‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees

Are you competitive in the employee benefits marketplace? An emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts (LSA), are one way employers can stay competitive. An LSA is an account that is funded solely by an employer. Employees can use the funds to purchase goods or services as long as they fall into specific categories set by the employer. Read this blog post to learn more about this emerging benefit.


Employers seeking new ways to stay competitive in the employee benefits marketplace might consider an emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts, whose aim is to broaden employee access range of health and happiness-oriented goods and services.

There’s really no limit to the types of things LSAs can fund, but that endless range of choices can make it difficult for employers to get started.

But first, the basics: An LSA account is funded solely by the employer (and which is taxable as income to employees. The employee can use the funds to purchase goods or services, as long as they fall into the categories of the employer’s choosing. Think investments in physical and mental well-being, environmentally friendly goods or childcare.

The accounts are popular on the West Coast and in Canada. and is gaining traction throughout other parts of the U.S.

Employers can choose to fund a wide range of options, depending on what they think will appeal most to their workforce. For instance, while some carriers reimburse employees for gym memberships, employers can supplement a healthy physical lifestyle by adding workout studios to the options menu; personal or small-group training; workout equipment such as weights, a stationary bike or a treadmill; workout clothes; or nutrition counseling.

And while mental well-being is a new benefits focus of many employers, health plans typically only cover a limited number of counseling sessions. Employers can supplement this benefit by providing funds for therapy or counseling sessions.

Some employers are also using LSAs to help employees with child-related expenses, starting at the very beginning with help with fertility treatments, progressing to doulas and midwives and on to baby gear and then childcare.

But back to the too-much-choice dilemma. To figure out what to fund, start by identifying gaps in your current benefit offering. For example, offering funds toward gym and studio memberships is an obvious place to start if you don’t already have a program in place. Consider what types of employees you want to recruit and retain, and think about what sort of behaviors you want to influence. LSAs can be offered to an entire workforce, or different fund amounts can be offered to different classes of employees.

Other issues to consider: how will you deliver the funds and what happens when an employee leaves or is terminated. These are minor details, but they could leave you with headaches if you don’t address them prior to rollout.

LSAs are typically managed by a TPA that will adjudicate claims and approve purchase reimbursements, removing the hassle of managing a program for large employers.

For employers hoping to encourage employees toward certain healthy behaviors and sweeten benefits packages, LSAs can help round out offerings and act as another recruitment and retention tool.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P. (25 October 2019) "‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/lifestyle-benefits-for-attraction-and-retention


5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits

Currently, American families carry more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. Because of this, some employers are now adding student loan repayment benefits to their employer-sponsored benefits offering. Continue reading for five reasons why employers should add student loan repayment benefits to their benefit packages.


As every employer knows, benefits can be both expensive and difficult to manage. So then, what could possibly be the advantage of adding more expenses to the budget — especially ones that go beyond traditional benefits like health insurance and paid time off?

Candidates have options in the current job market, which allows them to be picky about where they choose to work. With employees in the driver’s seat, we’re seeing a workforce that is increasingly focused on companies that show they value their workforce.

One way some employers are doing this is by adding perks such as student loan repayment benefits. American families currently carry more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, the question of providing student loan assistance is not an “if,” but a “when.”

Will your company alone solve the country’s student loan debt crisis? No. But, ultimately, going beyond the standard of offering traditional benefits is a mark of your authenticity and genuine nature as an employer. An investment in student loan benefits demonstrates your investment in the financial wellness of your people.

Luckily, student loan repayment benefits are easy to implement and require very little maintenance once launched. Because this voluntary benefit doesn’t have to align with open enrollment, you can set the new standard for how employees should be treated immediately. Here are five reasons employers should already be offering student loan benefits.

1. Employees are actively seeking this benefit

The amount of student loan debt is staggering — currently, more than $600 billion more than the amount of credit card debt in the United States, according to LendingTree. Considering nearly everyone has a credit card and only some have student loan debt, it’s safe to say the path of higher education can have a negative financial impact for those relying on loans.

Most often, employers think the only way to help employees with their student loan debt is through contributions, but that’s not the case. Contributions aren’t a prerequisite for student loan benefits. As roughly 250,000 borrowers default on their loans each quarter, employees are actively seeking help in managing their student loan payments. With delinquency and default of student loans on the rise, you can still set employees on the right track with a student loan repayment benefit, even if you can’t afford the price tag of contributions.

