Improving your employee experience during open enrollment

Often, employers struggle with employee participation during open enrollment season. Switching company enrollments online is one way to increase employee participation. Read the following blog post for more tips to help ease this open enrollment season.


For HR professionals, open enrollment is one of the most stressful and demanding times of the year. Many employers struggle with employee participation and expensive, time-consuming roll-outs. They also have to provide resources to help employees make the right plan selections for themselves and their families. As we head into another open enrollment season, consider these tips to ease the process.

Switch your open enrollments to online platforms.

If you’re still relying on paper enrollment forms, you are likely spending more money and time than you need to in pursuit of your manual work process and its many inconsistencies. Online platforms provide optimum efficiency, accuracy and convenience for your workforce, offering employee self-service options that encourage employees to take initiative in selecting the best plan for their situation. Not only will members of your workforce benefit from the convenience of being able to explore their options on their own time, but you’ll be able to offer them multi-lingual enrollment materials and have more time to assist them than ever before.

Prioritize and diversify communication.

One of the top ways to ensure a smooth open enrollment period is to use multiple communication channels, including frequent reminders regarding open enrollment deadlines. Without consistent outreach on the part of your HR officers and general managers, you will likely find yourself hunting people down to meet your enrollment and extension deadlines. Using an online self-service portal as well as traditional in-person meetings allow you to remind your employees of critical dates and changes as enrollment closes in.

The robust benefits administration system you choose should offer enrollment tracking and reporting features so you can see at a glance who still needs to begin open enrollment, who has left enrollment documents incomplete, who has made changes to their benefits (such as adding a dependent) and more. You can arrange for the system to send automatic reminders to signal the employee that further actions are needed. Providing multiple reminders will improve participation and the completion of on-time enrollments.

Help employees choose the best health plan for their situation.

In order to have the most successful open enrollment period possible, educating your employees on the different plan options available will go a long towards ensuring employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that most employees don’t have the necessary understanding of terms like “deductible” and “coinsurance,” let alone the tools to know which plan is best for their individual needs. Incorporating at-a-glance comparison tools and charts into your online or print enrollment materials can help employees make the most informed decision possible. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials like videos and simplified plan charts or cost calculators.

Keep Up with Benefit Trends and Voluntary Offerings.

Given the current labor shortage and competitive talent market, you’ll want to make sure your company is up to speed on which new benefits your competitors are looking to add, as well as which ones are appealing to specific roles, locations or generations within potential candidates from your hiring pool.

Voluntary benefits, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in employee benefits portfolios and they don’t cost you anything. Some of the most popular voluntary benefits right now include identity theft protection, pet insurance, long term care insurance and critical illness protection. If you aren’t currently offering these types of additional benefits, they could be a cost-effective way to boost employee morale, increase participation in enrollment and attract more workers to your business.

SOURCE: Smith, M. (2 December 2019) "Improving your employee experience during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/improving-your-employee-experience-during-open-enrollment


IRS Releases Information Letter on Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties under the ACA

An informational letter was just released by the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) in response to an inquiry of whether employer shared responsibility penalties (ESRPs) may be waived or reduced based on hardship or other factors. Read this blog post to learn more.


The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) released an information letter responding to an inquiry of whether employer shared responsibility penalties (ESRPs) may be waived or reduced based on hardship or other factors and whether the IRS will extend the transition relief for employers with fewer than 100 employees.

The letter notes that the law does not provide for waiver of ESRPs. While the IRS provided several forms of transition relief in 2015 and 2016, no transition relief is available for 2017 and future years. Although the January 20, 2017, executive order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the ACA Pending Repeal directs federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion to waive, defer, and grant exemptions from the ACA provisions, the ACA’s legislative provisions are still in force until Congress changes them.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (7 November 2019) "IRS Releases Information Letter on Employer Shared Responsibility Penalties under the ACA" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-information-letter-on-employer-shared-responsibility-penalties-under-the-aca


Compliance Recap - October 2019

October was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas vacated portions of the current rule implementing Section 1557 that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and pregnancy termination. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed a district court’s preliminary injunction of final rules regarding contraceptive coverage exemptions.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released the latest version of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Security Risk Assessment Tool. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its webpage that has general information about the CP233J notice. The Treasury released its 2019-2020 Priority Guidance Plan.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor: Health Reimbursement Arrangements Comparison Chart

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

District Court Vacates Parts of ACA Section 1557 Nondiscrimination Rule

As background, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Section 1557 provides that individuals shall not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any health program or activity which receives federal financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. The current rule applies to any program administered by HHS or any health program or activity administered by an entity established under Title I of the ACA. These applicable entities are “covered entities” and include a broad array of providers, employers, and facilities. On May 13, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule (current rule) implementing Section 1557, which took effect on July 18, 2016.

