aren’t afraid to show it, not only in paycheck terms, but in other ways such as flexible work-at-home schedules, gift cards for pulling off impressive projects, or even just by saying “thank you” for a job well done.

“Cash matters in people’s lives, but it’s not all that matters,” says Whillans, who researches what makes people happy. “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated.”

Whillans co-wrote a recent article in Compensation & Benefits Review, “Winning the War for Talent: Modern Motivational Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees,” with Anais Thibault-Landry of the Université du Québec à Montréal and Allan Schweyer of the Incentive Research Foundation.

Rewards that signal to employees that they did a good job and that their manager cares about them will encourage employees to want to work even harder, the research shows. Whillans provides nine tips for business leaders on how best to reward their workers in ways that will bring them greater job satisfaction and motivate them to work harder.

When recruiting, emphasize benefits. Talking up a job’s perks, such as flexible work schedules and skill training, can give companies a recruiting edge. A 2018 study that Whillans and her team conducted of more than 92,000 job ads found that the more benefits an employer described, the higher the application rates.

Cash can motivate workers—in some types of work. Cash rewards are best suited as a motivator for work that is measured quantitatively, Whillans says. But money is less meaningful as a motivator in the complex creative jobs that make up most work in our modern knowledge-based society.

If you give cash, include a meaningful note. It’s best to avoid merely adding a cash bonus to a worker’s paycheck; a separate bonus check stands out more as a recognition of their work. And managers should also include a sincere handwritten note explaining why the employee deserved the bonus.

Reconsider performance incentives. Decades of research confirms that financial incentives can boost effort and performance. But when an employee’s pay is contingent on performance, they can become obsessed with earning more. What often works better is to turn around the timing of the reward, handing it out immediately after an employee excels at a particular task, rather than dangling it beforehand.

Consider thoughtful gifts instead of cash. A 2017 study of 600 salespeople found that when a mixed cash and prize reward program was replaced with an equivalent value all-cash package, employee effort dropped dramatically, leading to a 4.36 percent decrease in sales that cost the company millions in lost revenue, Whillans’s article says. The firm may have inadvertently demotivated salespeople who preferred prizes or discouraged workers who liked having a choice.

Give the gift of time—and other intangible perks. A Glassdoor survey Whillans and her team conducted with 115,000 employees found that providing intangible non-cash benefits, like flexible work options or the ability to choose assignments, led to much stronger job satisfaction than straightforward cash rewards.

Encourage employees to reward one another. Companies can build recognition into their business practices by creating peer-to-peer recognition programs in which employees are provided monthly reward points that they can give away to colleagues for work-related wins. Employees who earn a certain number of points can redeem them for various perks, such as a restaurant gift card or an extra personal day.

Make the recognition public. If employees are receiving a $500 bonus, hold a workplace event to hand out checks, and invite the employees’ peers. Perhaps add a certificate of appreciation along with the check.

Sometimes a simple thank you is enough. Among the happiest employees, 95 percent say that their managers are good at providing positive feedback, Whillans says. A simple, heartfelt “thank you” from a manager is often enough for employees to feel like their contributions are valued and will motivate them to try harder.

Why rewarding employees works

Whillans says these types of rewards work because they tap into three strong psychological needs: Employees long for autonomy, with the freedom to choose how to do their work; they want to appear competent, armed with the skills needed to perform; and they want to feel a sense of belonging by socially connecting with colleagues in a meaningful way.

When these needs are satisfied, employees feel more motivated, engaged, and committed to their workplace—and they report fewer intentions of leaving their jobs, Whillans says.

SOURCE: 


IRS Releases Information Letter on Returning HSA Contributions to an Employer

An informational letter was recently released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) clarifying that IRS Notice 2008-59 was not intended to provide an exclusive set of circumstances in which employers could recoup contributions made to employee HSAs. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Generally, a person’s interest in a Health Savings Account (HSA) is nonforfeitable. However, in the past, the Internal Revenue Service’s Notice 2008-59 described limited circumstances under which an employer may recoup contributions made to an employee’s HSA.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Information Letter 2019-0033 (Letter), clarifying that IRS Notice 2008-59 was not intended to provide an exclusive set of circumstances in which an employer can recoup contributions made to an HSA. If there is clear evidence of an administrative or process error, an employer may request that the contributions it made to an employee’s HSA be returned. This correction should put the employer and employee in the same position that they would have been in if the error had not occurred.

The Letter lists the following examples of when an employer may recoup HSA contributions:

  • An amount withheld and deposited in an employee’s HSA for a pay period is greater than the amount shown on the employee’s HSA salary reduction election.
  • An employee receives an employer contribution that the employer did not intend to contribute but the amount was transmitted because an incorrect spreadsheet is accessed or because employees with similar names are confused with each other.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because it is incorrectly entered by a payroll administrator (whether in-house or third-party) causing the incorrect amount to be withheld and contributed.
  • An employee receives a second HSA contribution because duplicate payroll files are transmitted.
  • An employee receives as an incorrect HSA contribution because a change in employee payroll elections is not processed timely so that amounts withheld and contributed are greater than (or less than) the employee elected.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because an HSA contribution amount is calculated incorrectly, such as a case in which an employee elects a total amount for the year that is allocated by the system over an incorrect number of pay periods.
  • An employee receives an incorrect HSA contribution because the decimal position is set incorrectly resulting in a contribution greater than intended.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (14 March 2019) "IRS Releases Information Letter on Returning HSA Contributions to an Employer" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-information-letter-on-returning-hsa-contributions-to-an-employer


4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings

Fifty-two percent of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Read this blog post to learn more.