2. You’ll be the employer of choice for top talent

With a low unemployment rate, the battle for the best talent is fierce. Student loan repayment assistance is a huge advantage when employees have a choice in which company to work for. Nearly three years ago, 86% of workers said they would commit to a company for five years if the employer helped pay back their student loans, according to the nonprofit American Student Loan Assistance. Yet, the Society for Human Resource Management reports only 8% of companies currently offer this type of benefit — which means those who do, may have an edge over the competition.

Today, the most successful companies don’t just focus on seeking out incredible candidates, they’re looking for ways to make the most desirable candidates come to them. Student loan assistance is a very differentiated offering — but it won’t be that way for long.

3. The benefit can help employees reach life milestones

Today, the millennial generation makes up a significant amount of the working population — but, as they’ve continued to enter the workforce over the last decade, millennials have held off on making major life purchases. Why? Because some of the most prominent markets in our economy, such as housing and higher education, have gotten drastically more expensive and salaries haven’t increased at a rate to match these rising costs.

However, if you think student loan debt is only an issue for younger generations, think again. All generations are making sacrifices because of student loan debt. In fact, 57% of Baby Boomers feel student loans are getting in the way of retirement.

Naturally, people with less debt have more money to spend in other areas. When companies help employees reduce their student loan debt, significant life milestones — like buying a house, starting a family, sending their children to college or saving for retirement — are more attainable.

4. Improved employee retention

The smartest companies aren’t just looking to attract the best talent, they’re looking to keep it. Turnover has a negative impact on business — both financially and culturally. The average cost of each employee departure is one-third of that worker’s annual earnings and, in 2020, roughly one in three workers will voluntarily quit their job.

Voluntary benefits like student loan repayment might seem like they will cost your business but, even just for the sake of keeping exceptional employees, they’re a worthy expense. Aiding employees in tackling some of their debt makes a significant difference in whether or not they want to continue working for you. Your workers are human beings. When they’re cared for in such a way, employees are more inclined to stay with a company where they’re valued.

5. Employees will be happier

Happiness is contagious. Happy employees are both more productive and have a positive impact on company culture, which absolutely makes a difference for your business. But, when more than half of people are regularly stressed due to financial issues, it has a personal and professional impact on employees.

Financial stress is one of the biggest burdens a person can face — and not something your employees can simply leave at the door. By offering student loan assistance, you’re not only eliminating some of the stress affecting your employees, but you’re also opening more financial doors for them and creating a company culture they’ll want to shout about from the rooftops.

SOURCE: Grewal, S (17 October 2019) "5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/5-reasons-employers-should-help-with-student-loans


How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment

Do you have a communication plan for open enrollment? Once businesses have their plan changes locked in, it’s time to focus on communicating those changes to their employees. Continue reading to learn how to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment.


Ready or not… the Benefits Super Bowl is here! Whether you are a broker, benefits manager or anywhere in between, you have been knee-deep on plan updates, rate reviews and benefit changes for months. Now that the plan changes are locked, it’s go-time! The focus is now on communicating and educating employees about their benefit options.

It takes an enormous amount of planning and execution to provide a productive open enrollment experience for employees. But, it is well worth it as this is often the only time during the year that employees stop to consider their benefit options.

Learn from past wins and misses

Consider previous years’ open enrollment communications and ask yourself the following:

  • What is the feedback you received from employees (the good, the bad and the ugly)?
  • What were the most common questions?
  • Were there key pieces of information employees had difficulty finding?

Learn from the answers to these questions and then craft your content in a clear and concise manner that is easier for employees to digest.

The communication medium is key to your success

Now that you’ve developed the content to communicate, the next equally important step is determining how, when and where you deliver this information. Is there a centralized location where employees can find information for both core and voluntary benefits? Is the information in a format that the employee can easily share with his or her significant other?

It is critical to have multi-channel communications to reach your audience. Some employees may naturally gravitate to a company-wide email and the company intranet, while others lean on more interactive mediums like E-books, text messages, webinars or lunch and learns. Providing a variety of communication avenues ensures you are reaching employees where they want to receive information.

Make sure your communications campaign provides educational materials at each of the key milestones during the open enrollment journey–such as prior to enrollment, midway through enrollment, and right before enrollment closes. Wherever possible, always support employees through the process and give them options to reach out for help.

How to communicate the same benefits to a diverse workforce

You are likely communicating to a group of employees with diverse needs and wants. What may be appealing to an entry-level recent grad may not resonate with a senior-level employee nearing retirement. For example, employees with young children may be especially interested in accident insurance or pet owners might look to pet insurance to help offset the costs of well-visits and routine care. If possible, tailor your communications to different segments of the employee population.