On October 15, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (District Court) vacated portions of the current rule implementing Section 1557 that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and pregnancy termination. The District Court remanded the vacated portions of the current rule to HHS for revision. While those portions of the current rule have been vacated, covered entities subject to Section 1557 may still face private lawsuits for discrimination based on gender identity and pregnancy termination.

Employers who are subject to Section 1557 should stay informed on this litigation because it is anticipated that the District Court’s ruling will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Please see our UBA Advisors “Update on Nondiscrimination Regulations Relating to Sex, Gender, Age, and More” and “Update on Nondiscrimination Regulations Relating to Sex, Gender, Age, and More – for Health Care Providers” for more information.

Court of Appeals Affirms Preliminary Injunction of Contraceptive Coverage Exemptions Final Rule

As background, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that non-grandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering non-grandfathered group or individual health insurance coverage provide coverage of certain specified preventive services, including contraceptive services, without cost sharing. The Treasury, Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, the Departments) released two final rules on November 7, 2018, regarding contraceptive coverage exemptions based on religious beliefs and moral beliefs. These rules finalize the Departments’ interim final rules that were published on October 13, 2017.

On January 13, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (California Court) granted a preliminary injunction that prohibits the final rules’ implementation and enforcement against California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. On October 22, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the California Court’s preliminary injunction that prohibits the two final rules’ implementation and enforcement against the thirteen plaintiff states and the District of Columbia.

Read more about the status of the final rules.

OCR and ONC Release HHS Security Risk Assessment Tool Version 3.1

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) have released version 3.1 of the HHS Security Risk Assessment (SRA) Tool. The tool is designed to help small- to medium-sized health care organizations perform risk assessments regarding potential malware, ransomware, and other cyberattacks.

IRS Updates CP233J Notice Webpage

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its webpage titled “Understanding Your CP233J Notice.” The CP233J notice notifies employers of changes to the amount of the employer shared responsibility payment due to the IRS. The IRS webpage has general information about the notice including what the notice is, what an employer needs to do when it receives the notice, and answers to common questions.

The Treasury Releases 2019-2020 Priority Guidance Plan

The Treasury released its 2019-2020 Priority Guidance Plan (Priority Guidance Plan) that sets forth guidance priorities for the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) during the twelve-month period from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020. The Priority Guidance Plan lists several priorities, including guidance under Section 125 on health flexible spending accounts (HFSAs), guidance on contributions to and benefits from paid family and medical leave programs, and guidance on the Cadillac tax.

Question of the Month

Q: Has the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the 2020 health flexible spending account (health FSA) contribution limit (also known as the employee deferral limit) or the 1094 / 1095 reporting forms for 2019?

A: No. The IRS has not released the 2020 health FSA contribution limit and has not released the 1094 / 1095 reporting forms for 2019. The IRS has not indicated when it plans to release either the health FSA contribution limit or the 1094 / 1095 reporting forms. At a recent conference, IRS staff (in their unofficial capacity) said that the 1094 / 1095 reporting forms have been delayed, in part, because the IRS is considering whether to change the forms to reflect the fact that the individual mandate’s penalty is $0 as of 2019.

11/1/2019


Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, about 45 percent of the world's population has chronic sleep issues. Employers are starting to offer employee benefits that are focused on a long-ignored but crucial aspect of employee health - sleep. Read this blog post to learn more about this new wellness benefit.


Employers are taking a greater interest in employees’ emotional and physical well-being by offering specialized programs focused on mental health, weight loss, financial health, and now one long-ignored yet crucial aspect of health — sleep.

Beddr, a sleep health technology company, has launched a comprehensive, personalized solution to identify and treat the root causes of chronic sleep issues, though a voluntary benefits platform. The program leverages clinical data captured from Beddr’s app that uses an optical sensor and accelerometer to measure blood oxygen levels, stopped breathing events, heart rate, sleep position and time in bed.

About 45% of the world’s population has chronic sleep issues, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. Poor sleep costs U.S. employers an estimated $411 billion each year, according to a report from Rand.

Employees using the Beddr benefit will have access to an expert-led sleep coaching program and a nationwide network of sleep physicians to provide targeted treatment options to help employees improve their sleep health. The program has the potential to save an employer up to $5,700 per employee, per year in productivity improvements, lower healthcare costs and decrease accident rates, Beddr says.