A growing number of employers are adopting workplace wellness programs to improve employee health and subsequently lower their health insurance spend. As they do, benefit managers are tasked with vetting options that will deliver meaningful health and financial results for their companies.

This vetting process typically involves answering questions that range from which types of participation incentives their organization should offer to what type of wellness programs will yield the greatest health-improvement outcomes.

But there’s a problem: Very few benefits managers ask for details about wellness biometric testing, even though most programs are, at least in theory, designed around the information that screening provides. Biometric screening typically involves one or more laboratory tests as well as physical readings, such as blood pressure and body weight, to identify markers of health risks if not an actual disease.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 52% of large firms that provide employee health benefits offer workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening.

Just as workplace wellness programs are not all the same, biometric screening can vary. Failure to question the specific details of a proposed biometric screening program can lead to suboptimal results.

Before moving forward with biometric screenings as part of a workplace wellness program, benefit managers should pause to ask themselves certain questions. Doing so will enhance the likelihood of favorable outcomes — both for employee wellness and the financial bottom line.

1. Why should we screen?

It sounds simple, but setting clear goals for biometric screening is a step too many benefits managers overlook. This may be because they do not know how to anticipate the kind of actions that will be available to them and their employees given the results.

Based on my experience, the most compelling reason to provide biometric screening as part of a wellness program is to help individuals identify risks for several chronic conditions that, if caught early, may be prevented. With insights from a biometric screening, an individual may be better able to take steps to reduce health risks. Common goals may be to reduce body weight, exercise more or visit a physician for treatment.

Biometric screening often can reveal disease risks an individual may not otherwise know. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, for instance, found that one in three first-time participants in a company-sponsored, lab-based wellness program by Quest Diagnostics were not aware they were at risk for a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, according to biometric screening results. Many of these individuals were in a health plan, suggesting that healthcare access alone does not guarantee preventive care to identify risk for common chronic health conditions.

Biometric screening also can help an employer identify programs to target at-risk employee segments based on the type of risk with appropriate interventions. Reliable insight into disease risks for a workforce population may also aid the prediction of future healthcare costs.

2. What should we screen for?

Ideally, biometric screening should provide enough information into disease risks for both individuals and the employer in order to take meaningful actions. Here, many employers miss the mark by implementing bare bones biometric screening options. The result is potentially misleading results — and missed opportunities to identify individuals at risk.

Take diabetes screening, for instance. A non-fasting fingerstick glucose screening really doesn’t tell us anything considering the variety of food individuals might have eaten, and how that may have affected their measurement.

A fasting fingerstick glucose test may help identify diabetes risk in some individuals and be less costly to perform than a hemoglobin A1c test, which involves a venipuncture blood draw. However, a study from Quest Diagnostics found that some individuals in a workforce population with normal fasting glucose results were still at higher risk for diabetes, and a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test identified them.

In a similar manner, many employers overlook screening for chronic kidney disease, one of the major causes of kidney transplantation. Eighty-nine percent of participants identified as at risk for chronic kidney disease did not know it, according to the aforementioned PLoS ONE study. The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) lab test can help identify this condition very cost-effectively, but it’s often absent in biometric screening programs. Other conditions that laboratory tests can help identify include metabolic disorders, thyroid disease, and colorectal cancer, among others.

3. How often should we screen?

Annual biometric screening reinforces the importance of management places on employee wellness. It can also help identify health risks in individuals who are new to the organization. An annual program also provides a regular cadence of engagement that is not too onerous on employees while minimizing the confusion that can occur when screening happens less frequently.

Annual screening has an added benefit of allowing the employee to track her progress over time. Quest provides graphic charts that show changes in an individual’s numbers year over year. This is a powerful motivator for those who have adopted healthful behaviors to stay the course. And longitudinal changes also can reveal patterns, like modest annual weight gain, that the individual may otherwise dismiss until they see the cumulative effect.

4. How can we connect employees to care and intervention?

Screening is just one facet of a successful wellness program. Some individuals who identify health risks may proactively modify their behavior or consult a physician. But not all will. Employers can improve the odds of at-risk employees accessing the care they need following biometric screening.

Most employees in biometric programs receive a personalized report of their screening results. Additionally, many participants can consult over the phone with a third-party administered physician.

At Quest, for instance, we offer programs that help at-risk employees access behavioral change programs. If an individual’s screening results suggest evidence of prediabetes, that employee may participate free of charge in a 16-week, CDC-based diabetes prevention program that includes coaching and lifestyle modification. An individual with a problematic cholesterol result may be able to access a similar program for heart disease prevention.

Biometric screenings can be a powerful facet of an employee wellness program. Understanding the reasons to screen, which methods to use and how often to use them, and the paths to connect employees to care are key. Benefit managers who do this well will be rewarded with a wellness program that results in healthier employees and lower healthcare costs over time.

SOURCE: Goldberg, S. (21 February 2019) "4 questions to ask before adding biometric screenings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/4-questions-to-ask-before-adding-biometric-screenings