Communicating voluntary health-related benefits

Core medical benefits are what employees gravitate to during the enrollment period. Are you offering voluntary benefits to employees? The most successful voluntary benefit programs are positioned next to core medical plans on the enrollment platform. This shows employees how those voluntary benefits (critical illness, accident insurance and hospital indemnity) complement the core offerings with extended protection.

When voluntary benefit programs are positioned as an integral part of the employee benefits experience, employees are more likely to understand the value and appreciate the support provided by their employer. For example, a critical illness program can help to bridge the gap of a high-deductible health plan in the case of a covered critical condition. Communicate that voluntary benefits can be an integral part of a “Total Rewards Package” and can contribute to overall financial wellness.

Review and refine

Finally, don’t miss your opportunity at the end of enrollment to review how your communication campaign performed. Pull stats and analyze your communication campaign for next year’s open enrollment… it is never too early to start! HR managers can glean valuable information and metrics from the employee experience.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (1 November 2018) "How to create a strong communication plan for open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/01/how-to-create-a-strong-communication-plan-for-open/


Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices

Are you ready for the Medicare Part D coverage notice deadline? Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices to Medicare-eligible individuals before October 15. Continue reading to learn more.


Plan sponsors that offer prescription drug coverage must provide notices of "creditable" or "non-creditable" coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals before each year's Medicare Part D annual enrollment period by Oct. 15.

Prescription drug coverage is creditable when it is at least actuarially equivalent to Medicare's standard Part D coverage and non-creditable when it does not provide, on average, as much coverage as Medicare's standard Part D plan.

The notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents covered by the employers' plan, but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Background

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 requires group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to disclose annually to individuals eligible for Medicare Part D whether the plan's coverage is creditable or non-creditable.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided a Creditable Coverage Simplified Determination method that plan sponsors can use to determine if a plan provides creditable coverage.

Disclosure of whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable allows individuals to make informed decisions about whether to remain in their current prescription drug plan or enroll in Medicare Part D during the Part D annual enrollment period.

Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part D during their initial enrollment period, and who subsequently go at least 63 consecutive days without creditable coverage (e.g., because they dropped their creditable coverage or have non-creditable coverage) generally will pay higher premiums if they enroll in a Medicare drug plan at a later date.

Who Must Receive the Notice?

The notice must be provided to all Medicare-eligible individuals who are covered under, or eligible for, the sponsor's prescription drug plan, regardless of whether the plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Thus, the notice obligation is not limited to retirees and their dependents but also includes Medicare-eligible active employees and their dependents and Medicare-eligible COBRA participants and their dependents.

Notice Requirements

The Medicare Part D annual enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Each year, before the enrollment period begins (i.e., by Oct. 14), plan sponsors must notify Medicare-eligible individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable. The Oct. 15 deadline applies to insured and self-funded plans, regardless of plan size, employer size or grandfathered status.

Part D eligible individuals must be given notices of the creditable or non-creditable status of their prescription drug coverage:

  • Before an individual's initial enrollment period for Part D.
  • Before the effective date of coverage for any Medicare-eligible individual who joins an employer plan.
  • Whenever prescription drug coverage ends or creditable coverage status changes.
  • Upon the individual's request.

According to CMS, the requirement to provide the notice prior to an individual's initial enrollment period will also be satisfied as long as the notice is provided to all plan participants each year before the beginning of the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period.

An EGWP exception

Employers that provide prescription drug coverage through a Medicare Part D Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP) are not required to provide the creditable coverage notice to individuals eligible for the EGWP.

The required notices may be provided in annual enrollment materials, separate mailings or electronically. Whether plan sponsors use the CMS model notices or other notices that meet prescribed standards, they must provide the required disclosures no later than Oct. 14, 2017.

Model notices that can be used to satisfy creditable/non-creditable coverage disclosure requirements are available in both English and Spanish on the CMS website.

Plan sponsors that choose not to use the model disclosure notices must provide notices that meet prescribed content standards. Notices of creditable/non-creditable coverage may be included in annual enrollment materials, sent in separate mailings or delivered electronically.

What if no prescription drug coverage is offered?

Because the notice informs individuals whether their prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable, no notice is required when prescription drug coverage is not offered.

Plan sponsors may provide electronic notice to plan participants who have regular work-related computer access to the sponsor's electronic information system. However, plan sponsors that use this disclosure method must inform participants that they are responsible for providing notices to any Medicare-eligible dependents covered under the group health plan.