“Sleep is the foundation to every employee’s mental and physical health. High quality sleep has been shown to both reduce healthcare costs as well as improve productivity, but most employers haven’t found a comprehensive program that addresses the primary root causes of sleep issues and that benefits their entire workforce,” says Michael Kisch, CEO of Beddr. “We have seen a dramatic increase among our users relative to the overall population in their understanding of their sleep health and how their choices impact their overall sleep quality.”

Beddr partners with benefits teams to design a customized program specific to each employer and their employees. The company developed a screening process that makes it easy for an employer to engage their employee base, while providing Beddr the ability to identify employees who are a good match for the program.

In some cases, the company heavily subsidizes the cost of the benefit to employees, while in others it is the full responsibility of the employee. In the latter instance, the company negotiates a discount that is passed on to all participating employees. That discounted price is less than what an employee would pay to purchase the program directly from Beddr.

“Beddr was founded on the belief that the most important thing a person can do to improve their physical and mental health is to get consistent, high-quality sleep,” Kisch says. “We see employers as natural partners in fulfilling this mission because the goals of a company and its management are highly aligned with the goals of our program — to improve the health and productivity of employees. ”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/beddr-app-helps-employees-get-more-sleep


How to Take your 2020 Benefit Change Rollout to the Next Level

Employers are faced with the challenge of how to engage employees each year during open enrollment. Instead of printouts and email campaigns, try a new communication method this year. Read this blog post for easy tips to try this open enrollment season.


With open enrollment right around the corner, employers are faced with the annual question: how are we going to get employees engaged, while helping them make the smartest benefit decisions for their individual situations?

This year, instead of plain old printouts and email, try a new method. Whether you are changing providers, introducing new features, or simply showcasing existing options, switching up your enrollment process can be easier and more enjoyable than you’d think. Give these quick and easy tips a try for a better time come January 1.

Have a Lunch & Learn

Who doesn’t love a lunch & learn? Free food and a little break from the status quo is a much-welcomed way to get on board with the changes 2020 will bring. Whether you are opting for an informative webinar or an in-person presentation, providing a free lunch is a great way to encourage employee participation while boosting team morale.

If you are hosting an in-person benefits presentation, be sure to have your information nicely (and concisely!) summarized. Having a paper takeaway or a digital follow-up is key, as sometimes open enrollment can be overwhelming. Many people prefer to have something they can reference at a later date to help make their decision, so be sure those materials are available.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

If it’s possible, why not get the whole team involved in asking questions and brainstorming? Benefit changes can be complex and confusing, and sometimes people feel too shy to ask questions during a formal presentation. Try breaking up into smaller groups and challenging each mini-team to answer ten questions related to open enrollment and benefits. The group that gets the most right answers wins a prize!

Design Your Rollout Mobile & Digital First

Mobile. It might seem like a no-brainer, but employees are going to be quicker to respond to changes if there’s an easy process that meets them where they are: their mobile devices. Reminding employees of a mobile registration option is a great way to capture high engagement rates. The key to a user-friendly registration is making it as turnkey as possible. If employees have to fish around for URLs, passwords, group numbers, et cetera, they are going to be less likely to complete these items in a timely fashion. Provide all the information you can upfront.

Add Social to Your Strategy. If you are not taking advantage of a social strategy such as Facebook, Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more, the time is now! Digital quizzes, surveys, and chat channels can work wonders for engaging your employees during the open enrollment process while facilitating knowledge sharing. Why not create an internal Facebook group or Slack channel where your team can ask questions and exchange information? The outcome of benefits decisions usually lasts all year, so it’s important for people to have their questions answered in a casual, user-friendly environment. A big benefit for your HR team is that a digital-first strategy will cut down on “random question” drop-ins and interruptions at your office. Send everyone to one place in the digital space!

SOURCE: Olson, B. (15 October 2019) "How to Take your 2020 Benefit Change Rollout to the Next Level" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved fromhttp://blog.ubabenefits.com/how-to-take-your-2020-benefit-change-rollout-to-the-next-level


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


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


IRS Releases Private Letter Ruling Regarding Section 213(d) Medical Care Expenses

A private letter ruling regarding DNA collection kits was recently released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This letter addresses whether the price of these kits should qualify as Section 213(d) medical care expenses. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a private letter ruling (Letter) regarding whether the price of a DNA collection kit – specifically services and reports related to a person’s health that are generated from analyzing the collected DNA – qualify as Section 213(d) medical care expenses.