Electronic notice may also be provided to employees who do not have regular work-related computer access to the plan sponsor's electronic information system and to retirees or COBRA qualified beneficiaries, but only with a valid email address and their prior consent. Before individuals can effectively consent, they must be informed of the right to receive a paper copy, how to withdraw consent, how to update address information, and any hardware/software requirements to access and save the disclosure. In addition to emailing the notice to the individual, the sponsor must also post the notice (if not personalized) on its website.

Don't forget the disclosure to CMS

Plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals must also disclose to CMS annually whether the coverage is creditable or non-creditable. This disclosure must be made no more than 60 days after the beginning of each plan year—generally, by March 1. The CMS disclosure obligation applies to all plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage, even those that do not offer prescription drug coverage to retirees.

SOURCE: Chan, K.; Stover, R. (10 September 2018) "Oct. 15 Deadline Nears for Medicare Part D Coverage Notices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/medicare-d-notice-deadline.aspx/


Seeing beyond size in vision care networks

There are many other factors to consider when it comes to deciding which vision care network best fits the needs of your employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most people believe that “size matters” in regards to provider networks, but in the world of vision care there are other important factors to consider when deciding which network matches the needs of employees. Network members usually see their vision provider for routine services just once per year. When an employer changes vision administrators, employee in-network utilization is more than 90% regardless of the new network size. Why? Employees are not concerned about changing providers to access in-network benefits. Plus, the new vision provider network will always provide access to multiple providers wherever the employee lives and works.

But what about the quality of the vision care network? To properly assess this measurement of competing networks, employers and benefit advisers need to ask several different questions.

Determine the network’s quality
The quality of the network is vital. Start asking these questions: How are vision care providers credentialed? Do they follow the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) guidelines developed to improve healthcare quality? Are there provider audit programs provided on an ongoing basis? Is the vision care provider re-credentialed and how often? How frequently are reviews conducted of the Office of Inspector General and Medicare and Medicaid disbarment lists?

Establish the network’s effectiveness
Once you know you have a quality network, now you must ask how effective the network is. How diverse is the network? Are there ample ophthalmologists, optometrists and optical retailers we can access? Are some private practitioners? You want to make sure that a solid provider mix is available to give employees options when choosing a vision care provider.

It’s critical to know what languages are spoken within the employee population as well as the providers who care for them. If you have a large population who speak a certain language you want to make sure your network gives them access to people who can truly understand them and with whom they feel comfortable.

Finally, look at the hours of operations. With schedules being busier now than ever before, people need flexibility when it comes to visiting hours. Do they offer evening hours? Weekend hours? This is particularly important for single parents who work during the week and need the flexibility to visit an eye care professional with his or her child after work.

Having a diverse, quality vision care provider network with convenient access helps keep employees happy, healthy and in-network.

Other factors to consider
One of the other factors to be cognizant of is network ownership. Today, many managed vision care companies are involved in not only providing coverage for vision care but also in delivering it. This means the vision benefits company you’re considering may own optical laboratories, frame companies or retail locations, which can pose conflicts of interest between you, your employees and the managed vision care company. Their need to produce profits can lead to undo pressure on your employees to purchase expensive and potentially unnecessary lens types, materials and options. Coupled with direct to consumer advertising and the expansion of brands, eyeglasses have become even more expensive.

This leads to another factor for consideration. Does the potential vision benefit administrator provide meaningful information to help your employees make informed decisions about what they really need, when it comes to the myriad of options available for frames, lenses and lens options?

Network matching
Start by remembering two things when matching networks. First, if you’ve changed vision carriers in the past, you selected a network that was not identical to your previous one. Vision networks never match each other. Some have higher proportions of independent providers and lower percentages of large retailer chains. Second, the infrequency with which the vision benefit is available to be used mitigates the impact of changing providers. People don’t have the same attachment to their eye care professional as they do with their physician.

Beyond quality and effectiveness is the important factor of access. The vision industry has grown to a point where there are often many more providers than would ever be necessary to provide convenient access for your membership. The reality is that two networks may be equally sized in an area and yet there may be little overlap, making the selection of the best network with the lowest overall cost a better strategic direction than simply selecting the one with the highest provider match.

The vision industry has long demonstrated that employees are willing to select new providers, especially when costs are more competitive, and services are more convenient.

SOURCE: Moroff, C (22 August 2018) "Seeing beyond size in vision care networks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/seeing-beyond-size-in-vision-care-networks?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most

Conditions that impact plan costs can be problematic. Here is a look into the top 10 health conditions hitting the hardest on employers wallets.


As healthcare costs continue to rise, more employers are looking at ways to target those costs. One step they are taking is looking at what health conditions are hitting their pocketbooks the hardest.

“About half of employers use disease management programs to help manage the costs of these very expensive chronic conditions,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans. “In addition, about three in five employers use health screenings and health risk assessments to help employees identify and monitor these conditions so that they can be managed more effectively. Early identification helps the employer and the employee.”

What conditions are costly for employers to cover? In IFEPB’s Workplace Wellness Trends 2017 Survey, more than 500 employers were asked to select the top three conditions impacting plan costs. The following 10 topped the list.

10. High-risk pregnancy

Although high-risk pregnancies have seen a dip of 1% since 2015, they still bottom out the list in 2017; 5.6% of employers report these costs are a leading cost concern for health plans.

9. Smoking

Smoking has remained a consistent concern of employers over the last several years; 8.6% of employers report smoking has significant impact on health plans.

8. High cholesterol

While high cholesterol still has a major impact on health costs- 11.6% say it's a top cause of raising healthcare costs- that number is significantly lower from where it was in 2015 (19.3%).

7. Depression/ mental illness

For 13.9% of employers, mental health has a big influence on healthcare costs. This is down from 22.8% in 2015.

6. Hypertension/ high blood pressure

This is the first condition in IFEBP's report to have dropped a ranking in the last two years. In 2015, hypertension/ high blood pressure ranked 5th with 28.9% of employers reporting it is a high cost condition. In 2017, the condition dropped to 6th with 27.6% of employers noting high costs associated with the disease.

5. Heart disease

This year's study found that 28.4% of employers reported high costs associated with heart disease. In 2015, heart disease was the second highest cost driver with 37.1% of employers citing high costs from the disease.

4. Arthritis/back/musculoskeletal

Nearly three in 10 employers (28.9%) say these conditions are drivers of their health plan costs, compared to 34.5% in 2015.

3. Obesity

Obesity is still a top concern for employers, but slightly less so than it was two years ago. In 2017, 29% of employers found obesity to be a burden on health plans. In 2015, 32.45 cited obesity as a major cost driver.

2. Cancer (all kinds)

Cancer has become more expensive for employers. Now, 35.4% of employers report cancer increasing the costs of health plans, compared to 32% in 2015.

1. Diabetes

The king of raising health costs, diabetes has topped the list both in 2015 and 2017. In the most recent report, 44.3% of employers say diabetes is among the conditions impacting plan costs.

SOURCE:
Otto. N (18 June 2018) "Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/top-10-health-conditions-costing-employers-the-most


7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge. Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry. Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry. This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership. "We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest. Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest. This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges. Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/


Will Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition kickstart a benefits revolution?

What will happen if the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition becomes a real thing? Find out in this article from Employee Benefit Advisor.


The announcement that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees is just one more move in a growing, albeit relatively quiet, revolution inside the benefits industry: Employers banding together for more control over a health system they see as wasteful and inefficient.

Employee medical expenditures have been the driving factor behind these moves. Last year, premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage hit $18,764, up 3% from the previous year, with employees paying an average $5,714 toward the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Frustration with those costs — and the lack of quality that often goes along with them — has resulted in a number of employer initiatives. But the news of the three corporate behemoths’ coalition may propel even more employers to band together, looking for alternatives on how they provide coverage while driving transparency in an industry notorious for obfuscation.

While it didn’t make the same splash as the big three’s news, two years ago 20 of the country’s biggest companies, including American Express, Berkshire’s BNSF Railway, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, du Pont, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, Marriott and Verizon, joined together to form the Health Transformation Alliance. The goal of the group is to use data analytics, collective leverage and shared expertise to lower costs for all members. The group has grown to almost 40 members.

And at about the same time, health and financial consulting firm Mercer started running employer collectives to help companies save on pharmacy costs. There also are individual efforts. Intel, notes American Benefits Council president James Klein, has been a leader in direct contracting with healthcare providers.

“When large and successful companies come together in this way, it’s potentially disruptive,” says Frank Easley, senior vice president of Aon’s health and benefits group, about the Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan partnership. “The healthcare system is ripe for positive disruption and is in need of new solutions that improve employee satisfaction and reduce costs.”