Health services such as genotyping are medical care under Section 213(d) while reports that provide general information are not medical care. The IRS concluded that the DNA collection kit’s price must be allocated between health services that are medical care, such as genotyping, and the non-medical services, such as reports that provide general or ancestry information.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (24 September 2019) "IRS Releases Private Letter Ruling Regarding Section 213(d) Medical Care Expenses" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-private-letter-ruling-regarding-section-213d-medical-care-expenses


Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a health alert warning that severe pulmonary disease is associated with vaping products. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more about vaping and how to address it in the workplace.


The use of electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, is believed to be responsible for five deaths and 450 severe lung injuries in what appears to be a nationwide epidemic, according to new reports.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated and produce vapor that simulates smoking. They can resemble regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, USB sticks and other everyday items. They do not burn tobacco, but the device heats a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.

While most employers ban smoking in the workplace, their policies don't always extend to e-cigarette products. However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health alert on Aug. 30 warned that severe pulmonary disease is associated with using e-cigarette products. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a multistate investigation into the lung illnesses on Aug. 1.

"Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible," wrote Dr. David C. Christiani of the Harvard School of Medicine, "there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response." He shared his comments in the Sept. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, along with the preliminary report "Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin."

The CDC is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, states and other public health partners and clinicians to determine what is sickening users, and in some cases resulting in fatalities. On Friday, it suggested that people refrain from using e-cigarette products during its investigation.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles about this topic from its archives and other trusted sources.  

5 Deaths Linked to Vaping. Officials Are Urging Consumers to Stop. (Chicago Tribune)

How Are You Handling Vaping at Work? (SHRM Online)

More States Ban Vaping, E-Cigarette Use in Workplaces (Bloomberg)

Florida Adds Vaping to Regulated Indoor Smoking (SHRM Online)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (6 September 2019) "Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Illnesses-Deaths-Tied-to-Vaping-.aspx


Employers look to virtual services to curb rising health costs

Sixty-four percent of employers believe virtual care will play a significant role in healthcare delivery in 2020, according to the National Business Group on Health. With rising healthcare costs, employers are looking for ways to stem the rising costs of healthcare and find ways to better engage employees. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about virtual services.


WASHINGTON — With the continued cost of healthcare benefits expected to increase by another 5%, topping $15,000 per employee, employers are looking for ways to stem the increase and better engage employees in holistic well-being.

One of those ways is through virtual care. The number of employers who believe virtual care will play a significant role in how healthcare is delivered in the future continues to grow, up to 64% going into 2020 from 52% in 2019, according to the National Business Group on Health’s annual healthcare strategy survey.

“Virtual care solutions bring healthcare to the consumer rather than the consumer to healthcare,” Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of NBGH said at a press briefing Tuesday. “They continue to gain momentum as employers seek different ways to deliver cost effective, quality healthcare while improving access and the consumer experience. Of particular note is the growing interest among employers to offer virtual care for mental health as well as musculoskeletal conditions.”

The majority of respondents (51%) will offer more virtual care programs next year, according to the survey. Nearly all employers will offer telehealth for minor, acute services while 82% will offer virtual mental health services — a figure that’s expected to grow to 95% by 2022.

Virtual care for musculoskeletal management shows the greatest potential for growth, the study noted. While 23% of employers will offer musculoskeletal management virtual services next year, another 38% are considering it by 2022. Physical therapy is the best way to address musculoskeletal conditions and help avoid surgery, but it can be inconvenient and costly, said Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer at NBGH.

“Where we’ve seen a lot of development in areas of virtual solutions is to provide remote physical therapy treatments,” she said. “Employees can access treatment through their virtual app wherever it’s convenient for them.”

Regardless, employee utilization of virtual services still remains low. For example, while roughly 70% of large companies provide telemedicine coverage, only 3% of employees use it,according to prior NBGH data.

But many resources are out of sight and out of mind, Kelsay said. However, employers are focusing on offering high-touch concierge services to help workers better navigate the healthcare system.

Employers are reaching a point of saturation with the number of solutions that are available, but from the employee’s perspective, they just don’t know where to start, she added. “These concierge and navigator services really help point employees in the direction to the solution at the point in time they need it.”

In addition, the use of predictive analytics and claims data is also an opportunity to help employers get the right programs in front of employees in the moment, Marcotte added.

“Some of these engagement platforms are getting at personal messaging and predictive analytics. It’s not where we want it to be yet, but as that continues to get better, I think you’ll see utilization go up,” he said.

Source: Otto,N. (13 August 2019) "Employers look to virtual Services to curb rising health costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employers-look-to-virtual-services-to-curb-rising-healthcare-costs