While the three giants did not detail what their new company would do, they did say in a statement that the entity’s focus will be on technology that will provide employees and their families with “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”

The collaboration will likely pressure profits for middlemen in the healthcare supply chain. Potential ways to bring down costs include providing more transparency in prices for doctor visits and lab tests, and by enabling direct purchasing of some medical items, a person familiar with the companies’ plans said.

Efforts to increase transparency have been an important focus for employers of late and have “enormous potential” when it comes to transforming employer healthcare, says benefits consultant Jack Kwicien. If employers can explain to employees how and where their healthcare dollars are going, it will not only give workers a better understanding of their own money, but it has the potential to build a better relationship between employer and employee.

In addition, Amazon’s e-commerce operation could be used to send medication direct to patient’s homes, saving them trips to a pharmacy. Its cloud-computing division can store patient healthcare records so they can be easily accessed by doctors anywhere. And its payments system could be used to automate payments with healthcare providers.

If Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan are successful in lowering costs, the weight of the big three might kick the transformation engine into high gear, leading to a dramatic shift in the benefits delivery as more employers look to use combined leverage to lower their health costs.

“Any time organizations of this caliber — these are world class organizations — say they are going to tackle healthcare, you have to pay attention,” says Mike Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. The organization advises around 12,000 organizations that buy health plans for millions of employees.

Thompson says that given Amazon and Berkshire’s records, it’s clear “that they have the potential to truly change the consumer experience for their employees, and frankly, that could become a model that could be used by other employers.”

Some benefits insiders, however, express doubts that the three behemoths will spur a widespread industry disruption. Their two biggest doubts: that corporate America can successfully battle the nation’s largest healthcare players and, even if successful, if they can cut costs in a meaningful way.

“Most health costs are incurred by a small percent of the population with chronic conditions,” Klein says. “So if this initiative is just about how health costs are paid for, and does not promote ways to improve health itself, the impact will be minimal.”

Still, business groups say the potential is there for more employer involvement in controlling costs and delivering healthcare, and the need is real.

“New entrants with fresh approaches like these may be just the prescription our ailing healthcare system needs,” says Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “The collective resources of these three companies, emerging technologies and Amazon’s customer obsession and supply-chain savvy gives me optimism that they will pursue a consumer-focused model that will transcend the fragmented, provider-centric delivery system that we have today.”

Read more.

SOURCE:
Mayer K. (31 January 2018). "Will Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition kickstart a benefitsrevolution?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/will-amazon-berkshire-jpmorgan-coalition-kickstart-a-benefits-revolution?feed=00000152-175f-d933-a573-ff5f3f230000

2016 Election Results: The Potential Impact on Health and Welfare Benefits

If you missed our partner,United Benefit Advisors (UBA) checkout this article by Les McPhearson

Following the November 2016 election, Donald Trump (R) will be sworn in as the next President of the United States on January 20, 2017. The Republicans will also have the majority in the Senate (51 Republican, 47 Democrat) and in the House of Representatives (238 Republicans, 191 Democrat). As a result, the political atmosphere is favorable for the Trump Administration to begin implementing its healthcare policy objectives. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will likely remain the Speaker of the House. Known as an individual who is experienced in policy, it is expected that the Republican House will work to pass legislation that follows the health care policies in Speaker Ryan's "A Better Way" proposals. The success of any of these proposals remains to be seen.

Employers should be aware of the main tenets of President-elect Trump's proposals, as well as the policies outlined in Speaker Ryan's white paper. These proposals are likely to have an impact on employer sponsored health and welfare benefits. Repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and capping the employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) exclusion for individuals would have a significant effect on employer sponsored group health plans.

Trump Policy Proposals

President-elect Trump's policy initiatives have seven main components:

  • Repeal the ACA. President-elect Trump has vowed to completely repeal the ACA as his first order of Presidential business.
  • Allow health insurance to be purchased across state lines.
  • Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns.
  • Allow individuals to use health savings accounts (HSAs) in a more robust way than regulation currently allows. President-elect Trump's proposal specifically mentions allowing HSAs to be part of an individual's estate and allowing HSA funds to be spent by any member of the account owner's family.
  • Require price transparency from all healthcare providers.
  • Block-grant Medicaid to the states. This would remove federal provisions on how Medicaid dollars can and should be spent by the states.
  • Remove barriers to entry into the free market for the pharmaceutical industry. This includes allowing American consumers access to imported drugs.

President-elect Trump's proposal also notes that his immigration reform proposals would assist in lowering healthcare costs, due to the current amount of spending on healthcare for illegal immigrants. His proposal also states that the mental health programs and institutions in the United States are in need of reform, and that by providing more jobs to Americans we will reduce the reliance of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Speaker Ryan's "A Better Way" Proposal

In June 2016, Speaker Ryan released a series of white papers on national issues under the banner "A Better Way." With Republican control of the House and Senate, it would be plausible that elected officials will begin working to implement some, if not all, of the ideas proposed. The core tenants of Speaker Ryan's proposal are:

  • Repeal the ACA in full.
  • Expand consumer choice through consumer-directed health care. Speaker Ryan's proposal includes specific means for this expansion, namely by allowing spouses to make catch-up contributions to HSA accounts, allow qualified medical expenses incurred up to 60 days prior to the HSA-qualified coverage began to be reimbursed, set the maximum contribution of HSA accounts at the maximum combined and allowed annual high deductible health plan (HDHP) deductible and out-of-pocket expenses limits, and expand HSA access for groups such as those with TRICARE coverage. The proposal also recommends allowing individuals to use employer provided health reimbursement account (HRA) funds to purchase individual coverage.
  • Support portable coverage. Speaker Ryan supports access to financial support for an insurance plan chosen by an individual through an advanceable, refundable tax credit for individuals and families, available at the beginning of every month and adjusted for age. The credit would be available to those without job-based coverage, Medicare, or Medicaid. It would be large enough to purchase a pre-ACA insurance policy. If the individual selected a plan that cost less than the financial support, the difference would be deposited into an "HSA-like" account and used toward other health care expenses.
  • Cap the employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) exclusion for individuals. Speaker Ryan's proposal argues that the ESI exclusion raises premiums for employer-based coverage by 10 to 15 percent and holds down wages as workers substitute tax-free benefits for taxable income. Employee contributions to HSAs would not count toward the cost of coverage on the ESI cap.
  • Allow health insurance to be purchased across state lines.
  • Allow small businesses to band together an offer "association health plans" or AHPs. This would allow alumni organizations, trade associations, and other groups to pool together and improve bargaining power.
  • Preserve employer wellness programs. Speaker Ryan's proposal would limit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversight over wellness programs by finding that voluntary wellness programs do not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the collection of information would not violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).
  • Ensure self-insured employer sponsored group health coverage has robust access to stop-loss coverage by ensuring stop-loss coverage is not classified as group health insurance. This provision would also remove the ACA's Cadillac tax.
  • Enact medical liability reform by implementing caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and limiting contingency fees charged by plaintiff's attorneys.
  • Address competition in insurance markets by charging the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the advantages and disadvantages of removing the limited McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption for health insurance carriers to increase competition and lower prices. The exemption allows insurers to pool historic loss information so they can project future losses and jointly develop policy.
  • Provide for patient protections by continuing pre-existing condition protections, allow dependents to stay on their parents' plans until age 26, continue the prohibitions on rescissions of coverage, allow cost limitations on older Americans' plans to be based on a five to one ratio (currently the ratio is three to one under the ACA), provide for state innovation grants, and dedicate funding to high risk pools.

Speaker Ryan's white paper also addresses more robust protection of life by enforcing the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortion or abortion coverage) and improved conscience protections for health care providers by enacting and expanding theWeldon Amendment.

Speaker Ryan also proposes other initiatives including robust Medicaid reforms, strengthening Medicare Advantage, repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) that was once referred to as "death panels," combine Medicare Part A and Part B, repealing the ban on physician-owned hospitals, and repealing the "Bay State Boondoggle."

Process of Repeal

Generally speaking, the process of repealing a law is the same as creating a law. A repeal can be a simple repeal, or legislators can try to pass legislation to repeal and replace. Bills can begin in the House of Representatives, and if passed by the House, they are referred to the Senate. If it passes the Senate, it is sent to the President for signature or veto. Bills that begin in the Senate and pass the Senate are sent to the House of Representatives, which can pass (and if they wish, amend) the bill. If the Senate agrees with the bill as it is received from the House, or after conference with the House regarding amendments, they enroll the bill and it is sent to the White House for signature or veto.

Although Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, they do not have enough party votes to allow them to overcome a potential filibuster. A filibuster is when debate over a proposed piece of legislation is extended, allowing a delay or completely preventing the legislation from coming to a vote. Filibusters can continue until "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" close the debate by invoking cloture, or a parliamentary procedure that brings a debate to an end. Three-fifths of the Senate is 60 votes.

There is potential to dismantle the ACA by using a budget tool known as reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered. If Congress can draft a reconciliation bill that meets the complex requirements of our budget rules, it would only need a simple majority of the Senate (51 votes) to pass.

Neither President-elect Trump nor Speaker Ryan has given any indication as to whether a full repeal, or a repeal and replace, would be their preferred method of action.

The viability of any of these initiatives remains to be seen, but with a Republican President and a Republican-controlled House and Senate, if lawmakers are able to reach agreeable terms across the executive and legislative branches, some level of change is to be expected.

See the original article Here.

Source:

McPhearson L.(2016 November 14). 2016 election results: the potential impact on health and welfare benefits [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/2016-election-results-the-potential-impact-on-health-and-welfare-benefits


UBA Special Report: 2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Jason Reeves

The latest round of regulations in the area of wellness (what employers can and can’t do) is proving to be a hotly contested topic. Employers are eager to offer incentives as a way to both encourage wellness and also lower health care costs. However, employee privacy is on the line, and some argue, at risk. Even though many employers may never see the data collected, there is a philosophical debate brewing about what should – or should not – be permitted.

According to UBA’s new free special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” 67.7 percent of employers who offer wellness programs have incentives built into the program, an increase of 8.5 percent from four years ago. Major lawsuits are pending against employers with particularly robust wellness programs and the regulatory environment is becoming increasingly restrictive. As a result, employers are continuing to pursue wellness programs, but they are being very cautious with program design, avoiding implementing high penalty and incentive programs.

Incentives are the most prevalent in the Central U.S. (76.1 percent), among employers with 500 to 999 employees (83.2 percent), and in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (74.7 percent). Last year, employers in the Southeast were the regional leaders in wellness incentives (75.9 percent), growing 24 percent since 2012. But this year, prevalence of incentives dropped more than 17 percent in just one year, perhaps indicating regional caution amid the uncertain regulatory environment. The West offers the fewest incentives, with only 48.3 percent of their plans having rewards.

Across all employers, slightly more (45.4 percent) prefer wellness incentives in the form of cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), etc., versus health club dues and gift cards (40 percent). But among larger employers (500 to 1,000+ employees) cash incentives are more heavily preferred (63.2 percent) over gift certificates and health club dues (33.7 percent). Conversely, smaller employers (1 to 99 employees) prefer health club-related incentives (nearly 40 percent) versus cash (25 percent).

The smallest employers (fewer than 25 employees) have seen significant shifts in wellness incentive design over time. Prior to 2016, health club incentives were on the decline and cash incentives had been increasing 80 percent since 2012. But 2016 shows a dramatic pendulum shift from 36 percent of plans featuring cash incentives in 2015, to only 16.2 percent of plans offering this design in 2016.

 

Also, dramatically shifting away from cash incentives are construction, agriculture, mining, and transportation employers (going from 63.8 percent in 2015 to 48.4 percent in 2016). The finance, insurance, and real estate industries offer the most health club-related incentives (50.0 percent).

Southeast employers, on the other hand, are shifting away from health club-related incentives to cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, and FSAs with nearly a 60 percent increase in this type of incentive (going from 47.1 percent to 74.7 percent over four years).

Offering paid time off (PTO), historically a seldom-offered wellness incentive, is becoming rarer with 4.5 percent of employers offering this incentive, nearly a 20 percent decrease from four years ago. The majority of these PTO-based wellness incentives are seen in the Southeast U.S. (13.1 percent – a nearly 50 percent increase from 2015) and within the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (10.6 percent).

Employers are beginning to use the regulations proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as their guidelines for program development, and the wellness guide provided by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) have re-empowered employers to implement premium differentials for wellness participation and cessation of tobacco use. However, many are likely wary of the EEOC’s new guidance regarding wellness programs that include health risk assessments, biometric screenings, and medical exams. How those regulations influence plan design remains to be seen.

Read our breaking news about UBA’s new wellness special report.

Download our free (no form!) special report, “2016 Trends in Employer Wellness Programs,” for more information on regional, industry and group size based trends surrounding prevalence of wellness programs, carrier vs. independent providers, and wellness program components.

For complete findings within the 2016 UBA Health Plan Survey, download UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary.

For comprehensive information on designing wellness programs that create lasting change, download UBA’s whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization”.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Reeves J.(2016 November 18). UBA special report: 2016 trends employer wellness programs[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/uba-special-report-2016-trends-in-employer-wellness-programs